Winery Owner Makes Difference in Impoverished Asia
It’s much more than charity for the tiny village of Chheneng, in the Mondulkiri province of Cambodia – an impoverished place populated by the Pnong, an ethnic minority that suffered much under regimes of the last century in both Cambodia and Vietnam. The village has no running water or electricity, and they have little to eat on a regular basis, mostly foraging in the jungle for food.
But Nehalem’s Ray Shackelford has been helping out with donations and strategies that have given them a means to help themselves – much more than just a handout. Along with Shackelford, a man in town known as Elephant and his brother-in-law Sen Heng, villagers have built two schools, another well for the people, and a sewing shop that is helping them on their way to self-sufficiency.
Shackelford owns the Nehalem Bay Winery on the north coast and the Depoe Bay Winery on the central coast.
Shackelford first met Elephant in 1992 – a man whose birth name is Chan Kem Lang. At the time he was a bicycle taxi driver. “I have seen him – and helped him – go from being a driver to this year getting his bachelors degree,” Shackelford said.
Heng heads up the construction projects, while his wife - Sen Ratanna – teaches the villagers how to sew.
Over those years, Shackelford has poured around $30,000 into helping the village in various projects, which includes helping them to buy property, building the new well, and creating some bathroom facilities. One of the schools cost $800 to build, and the other $700 – unbelievably cheap compared to such costs in the west. Together the schools teach about 60 children.
The sewing shop creates small, beautiful handbags, backpacks and wine bags, made from a silk-like fabric of bright colors and a hint of iridescence. These are being sold at Nehalem Bay Winery and the Depoe Bay Winery, allowing the public to help these people.
This last trip, Shackelford was able to hand them $1500 from the bag sales – roughly 15 times the amount of money the entire village might have at any one time.
In the past, Shackelford has purchased some rice for them to eat, and acquired seeds for a garden project so they can grow better food for themselves.
“The schools were built with local materials, like bamboo and coco wood, and all the work was done by parents and teachers,” Shackelford said. “The well was dug by experienced diggers. But wow, what a bad job that is. Can you imagine digging a 39-inch by 39-inch square hole in the ground, about 25 or 30 feet deep, by hand, and pulling the dirt up with just a bucket? Tough and dangerous.”
Chheneng is actually divided up into the new one and the old village, and each has a school for the first time in their existence. “The old one is about seven kilometers off the highway, and the highway is kind of a joke,” Shackelford said. “Really, it’s just a bad road. In the rainy season it can only be traversed by water buffalo and a cart, or by walking with mud up to your knees. In July I was able to ride it with a motorbike, but not now.”
Shackelford spends much of the year traveling all over the world, exploring and tasting new things, like a sort of Indiana Jones for the north Oregon coast. On his adventures, he has personally grabbed some international interest in the plight of the Pnong. Chatting with a pair of Dutch teachers in Berlin, Germany, he got them to donate some money. His son in Texas helped out financially, as did some of those attending his 50th high school reunion recently.
All proceeds go to the villagers.