Kirstin and Daron Showalter, Goshen College graduates from Ann Arbor, Michigan, are serving with MCC in Cambodia. Kirstin is the Exchange Coordinator for MCC Cambodia, where she works with SALT and YAMEN! volunteers and hosts visitors and learning tours. Daron is Handicraft Business Advisor to Rajana Association.
It’s mid-morning when we stop by Rajana Association’s Siem Reap store and meet Mr. Ratana, the head potter of Rajana’s four-year-old pottery project. Ratana glows as he describes his recent creations and the new glazes he and the other potters are experimenting with. He is excited to show us the newest designs, so we all climb into a tuktuk (a four-person carriage pulled by a motorbike) and head to the ceramic studio.
Rajana’s pottery project began in 2008 with the help of MCC. However, by 2011 the studio needed a new location and updated facilities. So thanks to support from Ten Thousand Villages, Tom Unzicker (of Unzicker Bros. Pottery, Thorntown, IN) and MCC, the Rajana pottery project was revitalized. In September 2011, Philip Hosler, a 2010 Goshen College graduate, arrived as a SALT (Serving And Learning Together) volunteer and walked alongside the potters as they found a new space and rebuilt the entire pottery studio, complete with a new gas-fired kiln.
It takes us about 15 minutes to travel to Rajana’s new pottery studio, on the outskirts of Siem Reap town. When we arrive, Ms. Srey Dee, Mr. Urn and Mr. Seng Thai are already there, working away. Srey Dee is throwing bowls with fitted covers on one of the kick-wheels. Urn is across the room, throwing candle holders—a design recently developed by the potters and a very popular product in the local Rajana store. Seng Thai is browsing through a book of traditional Cambodian drawings and sculptures, gathering inspiration for his future carvings on the formed clay. (Mr. Bros, the pottery project’s main designer, is absent today. His wife just gave birth to a son, Samuel, and so Bros is taking his seven-day paternity leave.)
Ratana gives us a tour of the studio and shows us the teapots he has been working on. They are unfinished, waiting to be fired, but already have beautiful designs carved into the exteriors. Ratana tells us he plans to make a full tea set, complete with matching cups and a tray. He wants them to be finished in the studio’s newest glaze: a dark blue.
We journey back to Rajana’s store, where we browse the beautiful, finished ceramics available for sale: candle holders, coffee mugs, bowls, teapots and juicers. (Rajana’s most popular ceramic product—the Leaf and Branch Mug—is available for purchase at Ten Thousand Villages’ stores throughout the U.S. and Canada.)
It is exciting for us to see how far the project has come in less than two years! We are so thankful for the opportunity to work with, and know, such skilled and inspiring artisans.