From the moment our feet hit the dry and dusty red Cambodian dirt our hearts and our heads knew this place would change our path forever.
Siem Reap is known as the home of the majestic Angkor Wat Temples. We expected to be blown away by the temples (and we were).
What we weren't expecting was to find a vibrant red-dust covered city that is equally as amazing. Through the chaos, Siem Reap is somehow able to weave tourists, locals and expats and create a tight knit community with a small town vibe. More than once my girlfriend looked at me to let me know she wouldn't mind living here.
It's while walking through the town's neighbourhoods (and guided by word-of-mouth) that we found the Sister Srey Cafe. We were dying for a good cup of coffee (or anything that wasn't instant coffee). The almond latte was delicious. We weren't able to resist their scrumptious chocolate cake. Once you lay your eyes upon this masterpiece, your mouth starts watering and you receive direct orders from your stomach.
But what really brought us to Sister Srey was the story behind the cafe. The shop was opened by two sisters from Australia. They're not only satisfying a thirst for caffeine, they've become extremely implicated within the city's community. They're driving change through their business by hiring locals and offering them fair wages, financing them through higher education and donating 20% of their profits to Hearts to Harmony, a NGO sharing similar goals and values.
I was sadly unable to meet with the founders (Cassie and Lauren) in person but (thanks to technology) we connected through e-mail :)
Hey girls! How long have you been living outside of Australia and what brought you to Siem Reap?
We first left Australia to go traveling in 2011. After a few months of traveling through Europe we had to return home. Unsatisfied at the prospect of being back, we packed our bags again and set off to move to London.
Our original plan was to spend three months traveling South East Asia then move on to the UK to work and travel. But from the moment our feet hit the dry and dusty red Cambodian dirt our hearts and our heads knew this place would change our path forever.
What is your favorite part of Siem Reap?
We instantly fell in love with the Cambodian people, their welcoming nature, positive attitude and infectious smiles. But the more we got to know them and their history, the more we developed a newfound respect for their hunger for education and determination for growth.
Siem Reap just felt like home. It’s a small town with a big heart. Everyday we meet someone who is here to benefit the lives of someone else. Some for a month, some for a year, and others for a lifetime. We just couldn’t say the same about our lives in Australia.
Sister Srey is a social cafe. Can you elaborate on the significance of that statement?
To give back to this country that had opened our hearts so wide we started Sister Srey Cafe. Our vision is to support young Khmer students who struggle to keep a balance between studying and supporting their family. Each staff member is trained in hospitality, english language skills, personal development, health, hygiene and banking. We assist with university fees and international language classes. We are a stepping-stone to a brighter future and a means for them to have the skills and knowledge to approach the world empowered and confident.
Can you describe the NGO Hearts to Harmony?
We then started Hearts to Harmony Foundation to help our staff's immediate and extended families. Its aim is to enhance the lives of individuals through education and to create a healthy and safe environment for them. We provide education scholarships from Primary School to University.
Our outreach program in rural Siem Reap consists of regular health workshops, assistance with dental care and food packages.
We currently have 46 individuals in our education programs. All of them came from different situations that prevented them from studying, such as poverty, location and gender. But they all have one thing in common: a passion for growth and education. We also have 6 families in our food program, which consists of monthly food packages and directly employ 21 people.
What person or organization inspires you?
When we first moved here we were young (20 and 22). We had jumped into Cambodia whole-heartedly and weren’t prepared for how extreme the challenges would be at the beginning. A new country, a new culture and a whole lot of new responsibilities.
Chance happened and we met Tania.
She was another Australian who had been living here for 7 years and who had started an NGO for street children called The Green Gecko Project (look it up, its amazing). Tania helped us see our challenges as blessings and she had our backs from day one. She's dedicated her life to Cambodia and she made us believe that one person can really make an impact on the world.
We also draw much of our inspiration from our family. Our family have always been our biggest fans and ultimate cheerleaders. They are the kind of people that make it possible for you to see a better version of yourself. The kind of people that make you want to succeed and the kind of people that know how to make everybody feel like they are special.
Do you remember your favorite cup of coffee?
We are both vegan, so we love our ice coconut lattes! Trust us, our non-vegan friends love them too!
Coffee and books go together like bread and butter. What book (if any) are you currently reading?
Jandy Nalson’s books mean so much to us. “I’ll Give You the Sun” and “The Sky is Everywhere”.
Both of her books have such a strong connection with siblings. They make us appreciate the bond we have as sisters. We are both complete opposites and Jandy Nalson has a way of making that one of the magical things about us. She writes with so much colour and magic in her worlds. She sparks imagination from the minute you see the cover. Every time we read her words our bond grows stronger. (Thank you Jandy)
Thank you for doing this! Where can people learn more about you guys?
Let’s be friends!
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