Singaporean buys chickens, builds farm to help Cambodian villagers

Mr Caleb Giam and his girlfriend, Ms Sherlynn Yap. The two are members of Our Chicken Story, a project which works with Cambodians to farm chickens as a source of food and profit to the villagers. PHOTO: CALEB GIAM
Mr Caleb Giam and his girlfriend, Ms Sherlynn Yap. The two are members of Our Chicken Story, a project which works with Cambodians to farm chickens as a source of food and profit to the villagers. PHOTO: CALEB GIAM

SINGAPORE - A city boy from Bukit Batok has built a chicken farm in Cambodia and helped villagers develop a small poultry business.

Mr Caleb Giam's story began when he was helping out at an orphanage in Cambodia in June 2016. He wanted to do some community work before entering the corporate world after graduation.

There, the National University of Singapore psychology graduate was struck by the malnourished villagers - many of the children had never eaten chicken or eggs.

When Mr Giam saw two of them eating chicken, he was struck by how much they relished it.

"I will always remember the look in their eyes when they saw the eggs and chicken meat... these were delicacies for them," Mr Giam, 26, now a manager with a statutory board, told The Straits Times.

He was so moved by the sight that he decided to build a farm and buy 40 chickens for an entire village, in what was to become Our Chicken Story - a project to feed the hungry.

Working with locals at Chomkarcheck Kang Cheng village in Pursat province, Cambodia, Mr Giam built a sustainable business model that he described as "self-sustaining and empowering".

The idea is to provide every family with a chicken starter kit - including a self-designed chicken coop, two chickens, as well as vaccination and feed. Eggs produced could be eaten or sold to neighbouring villages.

In the first year alone, the village produced 6,000 eggs, but half of the chickens died. Mr Giam borrowed $1,000 from his brother-in-law to cover the costs.

Chickens Mr Giam bought for the villagers. Two chickens were given to each house. PHOTO: CALEB GIAM

His good work has not gone unrewarded. 

Our Chicken Story brought Mr Giam and his girlfriend Sherlynn Yap closer together, building on their common faith. They had started dating in October 2016, and began working together on the project this year.

Ms Yap, 24, said she was inspired by Mr Giam's idealism.

"Personally, I find it hard to balance my dreams with what is practical... It takes courage not to fear the opinion of others," said the executive working at RSVP Singapore, a non-profit organisation for volunteers.

She was roped in to help with the project in June this year.

And Our Chicken Story is growing.

A third member, professional film-maker Ng Yang Meng, has been recruited, filling a role that speaks to the importance the team now places on promotional efforts.

Said Mr Giam: "We want to feed the hungry in South-east Asia, Asia, and potentially the world." He has made three trips to Cambodia so far, in addition to trips to several other South-east Asian countries, for community development purposes.

He may not be far from his short-term goal.

The project started with funds cobbled together from relatives and a university service grant. Since then, Our Chicken Story's crowdfunding efforts on online platform have been so successful that the project's initial target of $3,000 has been increased to $40,000.

In a campaign for more donations, the team will be giving free Our Chicken Story T-shirts for any amount of donation made between Aug 1 and Sept 1.

The cost of the shirts will come from the team's own pockets, with the full amount of the money received going to the villagers, Mr Giam said.

Mr Giam and his friend Jeremy Loh, who let him stay in his Airbnb apartment in Cambodia when he was running low on funds. PHOTO: CALEB GIAM

When asked about Our Chicken Story's plans, Mr Giam said the team has reached out to university students in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The plan is to buy 200 chickens and produce 60, 000 eggs for about 100 people in two Karen villages next year.

"I have plans to go into it full time in the future," Mr Giam added.

In June this year, Our Chicken Story participated in a social enterprise boot-camp competition, #SOIMPACT, organised by youth hangout Scape to refine existing social projects.

The team finished in the top three, and earned an agreement with Scape, which will contribute a dollar for every dollar Our Chicken Story puts into the project.

Mr Giam's friend Jeremy Loh, 26, a public servant, said: "A lot of charities create an unhealthy culture of dependency, only addressing symptoms of bigger problems rather than the cause themselves. What sets Caleb's project apart is the element of empowerment that he wants to impart to the locals."

For now, Mr Giam is appealing for more people to join his team.

"People can help not just with money, but with their skills, like writing or film-making, so that Our Chicken Story can become a story that we all can share."

Correction note: This story has been edited for clarity, and to provide the correct dates for the donation campaign which 
lasts from Aug 1 to Sept 1. We are sorry for the errors.