toek chhou district, Kampot province – In the village of Kompong Kreng, change is in the air and it smells like cookies.
DEVI House, an umbrella organization started in November by SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua, hopes to help local women through selling a range of sweets that will benefit three organizations dedicated to bettering the lives of Cambodian women.
Ms Sochua said she started DEVI because it was one way to help her constituents.
“And if I have to sell cookies, then I will sell cookies,” she said.
The treats, along with other Kampot specialties, such as the province’s well-known pepper, will be featured on Sunday at Cafe Living Room in Phnom Penh. There will also be traditional music and visitors will see demonstrations of basket weaving and how the cookies are made.
The rolled, wafer-thin cookies are a well-known treat in Cambodia but Ms Sochua said DEVI is updating the snack by offering six flavors that are locally produced: lime, Ratanakkiri coffee, coconut, chocolate, ginger and pandan.
Devi also offers an all-natural, meringue-like cookie made from cassava, eggs and sugar.
Ms Sochua said DEVI buys the cookies from provincial women at a higher price than they would be making if they were selling them on their own. DEVI also sets up saving plans for the women, Ms Sochua added, because many women give the entirety of their wages to their family but fail to save for their own well being.
The three organizations that benefit from DEVI are Strey Khmer, which is dedicated to helping provide health care and safe houses for women working on rubber plantations, Meakea Srey, which works with women weavers to help provide credit and business skills and Grassroots Women for Change, a group dedicated to increasing the role of women in politics.
To make the wafer rolls, a small spoonful of batter is put on a griddle and cooked until they reach a stage where it has firmed up but is still pliable enough to be rolled. Then it has be pulled off the hot iron griddle quickly by hand, folded then rolled into the perfect uniform shape before the wafer cools and sets.
Seng Siv Ngin, 31, is a professional when it comes to making the cookies. She averages nearly 5,800 rolled wafer cookies, or 180 cookie packages, a day.
She said she first learned to make the cookies at age of 10 and for a time sold the cookies in Kampot on her own. But by working for DEVI, she said, she earns a higher wage and even has her nieces help out from time to time.
“I hope this opportunity does well because there are three other people in my family can do this job as well,” she said.
For Siv Koom, 45, orders from DEVI helps boost her 17-year-old cookie business, which produces the roles and the meringue-like shell cookies.
She said she started the operation with just her husband who was in charge of baking the treats while she packaged them. Since then, she has been able to expand her business to include 20 employees from the village.
“It’s increased the opportunities for people who have no jobs here, they can now come and work.”