ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
The first question we always get is: Why Cambodia?
Simple, it's the people.
Some of the kids in the little village that harvests sea salt on Cambodia's southwestern coast.
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, PHOTO BY TOM GORDONThe small Southeast Asian nation of Cambodia has been through a lot. There have been invasions by its more powerful neighbors and a civil war that saw up to 2 million people perish. Yet the people of Cambodia always seem to bounce back. A visitor can't help but be entranced by the easy smiles, the warm welcomes and the beautiful countryside.
About three years ago we were visiting Kampot and Kep provinces in southwest Cambodia. We stopped at a farm that grew peppercorns. The taste was like no other pepper we ever had. We asked the poor farmer how we could help him. His answer was simple: "Sell our pepper in your country."
So we decided to give it a try. Keep in mind, we both have real jobs. Cris is a graphic designer and I am an editor here at the Register.
We knew little about international trade – but we were about to learn. We had to secure a steady supply of Kampot pepper, master shipping, navigate customs, set up a website and get the word out.
Somehow it all came together and we called it the Pepper Project.
Kampot pepper is making a comeback with about 125 families growing it. It's handpicked. It's organic. It's a product we are proud to offer.
We made a commitment to donate our profits back to Cambodia. Cambodia is one of the poorest nations on earth so it wasn't hard to find some worthy causes.
We settled on the Daughters of Cambodia as our primary beneficiary. Ruth Elliott, who runs Daughters, takes in about 100 former sex workers – both female and male – and teaches them to work with wood, to sew, to wait tables or work in the day spa. Anything to pry them away from their past lives.
We sponsor two young ladies at Daughters of Cambodia. They earn about $80 a month and in Cambodia's capital of Phnom Penh you can live on that. We sell their products on our website, pepperproject.org.
We also donate medical supplies to Prey Thom, a rural health center in Kep Province.
Some of our customers banded together and bought supplies for 11 youngsters to go to school in an out-of-the-way little village called Chamkar Bei.
In the coming months we'll talk about some of those people, we'll share recipes (prepared with Kampot pepper, of course), we'll discuss travel and have more on the Pepper Project.
Cris Peterson and Tom Gordon live in Orange with their rescue dog.