ParalySed in one leg at the age of five due to polio, in high school Tann Soren set a goal to complete her Bachelor’s degree despite the difficulties faced by persons with disabilities in Cambodia, eventually graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in economics.

Soren was then lucky enough to meet a life partner in similar circumstances, as her husband has difficulty both walking and sitting.

They’ve been running a business producing and selling banana chips wholesale in some supermarkets and tourist areas in Siem Reap after losing their jobs due to Covid-19.

As a snack, banana chips are so popular with young and old alike that office workers sometimes buy banana chips to chew while working.

Early in the morning, the couple gets up and starts peeling almost-ripe bananas and then cuts them into thin slices and soaks them in water before frying them until they have a crisp brown colour.

Soren spoke to The Post while sitting and packing banana chips into white transparent plastic bags labelled with the brand “Natural Banana Chips”.

“I ran the business of making and selling bananas chips at the urging of my mother. During the Covid-19 period, selling food was better than selling consumer goods,” she said.

Their banana chips business has been in operation for more than two years now after Covid-19 destroyed their previous business of making and selling jewellery such as necklaces and beaded bracelets for tourists.

Soren had an advantage because her mother was a wholesale banana seller from Preah Vihear province, so she started making banana chips with her husband to support themselves.

“We have not been able to expand our manufacturing business much because we also had to spend a lot during Covid-19. In fact, when we started this business, we were basically almost out of money,” Soren said.

In one day, the owner of this banana chips handicraft business can sell about 30 kg of chips distributed between two supermarkets in Siem Reap. Natural Banana Chips cost 25,000 riel per kilogram.

Natural Banana Chips can sell more than 100 kilogram per day during certain festivals. Soren said that at tourist sites the bananas chips are sell out whenever they have an opportunity to market them there, but some places have not yet given her the opportunity to put her product up for sale yet.

The owner of Natural Banana Chips claims that her products focus on quality, using clean cooking oil that does not affect health while utilising innovations different from traditional production methods.

“Actually, I intended to expand into producing potato chips and other products than bananas chips but because potatoes are expensive and need more ingredients, selling potato chips is not profitable,” she said.

Soren, 33, admits that some customers complain that her bananas chips are more expensive than other banana chips, which cost only 15,000 riel on average.

“I told them that because I focus on quality and use clean oil, my banana chips are expensive and if I sell below this price, I will not make a profit,” she said.

Meanwhile, in addition to supermarkets and marts, she also sells small packages for 5,000 riel at regular markets and her products have many customers and a lot of support from the general public.

“By 2022, people are starting to know me and I can sell them anywhere. Customers know me through social media like Facebook and TikTok, where we offer delivery to other provinces,” she said.

Although she needs two crutches to walk, Soren said that she has no problem running her business because the production of banana chips does not require her to walk much.

Prior to starting her career selling jewellery and then banana chips, Soren worked for many years in Phnom Penh after she graduated with a degree in economics from the National University of Management.

“I received a scholarship from a Japanese organisation that gives people with disabilities the opportunity to study at the National University of Management (NUM) in Phnom Penh after finishing grade 12,” said Soren, who is also the mother a five-year-old child.

Although she could probably find work in Phnom Penh, in the province she has had difficulty finding a job since the Covid-19 outbreak began and employment for the disabled in the provinces does not yet offer a wide range of opportunities.

Soren added that in Siem Reap the labour market seems to be narrow and some organisations require staff to go on missions to communities that are very difficult to access for people with severe disabilities.

During her studies she volunteered for an organisation and after graduating she worked in Phnom Penh for six years for various companies, but her parents did not want their daughter to work in Phnom Penh alone and they called her back to Siem Reap.

For now, Soren and her husband intend to continue on with the Natural Banana Chips business and hope to expand it further if possible.

“I would like to ask people to support the quality of our handicraft products and support people with disabilities in their work and businesses so that they can earn a living,” Soren said.