Cambodia trip takes couple to see artisans, antiques

Every winter, Kimberly Grimes and Marco Hernandez leave their South Bethany shop, Made by Hand, to travel abroad. But rather than visiting typical tourist spots, their destinations are the locales where the fair-trade products sold in their store are made. They journey to the homes of the world’s poorest people, whose work in Fair Trade cooperatives means the difference between eating and going hungry, between hope and despair.

Coastal Point • Submitted: Kimberly Grimes with Anak Bunnak, the director of Village Works in Phnum Penh, Cambodia. Grimes and Marco Hernandez travel abroad each year, hunting for fair-trade products for their South Bethany store, Made by Hand.Coastal Point • Submitted
Kimberly Grimes with Anak Bunnak, the director of Village Works in Phnum Penh, Cambodia. Grimes and Marco Hernandez travel abroad each year, hunting for fair-trade products for their South Bethany store, Made by Hand.

This year’s trip, however, was especially meaningful for Grimes, who grew up in Fenwick Island.

“It was my life-long dream to see Angkor Wat in Cambodia. When I was in middle school, I decided I wanted to be an anthropologist and I used to study those ancient temples and the culture of the Khmer people and longed to be able to go and see for myself,” she said.

Grimes indeed went on to get her doctorate, and now she teaches anthropology part-time, to graduate students at the University of Delaware’s Institute for Global Studies in Georgetown.

Angkor Wat was built in the early 12th century as the city temple for King Suryavarman II.

“It is a huge complex, about the size of Fenwick Island, totally made of intricately carved stone, with large galleries, tall towers and surrounded by a moat,” said Grimes. “It is amazing – everything I’d hoped for.”

Originally, the temple was Hindu but it became Buddhist in the 14th century. It is the source of so much pride in Cambodia that its outline has been incorporated into the national flag. Other temples were built in the surrounding areas, but most have fallen into ruin.

Grimes noted with amusement that locals were most excited to talk to her about Angelina Jolie’s role in the movie “Tomb Raider,” which was filmed, in part, in a nearby temple where the jungle has literally taken over the building.

To arrive at Angkor Wat, Grimes and Hernandez had to fly from Thailand to the town of Siem Reap, where they have friends who own a bed-and-breakfast. These friends are in the process of starting a new fair-trade cooperative for women prisoners and their children. According to Grimes, these are women who have murdered their husbands after themselves being abused.

“There’s no barbed wire, because there is no place for them to go,” she explained. “They get fed water and one bowl of rice a day. They are desperate to work to feed their children. Marco and I were pleased to advise them about the business end of fair trade.”

In that vicinity, they visited the silk farm that supplies the exquisite scarves that are so popular at Made by Hand.

Grimes noted, “It makes it easier to sell our products when we can educate our customers, from our own experience, about how things are made. To actually watch the process from worm to weaving, from natural dyes from local vegetables to hand-embroidering the finished product, is incredible.”

Next Grimes and Hernandez traveled by boat to Cambodia’s capitol city, Phnom Penh.

“That’s when we were struck by the effect of the genocide caused by Pol Pot’s regime in the ’70s,” said Grimes. “Literally, there was a missing generation – a few very old people and lots under 30, but there was hardly anyone who should now be middle-aged.”

Grimes explained that Pol Pot had the idea to forcibly relocate all the city folk to the countryside and all the farmers to the city. Then, when they showed themselves to be incapable of efficiently doing their new work, or if they complained, they were rounded up and shot, or they slowly starved to death.

Village Works is one of the largest fair-trade cooperatives, and it is based in Phnom Penh. That’s where recycled rice bags are turned into attractive, durable purses, as well as wallets and placemats. Grimes said she was impressed by the optimism and dignity of the workers as they toured the facility.

“Men and women worked side by side. Many had missing arms or legs, as a result of land-mine injuries, and when one needed help – such as to smooth out a piece of fabric – another would immediately put down what they were doing to help. And the younger workers have flex schedules so they can go to school and get an education.”

Hernandez, who – as well as co-owning Made by Hand – is an accomplished musician, was intrigued by the music he heard at Angkor Wat and in restaurants in Phnom Penh.

“They had instruments I’ve never seen before, like variations of dulcimers and xylophones and a percussion instrument the musician puts in his mouth to change the resonance,” he explained. “But there were no wind instruments. I would have loved to play my flute with them!”

Hernandez added that he was impressed by the lack of crime, absence of begging and focused attention of the children. “We went in a number of schools, and the kids kept listening to their teachers and writing their notes. They didn’t let themselves get distracted.”

Both Grimes and Hernandez agreed that they can’t wait to return to Cambodia. But already they are planning next winter’s excursion to take UD students for a study-abroad program to Peru and the Amazon basin.

Made by Hand is located in the York Beach Mall in South Bethany. It is known for its inexpensive and unique items to wear, use and display. It is also a great place to learn geography and, as Grimes said, “celebrate our global family.”

Saturday, May 8, has been designated Fair Trade Day around the world. Made By Hand will mark the occasion from noon until 5 p.m. by providing music, including a drumming circle, as well as samplings of international food and photos of their artisans. At 3 p.m., there will be a special event for children, who will learn to make Amazonian rain sticks.

Those who come into the store before May 8 will also have the opportunity to register to win a $250 shopping spree. For more information, call Made by Hand at (302) 539-6335.