Mr.Chenla Chan was born in 1980 in a refugee camp. The eldest son with 6 brothers and sisters his parents escaped to the refugee camps in Thailand in early 1980 just after the notorious Khmer Rouge era / Pol Pot regime. He and his family lived in the refugee camp for 14 years.
His life then was very difficult he did not have enough income for food and the only way he could earn any money was by waking up before dawn to pick up leftover rice, bottles, cans and other rubbish in the dust bins to sell to a Thai business man. He went to study Cambodian language from 7.30am till 10:30am every morning and after his studies he went back to pick through the garbage to find scraps and things that could be recycled. He was also needed to help his mother with the work at home such as taking care of his younger sisters and brothers while his mother was busy to cook for her children. It was while he was staying in Phanat Nikhom refugee camp in 1989, he met Keang the founder of Craftworks Cambodia (CC).
Mr.Chenla Chan returned to Cambodia with his family in 1994. They were homeless, landless. and facing severe difficulties. There was not enough food, no income, no employment, and no shelter to stay in when they arrived in Cambodia. They asked permission from relatives to allow them some land to live on; finally, his uncle gave them some land and they built a temporary tent to live in. Mr.Chenla Chan was now old enough to be a motor taxi driver in the village and he helped support his family. He took a chance to carry on his study for two more years until 1996. He finished only grade 7. After that he decided to go to Phnom Penh city to find a job there, he was introduced to Mr.Seng and learned to make jewelry, he also learnt English part time for two years. Using the jewelery making skills he learned from Mr. Seng he now makes jewelry from recycled brass bomb shells for Craftworks Cambodia. He has now been making jewelery for over 10 years is a very experienced and skilled jeweler.
In 2001 he married Ms.Kuoch Reaksmey Wong, (age 30) at the River of Life church. His wife was also born in a refugee camp near the Cambodian Thai border. But they were born in different camps. They now have two daughters. His eldest daughter Sorya Chenla, age 9 and Konika Chenla, age 7 both go to school every day. They also study Cambodian language and English part time.
Mr. Chenla Chan worked for River of Life church from 1997 till 2013. He worked in many different roles including worship leader, playing the drum and helping to teach orphans. He decided to resign from his position at church because he wanted to spend more time with his family and wanted to work full time making jewelry as Craftworks Cambodia gave a lot of orders to him. The extra income helped his family; it helped his daughters to go to school and helped the kids in need in the rural communities.
Mr.Chenla Chan is delighted to have a decent job. He now has a lot of time to spend with his two kids and his wife. He also has time to take his kids to go to school every day, he can take his wife to markets daily as well. He is more freedom and independent to work as a home based artisan. When he wants to enjoy the special events such as wedding party, birthday or any celebrations, he can attend them freely and joyfully. No need to ask permission from the boss for a leave.
He is still facing difficulties, he works from a tiny space in his from home and his working place is too small. He sleeps eats and runs his church from the same room. He has some space behind his house for a mini-workshop in the future but he is unable to afford to expand or build this workshop yet.
If Craftworks Cambodia provides more orders to him and his producers group he is planning to build this workshop in the near future and buy some new jewelry equipment.
On 1 June 2014 he founded a new church. Without any donors/ funding from overseas or other churches, they have been able to organize and manage the church with 35 children by themselves Most of the kids come from very poor communities, they are malnourished, lack love and care from others Most of the kids' parents go to work in the garment factories, and the children are left all day without care. He and his wife decided to buy some slippers, notebooks, pencils & pens etc… and also bought some snacks, water, drinks, and sometimes food for them on Sundays. Some poor families need some help with getting enough food occasionally, and we have to support them as we can.
His wife, Reaksmey works for the church on Sundays, she teaches, sing a song, and tell the stories about God. She also helps to care for some of the children who need extra care. She cuts their nails, washes their hair, bathes kids and sometimes cook food for them. All the kids are so happy and enjoy with us so much!!!
With the support of groups such as Craftworks Cambodia, many artisans like Mr.Chenla Chan are hoping that the sales of the recycled brass bomb shell jewelry and more will generate an income that will provide their families and their communities the chance at a better future. This project (Craftworks Cambodia) ensures that the artisans are fairly rewarded for their work and helps to provide support for education and training in the communities in Cambodia.