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Ruos: Polio paralysed my legs, not my ambitions

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Hin Ruos designs home decor and furniture from old logs and tree stumps in Kampong Speu. SUPPLIED

Ruos: Polio paralysed my legs, not my ambitions

Hin Ruos is a man from a simple farming family in Kandal who happens to suffer from a disability, but he never let that hold him back and today he’s reached a level of success in business that many only dream of achieving.

After getting into the real estate business, he earned his first big commission on a land sale and he reinvested the money until finally he was able to purchase more than 100 ha of land in Kampong Tralach district of Kampong Chhnang province after he noticed that it was covered with tree stumps that had been left there for decades.

He collected those tree stumps from species such as trach, thlong, tbeng, sakram and thnong and used his passion and talent for making furniture to turn a profit by making various items out of them according to their size.

With more of the land cleared and easier to build on, he was able to transform the area into a resort where he planted fragrant coconuts amid attractive landscaping.

“I like to make furniture from luxury woods and forsaken tree stumps that have been uprooted, such as thnong tree stumps buried in the ground for many years, especially at my resort. We can use them to make tables, sofas, and carved items according to their shape,” said Ruos, 34, whose left leg was paralysed due to a childhood illness.

Ruos uses a crutch to walk but it doesn’t slow him down one bit as he goes about tending to his businesses each day and coming up with new ideas or learning new skills.

Given the abundance of materials he’d acquired, Ruos began watching videos online to learn how to process tree stumps. He also got advice from traditional furniture makers who lived near the foot of the mountains on things like how to glue the wood, all the while keenly observing the furniture market and which items were selling the best.

Ruos now has a team with furniture makers, wood polishers and craftsmen on down to the people who peel the bark and wash the tree stumps.

Roots always come with the tree stumps and processing them is the responsibility of grandmothers who peel the bark from them and clean them before craftsmen start polishing and painting them according to the furniture makers directions.

At first, Ruos made a table, chair, sofa and other engravings by himself, but once he had too much other work to do at his fragrant coconut resort, he stopped making the furniture himself and now just provides the creative ideas for his team of about 10 people.

“Once I learned how to design furniture, I then started teaching about 10 other apprentices who followed my designs. I make furniture according to the wood’s condition because people like natural furniture but the finished results come in different shapes,” he said.

He said that the furniture is sold as a set – for example, three doll chairs and a table are priced from $300 to $1,000 depending on size, shape and type of wood.

“Most of my customers are from Phnom Penh, but some are resort owners. In general, even those who have a new house in the borey or a new hotel will also like to have natural decorative items, such as roots,” Ruos said.

Pha Lina, a taxi driver, is a supporter of recycled products and loves the design of recycled items. On a recent visit to Ruos’s showroom, he said he was amazed by the quality and he praised the young man’s talent.

“I do not value fancy woods for making furniture. For example, a six metre long wood table that is three or four cm thick and is used for eating meals with only two or three plates on it is just not appropriate because our forests are declining. We should be more cautious about using resources from nature when we can use old wood and recycle and I especially value the creativity of his ideas.

“If wood is hollow, we can polish it and use it as a photo frame to hang on the wall and it would be great. We need to use all of our resources to their full potential if they are used at all. For the best wood, we should preserve it for the next generation to see,” he said.

Ruos was born with a physical body as strong as any other child’s, but at the age of five or six he was told by his mother that he had polio, a disease which eventually left him unable to use his left leg.

Disability, however, could not stop this ambitious young man and with the encouragement of his parents and family, Ruos pursued his studies until he graduated from Norton University.

Ruos’ s life changed when he started work as a real estate agent and he earned a $5,000 commission. He used that money to start buying land and kept acquiring more of it step-by-step. Expanding from smaller to larger plots of land: 10x50m to 20x40m to 30x40m, his land holdings grew. He also planted coconuts and other crops.

Ruos recalled that when he first started collecting tree stumps, some people laughed at him when the tree stumps and roots were being brought to him, wondering aloud if he would use them as firewood. They were surprised when they saw him transform those roots and tree stumps into home decor items and furniture.

“Most of the time, I like to use local trees such as ampil barang and for wild trees, I mostly use thnong roots. I was asking people to bring them to me until it was like a mountain, just a gigantic pile of them. And then I started processing them. I sold some and I kept some for display at my resort,” Ruos explained.

The young man added that the reason for using tree stumps and roots from trees that were already cut down, dug up and discarded was because it’s easier to get legal permission to do it because it does not affect the forests and most don’t see any value in these items.

“In Cambodia, there is a lot of unwanted discarded wood. If we use that to make objects, that is really useful, but some people don’t know what to do with it or only use the discarded wood for fencing,” he said.

Ruos also owns a resort called Chamkar Dong Resort that was designed in the borey style by planting fragrant coconuts in each plot, which come with two years of free maintenance. Visitors can enjoy beautiful outdoor scenery that is perfect for photo opportunities and he hopes to sell plots and see chalets built on his more than 100 ha of land there.

“I have three businesses and each one is related to the others. First, making furniture from unwanted wood. Second, grafting luxury trees to create saplings to plant in gardens. Third, buying useful trees to plant, grow and sell.

“I also have a community market where people from Phnom Penh and from other provinces visiting on the weekends come to shop and we also offer boat rides,” he said.

With the wide range of businesses he’s running – from selling furniture to selling tea, fruits, and plots of lands at his resort – Ruos not only provides employment to nearby villagers, but also to any of his relatives who need work. They are now responsible for a variety of jobs at his enterprises.

“I own a tea shop and fruit shop at PTT petrol station in Oudong and my wife looks after it. I primarily look after the resort. My biological brother and brother-in-law are in charge of the furniture business now, as well as the canteen and the construction we do. But I am the one who created jobs for them, along with 30 other resort staff,” said Ruos, with more than a hint of well-earned pride in his voice.

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