• Design For Good

What everyone ought to know about SMILE Village



From Slums to Smiles


In late May, our DFG team got the chance to work with Solutions to End Poverty (STEP) Singapore and visited the vibrant SMILE village of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.


A residential community project, SMILE village is set up as one of the solutions to end poverty itself. It provides home & livelihood improvement for PSE's underprivileged families. These families were living in slums previously, and many of them hardly earn enough for their own keep.


Housing is a severe challenge in Cambodia. Due to rising land prices in the city, more than 100,000 slum dwellers in Phnom Penh are at the verge of eviction. 


Slums are probably the least desirable form of shelter or housing in society today. Run-down and densely populated, you will not be able to find a separate kitchen or toilet anywhere near.    


image credit: designforgoodsg


In a way, the construction of SMILE Village is like a successful game of Minecraft, where design thinking is used to draft out the intricate purposes for every facility, with the end user in mind. 


Competed in 2015, the blueprint of the village underwent thorough planning and to foster an environment most ideal. It is way more than just a cluster of double-decked concretes lumped in a random space.


A new construction methodology was used to design and build homes in traditional Khmer style. Considering long term benefits gleaned from knowledge transfer, construction methods were also passed on to the community.


Not only is SMILE Village home to her residents, she also houses a childcare centre for parents to leave their children at before going to work, and a community centre for gatherings and celebrations.


In our most recent visit, there is also a two-storey workshop at the corner of SMILE village, and it is a space for villagers to hone and produce their craft. Located in the same area, it is convenient for the residents to walk over in the morning and go back home to get some simple household chores done during their lunch break.


Focusing on rug-braiding, sewing and wood-crafting, the workshop employs a total of 18 villagers and 2 teachers, each responsible for rug-making and sewing respectively. The team is still looking for a teacher for wood-crafting, and is also saving up to get better tools and machines to create better work. 


The intention of its community development was to be sustainable, both financially and socially. 


As the famed sociologist Matthew Desmond opines: “The poor don’t want some small life. They don’t want to game the system. They want to contribute and they want to thrive. But poverty reduces people born for better things.”.


Sustainable social good calls for more than just the dollar sign. By elevating the residents at SMILE Village, they are given opportunities to break out of the poverty cycle themselves. After a period of 3 to 5 years, it is ideal for them to have gained enough skills and savings to move out of the village and become financially independent.


This is a system set in place of good faith that once the problem is solved, help exits to meet the needs of another helpless person elsewhere.



For many, success would look like the receiver standing up to become another giver. 


In the cyclical demands for clean water, sanitation, education, access to healthcare, zero hunger and poverty reduction, perhaps housing can be the roof over the others in the ecosystem for social good.   


From slums to smiles, SMILE Village has truly came a long way.


If housing is the first step, then a sustainable livelihood would be the next battle to fight. 


The elevation of community doesn't just stop at the construction. SMILE village has already started, and we are helping to strengthen their might. 


Find out how they are using their own hands to provide for their families here: https://www.designforgood.sg/by-projects

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