:::

Taiwan social enterprise improving lives in rural Cambodia

ELIV Co. volunteers build squat toilets and houses in Cambodia’s Siem Reap province using locally available bamboo and palm fronds. (Photo Courtesy of ELIV Co.)

ELIV Co. volunteers build squat toilets and houses in Cambodia’s Siem Reap province using locally available bamboo and palm fronds. (Photo Courtesy of ELIV Co.)
 

Social enterprise ELIV Co., short for Empowering Lives through Innovative Volunteerism, is part of a growing industry bringing Taiwan volunteers to work on projects that enhance living standards in developing countries. One of the most successful examples is in Cambodia, where the nonprofit has improved residents’ lives and broadened program participants’ horizons.

Founded in 2010, Taipei City-based ELIV is dedicated to humanitarian work at home and abroad made possible by a willing army of volunteers travelling on specially packaged tours. ELIV’s mission in Cambodia focuses on building housing units and toilets in rural areas of Siem Reap province.

Ensuring such locations have access to basic facilities is especially important in Cambodia. According to the World Bank, only 23 percent of the country’s population was urbanized in 2018—the lowest percentage in Southeast Asia, below Myanmar, 31 percent; Vietnam, 36 percent; and Thailand, 50 percent.
 

Bun Chou, an ELIV group leader, introduces the tools used to build an outdoor toilet during a volunteer mission to Siem Reap. (Photo by Oscar Chung)

Bun Chou, an ELIV group leader, introduces the tools used to build an outdoor toilet during a volunteer mission to Siem Reap. (Photo by Oscar Chung)
 

“In the countryside people typically relieve themselves outdoors. Women in particular find it embarrassing and often need to walk a considerable distance from home to find a comfortable spot. This can be a safety concern, especially during the long rainy season,” said Bun Chou, a Cambodian group leader and translator for ELIV.

In addition to upgrading living conditions for locals, Bun said ELIV’s work is boosting social inclusion of isolated communities. “Our missions bring volunteers to very remote villages, some of which may have been secluded from the outside world for years”, she said. “They are often wary of outsiders, but the altruism shown by ELIV teams alleviates their concerns.”
 

Volunteers construct an outdoor toilet in Siem Reap. (Photo by Oscar Chung)

Volunteers construct an outdoor toilet in Siem Reap. (Photo by Oscar Chung)
 

The missions are also rewarding experiences for participants. “Doing volunteer work has gotten me out of my comfort zone and made me realize there’s so much I can do to improve the lives of others,” said Yanni Tsai, deputy leader of one of the groups that travelled to Cambodia in 2019. “Taking part has made me realize the importance of volunteering, and I’ll be on the lookout for similar opportunities in the future,” she added.

Tsai’s group comprised Bun and 26 high school and college students from Taiwan. Its nine-day mission saw the group build a squat toilet and house in northern Siem Reap. Both structures were constructed with roofs of corrugated iron and walls made of locally available palm fronds and bamboo sticks.

To date, ELIV has organized more than 180 groups of Taiwan volunteers to Cambodia drawn from all ages and backgrounds, including students, office workers and retirees. (E) (By Oscar Chung)
 

Members of an ELIV-organized volunteer group are all smiles in front of a house they built in Siem Reap. (Photo Courtesy of ELIV)

Members of an ELIV-organized volunteer group are all smiles in front of a house they built in Siem Reap. (Photo Courtesy of ELIV)