One Gift Changes 3 Lives

API sat down for a Q&A with our very own Roni Sivan, founder of Krama Wheel, two years ago. When we decided to begin offering Krama Wheel scarves as part of our Teach, Work, and Volunteer programs, we revisited our conversation to ask a few more in-depth questions. Call us curious!

Roni in SE Asia

API:

Just to recap, how did you get the idea for Krama Wheel?

RS:

The idea was born from my travels to Southeast Asia in 2010. I went with no intention of volunteering or anything like that. I just wanted to travel. I went to Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. I knew nothing about Cambodia. While I was traveling, I heard of this placed called Angkor Wat and that I should really go there. Once I arrived, something just connected. I quickly learned about their history and the genocide that plagued the country in the 1970s. I was just really taken aback by their situation and how I had really known nothing about it. I met up with some individuals who were volunteering at the time, and once I got to talking with them my plans changed. I already had a flight booked to the Thai Islands, where I was going to spend the end of my trip just hanging out on the beach. Cambodia changed all that. I decided to stay instead and spend the remainder of my trip volunteering. I also wanted to learn more about the people and their history. Something that I learned was that kids are not allowed to go to school without a school uniform. People in poor communities can barely feed their families, let alone pay for a school uniform. I thought this was something that I could help with. So I started buying scarves. They had these beautiful scarves that I just really loved, and I thought they would be popular in the States. So I had this idea that I could take a bunch of these back and sell them and use the money to help these kids pay for their uniforms. And it worked! I stuffed my bag with as many scarves as I could and brought them back, and they sold out in two weeks. Over the next year I worked with a group who was fundraising for a community center in Cambodia while simultaneously working to set the foundation for Krama Wheel as a business. I found a group of weavers, learned about the process, secured a relationship with the non-profit I was already volunteering with to distribute the uniforms, and the rest is history.

Krama Wheel Project 1

API:

Before founding Krama Wheel, you were already leading a project in Cambodia called Austin2Angkor. Was Krama Wheel a natural evolution of that project?

RS:

In a way, yes. I wanted to find a way to continue to support the work of Build Your Future Today Center and I knew that for me personally fundraising was not a sustainable way of doing that without getting burnt out. So when Austin2Angkor reached its fundraising goal, I started thinking about new ways to provide ongoing support to the organization. Around that time I came across Blake Mycoskie’s “Start Something That Matters” book and kept thinking back to the beautiful scarves that I saw in Cambodia (of which I had brought back a suitcase full as my first fundraising push for Austin2Angkor). I found myself getting excited about the idea of starting a social business in which supporters could not only invest in BFT Center’s work with education in Cambodia, but also in a high-quality, handmade item for themselves as a reminder of the impact their purchase made.

API:

How has Krama Wheel evolved in the 5 years since you established it?

RS:

I love having opportunities to tell that story and to connect with people on a personal level.  So these past couple of years we have focused a lot more on home-based trunk shows in which people in the Austin community invite Krama Wheel to a party they are hosting (a holiday party, girl’s night, etc.) and we set up a small in-home boutique where people can casually try on scarves and learn about the Krama Wheel story first-hand while they mingle. People are always so impressed by the crafts(wo)manship of the scarves, which of course is hard to tell by looking at a website, so it is also a great way for people to see the products first hand and for our Cambodian weavers’ skills to shine.

Krama Wheel Loom

API:
What’s next for Krama Wheel?
RS:

We are working on expanding trunk show opportunities to more communities across the U.S., and also plan to offer a trip to Cambodia for our supporters to see first-hand the impact they are making on the lives of women and children. We had our first such trip last year and we look forward to giving more people the opportunity to get to know Cambodia’s people and culture.

API:

Lots of volunteers focus on what they can give to their host community, without realizing how much they will receive in the process. How has your work in Cambodia changed your own life?

RS:

I never considered myself an entrepreneur (I was an Art History and Italian language major in college!), so when I think back on being neck deep in the unknown of starting an international business and the months on end of staying up all night to make Krama Wheel happen, I realize just how much inspiration, strength, and determination I gained from just my first time in Cambodia. The decision to volunteer during that first trip was on a last-minute whim, but it ended up being absolutely pivotal in helping me discover a bolder and more compassionate side of myself that I had never tapped into and which I have been cultivating ever since.
Krama Wheel Gift
To learn more about Krama Wheel’s story, visit their webpage: http://www.kramawheel.com/pages/our-story
Roni Sivan, APIKrama Wheel’s founder is API’s very own Director of Customized Programs, Roni Sivan! Hear about her journey here.
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