I have some new earrings, and I wanted to tell you all about them.
They are big and shiny – here’s a photo that shows them very clearly.
I got them online from Eighteen Rabbit, a shop that sells lovely fair-trade things.
I think these earrings are extra special because of the story behind them. They come from Cambodia, and they were made by Chantha Thoeun and Sopheak Chem and sold through Craftworks Cambodia.
For most people who are old enough to remember the 1960s and early 70s, mention of ‘Cambodia’, ‘Vietnam’ and ‘Phnom Penh’ will ring bells.
The Vietnam War was a matter of massive protest – songs like Country Joe and the Fish's One, two, three, what are we fighting for? (contains swearing) and Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant came out of the protest movement, and whether you fought in the war, supported it, protested against it, or merely witnessed the parade of terrible photos that came back from it to be published in Western newspapers, it was an intrinsic and important part of the profound and formative experience that was the 1960s. The iconic pictures of 9-year-old Kim Phuc, of terrified villagers or a mother grieving for her dead child, of napalm attacks and soldiers struggling through ditches, like the vivid photo-journalism of the Korean War, burned onto our memories images we shall never forget.
Chantha Thoeun grew up in the Pursat province in western Cambodia. His mother died when he was only two, and then when he was eight his father was killed by a Khmer Rouge soldier. The history of these conflicts, genocides etc is complicated, but you can gain an understanding here of the links between Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the Vietnam War. It also brings out how heavily Western powers were implicated in the atrocities and the unrest in both countries.
Chantha Thoeun had been his parents’ only child, so after his father’s death he was cared for by his grandparents. The Skip Organisation helped with his education, and at their orphanage centre at Phnom Penh he learned to make jewellery during his teenage years.
Four years ago he married Thearny Kol, who also makes jewellery and sews Eco-bags. A little girl, Rozannara Chantha, was born to them – she’s a toddler now. Read about the family here.
The rain of bombs and bullets in the 60s and 70s left Cambodia littered with bomb casings and spent bullets. Six artisans selling through Craftworks Cambodia, of whom Chantha is one, had the idea of using the bomb casings and bullets as raw materials for jewellery.
From the conflict that shattered his childhood, Chantha has found the means to seed the business that supports his family, now in his adult life.
Craftworks Cambodia is a fair-trade organisation that ensures a fair recompense for the artisans whose work they carry, and provides support for education and training in the communities of Cambodia. Craftworks Cambodia works with disabled and impoverished artisans affected by war, poverty and HIV/AIDS.
Meanwhile in the UK, Eighteen Rabbit has embarked on a trading relationship with Craftworks Cambodia, and is the exclusive UK source of the beautiful jewellery Chem and Chantha make by hand from war debris in their home workshops. Louise at Eighteen Rabbit (there's an online store, but the shop is in Hay-on-Wye on the borders of England and Wales, which is itself a special and wonderful, quite magical place) tells me that they are expecting additional items in the Cambodian jewellery range at the beginning of February - some lovely necklaces as well as more earrings and bangles.
To me, these earrings are a sign of hope:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,because the Lord has anointed meto proclaim good news to the poor.He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,to proclaim freedom for the captivesand release from darkness for the prisoners,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favourand the day of vengeance of our God,to comfort all who mournand provide for those who grieve in Zion~ to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,the oil of joy instead of mourning,and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
(Isaiah 61:1-3, the prophecy that Jesus later claims for himself, saying ‘Today this has come true in your hearing.”)
These earrings speak of the building of the Peaceable Kingdom. I feel so proud and privileged to wear them. It is in some small way a recognition that all of us bear responsibility for the consequences of war, and offers a way to go back and be part of hope as well as the destruction and despair.