TCO’s Tbeng Social Enterprise project, in partnership with Apsara Tours, will develop an eco-tour as a source of income for the Tbeng Kulen commune. By creating a reliable source of income for the Tbeng community, TCO hopes to improve the commune’s governance, sanitation, food security, nutrition, vocational skills, and quality of life. TCO’s Tbeng Social Enterprise project will also provide an opportunity for tourists in Cambodia to immerse themselves in rural Cambodian customs and culture by learning Cambodian agricultural techniques and traditional Cambodian cooking, and will give tourists a chance to give back to their hosts by volunteering to teach english, to aid in the construction or renovation of local infrastructure, or to help farmers with their harvest.
Tourism related to Siem Reap’s Angkor Temples is the country’s greatest source of international revenue, bringing in $3 million (USD) in 2015 (according to the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism). Tbeng lies less than an hour’s drive away from the Angkor Temples to the south and Koulen Mountain (a famous temple and waterfall site) to the east. It also features the Banteay Srei temple ruins within its own district. As such, the Tbeng Commune has great potential as the site of an eco-tourism project.
However, as of now there are a number of obstacles to establishing such a project. The Tbeng commune lacks English speakers, latrines, hospitality staff, tour staff, signs or maps in English, and other necessary prerequisites for any potential tour groups. TCO’s Social Enterprise Project in Tbeng plans to establish these prerequisites so that the Tbeng commune can establish a reliable source of income and improve its population’s quality of life.
The Tbeng Social Enterprise Project will help kickstart the eco-tours by providing a number of different training programs and infrastructure projects. TCO has already built four homestays in the Wat village in Tbeng commune where the eco-tours will be based. In addition, TCO plans to train a bookkeeping committee and a hospitality team, to provide agricultural and agro-processing training, to build a center for the sale of produce, update the community savings group, build latrines, install biosand filters, supply seeds and livestock, help maintain the local school, provide english lessons, and provide necessary infrastructure like english signage, bicycles, gardens, camping equipment, ox-carts, market stalls, and transport boats.
Aside from creating a reliable source of income for the Tbeng commune, TCO hopes to achieve a number of other goals with this project. By improving the technical and vocational capacities of a number of the members of the Wat village in Tbeng, TCO believes it can better prepare the village for future challenges. These capacity building aspects of the project could yield many unforeseen benefits such as further sources of income or the improved ability to manage communal resources.
TCO anticipates that including many village members, particularly important members like teachers, farmers, and community leaders, will improve the internal mechanisms of self-governance in the Tbeng Commune. The coordination involved in the various training and construction programs will utilize many community members and require them to coordinate to achieve their goal. By participating in these local processes, TCO hopes that Wat village members will prepare themselves for future community-wide challenges that demand coordination between many village members.
Although this project does focus on establishing an eco-tour in Tbeng, the benefits it will yield to the community in terms of governance, vocational skills, and future sources of income are invaluable.