I spent most of last week in Cambodia with my filmmaker friends and frequent creative partners, Mike Rogers and Meghan Shea of Persistent Productions.
The three of us were there to visit Sala Bai, a hospitality school for underprivileged youth in Siem Reap, as part of location scouting and pre-production meetings for an upcoming film and photographic collaboration.
In November, we will return to Siem Reap for 10 days to create photographic reportage and a short documentary film about Sala Bai and the positive work they are doing for Cambodia's disadvantaged youth.
For nearly a decade, Sala Bai has been training, free-of-charge, approximately 100 young people annually in the hospitality industry. The school's goal is to provide the students with the skills and experience necessary to secure gainful employment in one of Siem Reap's numerous hotels, guesthouses or restaurants, helping them achieve economic independence and improving their quality of life, and those of their families.
Sala Bai offers students four specific training programs: restaurant service, cooking, front office and housekeeping. The 11-month curriculum includes theory classes,
practical training and internships at partner hotels in Siem Reap. The students are supported by social workers who mentor them throughout their tenure at Sala Bai, as well as assist them in finding a full-time job after graduation. Remarkably, 100% of Sala Bai's students secure gainful employment in the Cambodian hospitality industry within three months of their graduation.
When we return to Cambodia for our shoot in November, we intend to focus on Khatna, a young woman who recently graduated from Sala Bai and now works on the front desk at the boutique Heritage Suites Hotel in Siem Reap. We intend to tell the story of Khatna and her journey, in less than one year, from Mechrey Village -- a rural floating community located on Tonle Sap Lake, where she lived with her pig farming parents and four sisters -- to working the front desk of a luxury hotel in the city.
As part of our pre-shoot interviews and location scouting, we traveled with Khatna, by tuk-tuk and small motorboat, to Mechrey Village to meet her family and see their humble home.
I opted to leave my Nikon DSLR's at the hotel, instead brining only my iPhone to document this informal family visit. This series of Hipstamatic images (which I tweaked a
little in post-production using Noir) are of Sovern Sorn, Khatna's father, who welcomed us warmly into his small wooden home, and then sat silently by the window throughout our hour-long visit, smoking cigarettes and gazing out at the passing boats.
At first Sovern was reluctant to let me photograph him, but after showing him a few of the processed images as they popped-up on the screen of my iPhone, he opened-up and permitted me to quietly snap away.
Our visit to Mechrey Village with Khatna was a highlight of our time in Cambodia, and Mike, Meghan and I are very excited to return to Siem Reap in November to get to know Khatna and her family better, as well as begin our creative project alongside the students and administrators at Sala Bai.
See more of my iPhoneography elsewhere on this blog or on Flickr.