The excellent Saray Water Hyacinth project is a community project in Prek Toal village, Battambang Province, Cambodia organized and funded by the NGO Osmose and the Australian Government Prek Toal, a large village – or small town – situated at the point where the Sangker River meets the Tonle Sap Lake is entirely constructed on rafts, floating on the water. Schools, shops, karaoke bar, a church – everything is built on rafts with only the village wat and a couple of the largest houses situated on the rare patches of dry land. All very picturesque and highly photogenic but a tough life for the inhabitants who traditionally rely on fishing, more fishing and further fishing for their livelihoods.
This particular scheme – also set up in a floating workshop – involves village families in fabricating and selling handicrafts made from dried water-hyacinth stems in order to supplement their incomes. It’s killing two birds with one stone too, since the non-indigenous water hyacinths have become a serious problem in the area, proliferating to such an extent that they now clog up a lot of Cambodian waterways including rivers around Prek Toal itself.
The hyacinth stalks are dried then woven into mats, hats, baskets etc for sale to passers-by. Not only attractive, but the dried stems are also particularly soft compared to other types of dried reeds etc, so make for great mats. (Unfortunately, my dog also appreciated hyacinth stems and ate the last mat I brought home so I’ll be buying another one next time we pass through Prek Toal.)