Solar Powered Tuk-Tuk Serves up Hope

Star 8 helping women from Phnom Penh’s dumpsite create new lives selling coffee.

The solar-powered coffee tuk-tuk can be found on Street 155 in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Tom Poung area. 


PHNOM PENH, (Khmer Times) – Aimee Cheung, a spokeswoman for local NGO Aziza’s Place, talked to Khmer Times about the organization’s latest venture, helping women from Phnom Penh’s dumpsite create new lives selling coffee.
How did the idea for Aziza’s Coffee come about?
“Aziza’s Coffee is a social enterprise run by the NGO Aziza’s Place. The objective was to create employment for women from dumpsite communities. Aziza’s Place is an organization which works with underprivileged children, mainly from the dumpsite communities.
“What we had found is that [despite our work] a family’s condition was largely unchanged. The children would be supported and going to school, however, the mothers and the fathers would still be working on the dumpsite, so their lifestyle was unchanged. Our idea was to expand our services and create opportunities for the women.
“We are a not-for–profit enterprise and our main focus is on environmental and social impact, so creating jobs for the women, educating the public about the environment and the garbage that we generate.”
How important is being environmentally friendly?
“Star8 are an Australian manufacturing firm who have recently set up in Phnom Penh, we reached out to them as they were producing and manufacturing solar powered vehicles here in Cambodia, and they’ve been really supportive and have provided us with a solar-powered tuk-tuk at a favorable price. We made use of their fabricator and designer who helped us with the bespoke design of our tuk-tuk. For example, we wanted internal shelves and a collapsible driver’s seat so the women can use it as a worktable when they’re serving coffee.
“We’ve tried very hard to be creative and different from other coffee tuk-tuks on the streets. Ours is the very first solar-powered tuk-tuk in Cambodia. The idea was really to be environmentally conscious, especially as the women were working on dumpsites previously. We encourage customers to use aluminum cans and plastic bottles as currency, so if you bring us one plastic bottle you get 500 riel off your coffee, give us two and you get 1,000 riel off. It’s really a communications and educational tool to show people your garbage does have value, and when you throw it away, think about where it ends up, i.e. the dumpsite. We also use paper where possible. Paper is much kinder to the environment and disintegrates faster than plastic.”
How has it been working with the women?
“Working with the dumpsite community is very different and not like working with trained individuals like you or me. Most are illiterate, so at the beginning we had a three-month program for the three women. They have different levels of literacy but largely they are, for all intents and purposes, illiterate. The training program had to be adaptable day-to-day. My initial planning changed drastically: for example for you or I to go to a workshop we would write notes in a notepad. Two weeks later we could refer back to these notes.
“These women can’t do that. The learning curve and progress was quite difficult. We trained each of them for a role in the tuk-tuk; customer service, English and even how to drive a tuk-tuk. Women don’t usually drive tuk-tuks and these women were not financially able to afford a moto, so we helped train them for that as well. We also offered them a kitchen hygiene course, we taught them how to make the drinks of course, and also the noodle salads that we sell.
“We did not recruit these women based on intelligence or ability but we looked at ambition and motivation to change. This motivation helped them learn the numbers and how to read and write, even the Arabic numbers that we use. That’s how they were able to push themselves and open a fresh chapter in their lives.
“That’s not easy. They’re 40 years old and have children, so to make such a big change in their life wasn’t a small decision. It’s very admirable and they’re very strong women.
“The women are strong and really amazing. Many of them are single parents. They can’t read or write, they move to Phnom Penh to work on a dumpsite and feed their family of four or five children, and when you’re in a community like that it is a brave decision to attempt to make a change. They’ve worked really hard to get to where they are. Some of them are very shy and have confidence and self-esteem issues. We’ve worked hard to help them. It was difficult for them to talk to a customer who doesn’t speak Khmer.”
Will there be more solar-powered coffee tuk tuks around the city?
“We would love to have more tuk-tuks, we don’t have the capital to roll out five tuk-tuks at a time so we look for funding from donors for our expansion plan. Our current tuk-tuk is based in the Russian Market area on street 155. Actually, beginning next week the tuk-tuk will be moving to a couple of locations during the day, to reach as many customers as possible. It’s a fixed schedule to ensure regularity, and our schedule is up on our Facebook page. All locations are in the Russian Market and Boeung Trabek area.
“We would like more to cover more areas of the city and that is something we’re working towards. Our future plan is to perhaps have a micro-franchising model where the women can own the business, although this is something which we are still developing.
“It’s taken time to build our reputation. Russian Market is very much a community, people from Russian Market know us but outside of that, in BKK1 we still need to build.
“We’ve only been running two months and we’re still learning. From a technical point of view, we’ve taken quite a leap forward by using a solar powered tuk-tuk. Pollution is a huge problem in Phnom Penh and as a cyclist I can’t travel without a face mask. I would love to see solar energy take off here, but that will only happen when it becomes cheaper both to manufacture and for the end user.”