It was Sophea Chea’s own experience as a newly arrived Cambodian migrant that inspired her to develop social enterprise Angkor Flowers and Crafts.
The business trains migrant and refugee women with skills in floristry, and aims to grow their confidence along with their English skills. This, she hopes, will set them on the path to employment.
Sophea understands how limited language skills limit opportunity in a new country.
“When I first came here, I had difficulty with my English,” explains Sophea.
“When you couldn’t communicate you felt like you couldn’t do anything.”
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Sophea arrived in Australia in 2007 to study a Master of Business Administration at the University of Western Sydney.
However, her challenges began earlier, in her home country, as she struggled to convince her family to break with tradition and allow her to study abroad.
Sophea was finally successful in earning her degree and took a job as a social worker.
“I worked with migrants and refugees for about 3 or 4 years, so I had an understanding where these women came from, and their lack of confidence," she says.
Sophea completed a course at the School of Social Entrepreneurship before launching Angkor Flowers and Crafts in September 2014.
“With my community work I can only provide certain services but I was looking for better outcomes, and employment opportunities, so that’s why I started Angkor Flowers.”
Angkor Flowers develops refugee and migrant women's confidence and business skills through flower arrangement courses. Source: Supplied
The program’s first course started with a class of 10 women in 2015, thanks to seed funding from Fairfield City Council.
In 2017, Sophea was able to secure further funding from Club Marconi's, which supports community projects with grants of up to $25,000.
“So we created two classes: one for beginners and one for more highly skilled florists.
“Our classes usually run from November to June,” Sophea explains.
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The creativity involved in flower arranging is key to this social enterprise platform.
"Flowers can connect women and, in the business, I can see women also building relationships by sending message words cannot express.”
Sophea can see real benefits of linking women in this way, despite a limited number of full-time floristry jobs.
However, Angkor Flowers has a broader purpose, by building women’s confidence in themselves and their abilities.
“The program we offer is like a stepping stone for happiness. Not all the women will become florists. Growing confidence is the core of what we want to achieve.”
“The best thing is, I can hear the women say is ‘I can do this. Thank you very much’.
"That just makes me think, I have done something,” Sophea says, beaming with pride.