Nakupenda is a love story – it literally means “I love you” in Swahili. A love story between the Khmer and European cultures. A love story between mankind and nature.
We are a young project that mixes permaculture farming with community living. In our place, we grow together by sharing knowledge and experience with each other. We respect nature and all living beings, and are on our way to a self-sufficient lifestyle.
Why we create in Nakupenda ?
1) We want to create a respectful project, where Europeans and Cambodians are “at the same level”.
Working – both in NGO during the years 2000, Singyi and Denis were facing the side effects of the humanitarism in poor countries: westerners were considered as rescuers while Cambodians where considering themselves as victims. This perverse and inadequate link – between foreigners who don’t even speak a word of Khmer and local people – lead us to absurdity and disillusion.
Moreover, sharing international couple reality make us understand quickly our different status… The migrations laws are quite absurd and don’t give the same rights to the world citizens. In 2011, facing absurd laws (in French Embassy in Phnom Penh), we nearly decided not to come back to Belgium, while facing the authorities of the French Embassy in Phnom Penh. Westerners have not the same rights than Cambodian (and citizens from many other South countries)…England and most countries of Europa – acts, as if citizens from “poor countries” will take benefit from the social status of European citizens, …
As a couple, we make us the promise to act as a “non westerner” citizens.
Finally, we want to create a community of people, where we believe that people are all equal in the world.
2) A focus on Body-Care and Mind awareness (meditation).
Since the beginning, we have desired to create a peaceful place / where we can meditate. Buddhism Theravada is the Buddhism existing in Cambodia and south-East Asian Countries. Buddhist monks are inspiring the Cambodian society. By their way of life (simple life, begging for food, walking barefoot, retiring in monastery, …) – they have become the centre of the society. Each Cambodian is questioned, puzzled and pushed by this positive energy of the monks.
However, this practice may ignore the inner part of the citizen / to develop their own “meditation mind”. The Buddhism Mahayana and the Tibetan Buddhism teaches us to be our own guide in life, reveals the importance of meditation in our everyday life.
In Nakupenda, we want to be a place of the meeting of both practice. Where the practice of the Cambodian Buddhist monks join the practice of the individuals.
Mindfulness can be practiced very easily in our everyday activity, like washing the dishes, planting a tree, watering the garden, harvesting, cooking, mulching, preparing natural products, …This practice – inspired by Thich Nhat Han – is very important Nakupenda. In August 2019, Sinya, the responsible of Nakupenda, decided to go to Kampong Cham to practice Vipassana for 10 days. She came back with the desire to create a meditation “spirit” in Nakupenda.
We also promote all kind of practice, that makes our mind quiet / and open our hearts : yoga, swimming, dancing, sport, group discussion, helping the community, non violence dialogue, assertiveness, … We specially encourage our volunteers to practice yoga, a very strong practice that prepares the mind to the meditation. In November 2019, Kate, one of our long-term volunteers decided to go to India to become a yoga teacher.
Finally, we tend to be a community where we are not dependent on any drugs (alcohol included), but also from Internet / smart phones, …
–> Take care of ourselves / physically and emotionally.
Create a place where we take care of ourselves physically /emotionally and spiritually is the 2d focus.
3) A place that respects the nature.
Facing a massive consuming society, soon, ourselves and lots of volunteers have felt the idea to live on a more self-sufficient way. That’s one of the reason we decided to buy a field and develop our own skills, own food, own resources.
In permaculture, as animals are part of the same nature and belongs to the same earth, we need respect to them and try not to perturb them, understand the way they can help our permaculture work. Beehives are also part of this dynamics.
We try to build – with our hands – the place where we live / where we work, with natural building (mix of earth, sand, straw, tree chips, …)
As much as possible, we want to become self-sufficient.
Our third focus is the importance to be reconnected to our Earth, Our Mother. We try, by this way, to reconnect and protect our unique planet, the earth.
How it started
Originally, Nakupenda is the fruit of a friendship between two couples, Singyi-Denis and Virginie-Bruno, who used to live in Cambodia between 2007 and 2011. They shared the same desire to live differently, more aware of the importance of solidarity and respect for the Earth, and decided to create something together.
The project became true at the end of 2014, when a land with many cashew trees and surrounded by mountains was bought in the countryside of Kampot. Singyi’s father then started to live on the field and to plant the first trees.
In March 2016, Virginie and Bruno got involved in another adventure in Belgium and Singyi and Denis decided to keep developing a project on their own. They had been working for NGOs, where their illusions got crushed, and really wanted to offer an alternative. Cambodia was changing very quickly, trying to rebuild itself after the Pol Pot regime and many chaotic political situations, but was mainly focused on economical growth. Their intention was to focus on the strengths of Cambodia: its human and artistic resources.
Developing the vision
Singyi gave a big impulse to the project in July 2016 and the project took a social turn. The idea became to build a community of cambodian women who live together in an ecological project, while rebuilding themselves after violence and all kinds of abuse.
In September 2016, more members of Singyi’s family joined the project: her mother and her sister Sinya moved into the house and continued to develop the potential of the land by digging ponds and planting more trees (coconut, mango, avocado, …).
In the meantime, Singyi and Denis were travelling, meeting spiritual people, builders and artists, visiting communities, ashrams, ecological guesthouses and retreat centers. Everybody and everything inspired them. Until finally, in 2017, they decided to move back to Cambodia to develop the project directly from the field.
In January 2018, Marie and Benoît – two experienced gardeners that Singyi and Denis met during their stay in the Avioth community in France – came to help. Their presence and ideas confirmed the will to use permaculture techniques and principles in the garden and the vision of becoming some kind of ecovillage.
A few months later, in March 2018, the first volunteers came: Aurélia and Hadrien. Soon followed by Pierre-Louis, the first long-term volunteer. He helped the family to manage the project for several months and subscribed it on social platforms – Facebook, Workaway and HelpX. Volunteers then started to join from all over the world and Nakupenda switched from a family project to an international community.
Thanks to them, many ideas were developed: beehives (Éric), cashew juice (Lena), natural building (Etienne), firepit (Alex and Julie), cob oven (Aurélien and Amandine), plant research / naturopathy (Martin), collective artwork (Etienne), cashew cheese (Nastasia), crowdfunding (Robin), sharing circle (Julie), ecobricks (Eva), chickens backyard (James), etc.
In April 2018, Julie joined as a normal volunteer but quickly decided to stay longer – she shared the same values, and was looking for a place like this to get involved in. Former IT expert, she created this website and improved the social media presence of the farm. She also brought more structure and was for 9 months our project coordinator, managing the farm activities in collaboration with Sinya and taking care of the volunteers and the animals.
Eager to learn about permaculture in tropical climate, Sinya and Singyi went to Thailand in September 2018 to follow a Permaculture Design Course (combined with a Natural Building Course) in an inspiring project called Rak Tamachat.
As you can read in the above section, a project like Nakupenda wasn’t created in one day. We were inspired – and continue to be – by many projects / people with similar values: