A fleet of cyclos – each one carrying a refrigerator-like box – are ready to travel throughout the city to collect donated items and distribute them to people in need.
Using the slogan “take what you need, give what you can”, the Cyclo Community Pantry was launched by Local4Local and the Cyclo and Career Conservation Association (CCCA) last weekend at the FT Gallery at The Factory in Phnom Penh.
Taing Huang Hao founded the charitable NGO Local4Local in April of last year when he was unable to resume attending university in America due to the pandemic.
He said at the launch ceremony that “our purpose is to improve cyclos’ drivers’ standard of living and help needy people with food and essential items”.
Ten Cyclo Community Pantries painted in different styles by different artists are among those that will be venturing out to help those in need across the capital.
“Typically, all the cyclo pantries will be filled with non-perishable items and essentials like noodles, water, canned fish and more per each pantry. Sometimes there are clothes, shampoo, toothbrush, ointments and so forth,” Hao tells The Post.
Currently, the 10 cyclo pantries have scheduled stops from 9:30-10:30am and 4pm-5pm, and are spread out throughout the city making it easy for donors to access them.
“They are stationed at areas like Beoung Keng Kang, Russian Market, Depo Market, Central Market, Two-deer roundabout, Chroy Changvar and so on,” said Hao.
All items in the cyclo pantry’s “Box of Kindness” are accessible to vulnerable people on the streets like garbage collectors, cyclo drivers, security guards, homeless people and others.
“On days when we have donations like hot meals, they will be distributed by the pantries as well,” says Hao.
The cyclo drivers in charge of the cyclo pantries can also access the food and essentials inside the pantry for themselves and they earn a weekly wage as well paid by Local4Local.
Hao said that donors can also donate at the CCCA headquarters located behind Wat Koh anytime from morning to evening any day of the week at their own convenience.
CCCA director Sambath Im said that the cyclo pantry programme began in June of this year and the community has shown their support for it by donating items.
“We are Cambodians making project happen together: help people on the streets who are struggling with hunger and make it easy for those who want to donate,” says Im.
Sarah J Wong, one of several artists whose artwork will be displayed on cyclo pantries, painted two boxes of kindness. One of them – A Friend of Mine is a Friend of Food – is a tribute to National Bank of Cambodia director-general Chea Serey who is one of Local4Local’s main supporters.
“I thought it was such a cool idea, joining art together with a social cause so of course I said yes. Plus [Hao] is an awesome guy to work with. He’s super supportive and he gave me free reign on designing and painting the pantry which was great,” says Wong.
Wong, 24, is Cambodian-Chinese and she grew up in Cambodia before she went to university in the UK for illustration. She just moved back to Phnom Penh last year.
“I wanted to be a part of it in any way that I could and I think with Covid, not being able to be there in person and help out, I was glad that I could give back just in other ways,” says Wong.
She says she’s always admired the work Hao was doing with Local4Local and the fact that it’s a very transparent, extremely smart and proactive initiative.
“I think that’s why Local4local is so successful and impactful, it’s innovative and creative and isn’t afraid to do things in new ways and combine different areas: art, community, heritage and tradition.
“It’s a great example of having a really inspiring way of approaching social issues and I hope we see more of it in the near future,” she says.
Hao, who knew Wong before launching Local4Local, says the paintings on the pantries by local artists are representations of hope and optimism to show how creativity can bridge gaps and create solidarity.
As the main sponsor of Local4Local, Raksa Koma Foundation donated 700-meal packages and helped promote the charity with many donors.
Chea Serey, who is also a founder of the Raksa Koma Foundation, said in a video of the event that “I remembered that when Local4Local started, most areas in Phnom Penh were locked down. It began with simple activities but it was creative to use cyclo drivers as agents to distribute food to vulnerable people on the streets.”
“I really admired the slogan ‘take what you need, give what you can’. It’s easy to understand and follow for those who want to help out.
“I believe that cyclo pantry will be widely supported by all people and that it will eventually extend to new areas like the provinces,” said Serey.
With the elimination of tourism amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, Hao says he empathised with everyone who was struggling to find enough to eat – especially the cyclo drivers.
Hao told The Post that he had a lot of great memories of riding in cyclos with his grandmother when he was a child and that’s essentially where his fondness for them originates.
“My grandmother took me on cyclo rides along riverside and to school. From year to year, with the surge of vehicles from motos and tuk-tuks to the India-made rickshaws and taxi cabs, the number of cyclos on the road has dramatically decreased,
“As a Cambodian, helping cyclos survive means helping to revive a part of our national identity and also improve the remaining drivers’ lives,” says Hao.
Though he plans to resume his studies as a junior this September at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, majoring in Supply Chain and Operations Management, Hao has already introduced six future plans for Local4Local to expand its community collaboration.
“I will be operating the Local4Local initiative remotely along with the support of Sambath Im and cyclo drivers who will be based in Cambodia,” he says.
He says he plans to go city-wide and into the provinces with the cyclo pantries and potentially introduce rickshaw or tuk-tuk pantries for longer distances with real-time GPS updates showing their location and a platform/website for donors as well as setting up more community shelf food banks at shops and restaurants.
There’s also the Creative Cyclo Tour organised by the newly-created Local4Local Volunteers who will be hosting the Cyclo Pantry Art Competition and the Futuristic Cyclo Prototype Competitions in the near future.
For more details, please contact Hao via email: [email protected]
Donations to Local4Local can be made via ABA account: 002 851 840 (Taing Huang Hao).