The golden age of the Khmer civilization stretched from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries, building the astonishing Angkor Wat, one of the great Wonders of the World. Its agriculture and sericulture (silk production) flourished, giving birth to cultural and spiritual expressions of remarkable beauty with its fine handicrafts of silk-weaving, silver work, and stone carving.
Democratic Kampuchea (1970-1979) was one of the worst human tragedies of the twentieth century. The extremist Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge Army literally decimated Cambodia. Two million people were either killed or died of malnutrition and disease during this period, leaving thousands of widows and orphans. That such premeditated genocide took place in our lifetime defies human comprehension.
Compared to its recent past, the 1993-2007 period has been one of relative stability for Cambodia. However, political violence, extreme poverty, and widespread corruption continues. The average family income is still at about $300 a year, less in isolated rural areas without plumbing, electricity, or education. Many Cambodian people have untreated psychological problems today due to the extreme suffering and loss they were forced to endure without protest.
Despite such a tragic past and the problems that exist today, Cambodians remain a good-natured, optimistic people. A resurgence of traditional handicraft production by the younger generation has helped many begin to build stable incomes and small businesses, many with the help of non-governmental organizations. Fair Trade is bringing the work of these talented artisans into the global marketplace and, in so doing, helping Cambodia's people look to the future with hope.