Andre Akito


HAVEN is a social enterprise and a training restaurant for vulnerable young adults from shelters, as well as underprivileged young adults from poor rural areas. By teaching quality work skills and important life skills, HAVEN empower these young people by preparing them for employment and by helping them in their personal development, creating safe and independent futures.


May 31, 2022

HAVEN – Transforming Lives

Back in 2008, Sara and Paul Wallimann started a world trip that would last for 2 years. By then, they didn’t know that this trip would eventually transform not only their lives but also the lives of many others. 

During their trip, they stayed 7 months in Cambodia, working at a few organizations and orphanages in Siem Reap, most of them focused on supporting young Cambodians from vulnerable backgrounds. During these months, Sara and Paul realized that there were a large number of organizations supporting Cambodians during their childhood. However, once the children reached adulthood and fell out of their respective programs, they weren’t being properly integrated into work life and weren’t able to become self-sustainable. In short, most of the children lacked the skills necessary to find a proper job. 

After identifying this gap, the couple was determined to find a solution and support the young generation in Cambodia in their transition to adulthood, until they become independent adults. So, they returned to Switzerland and founded the Swiss Association Dragonfly – A project for Cambodia’s youth and raised funds to start their project: HAVEN.

HAVEN and the Apprenticeship Model

HAVEN is a social enterprise and a training restaurant for vulnerable young adults. It’s a space that offers young adults the opportunity to step out of an organization, learn a new set of skills and become independent. Trainees can join HAVEN from a variety of organizations such as: outreach programs, rural areas, street children, trafficking shelters and orphanages. In short, all children that grow up with the support of an organization during their childhood might be suitable to join HAVEN’s program. For them, it’s a place that offers them to step out of an organization, learn a new set of skills and to became self-sustainable in the long term. 

HAVEN’s concept is based on the Swiss apprenticeship model, which combines on-the-job practical training with additional theoretical lessons. This is a concept that is well-known and works well in Switzerland and was adapted to Cambodia’s needs and local possibilities. The biggest singularity of the apprenticeship model consists of the practical part, which means that the trainees go right into work like and are integrated to the restaurant’s team as soon as they join the program. As a consequence, they are able to learn the trade and get familiar with the work processes that will be required once they are lookin for a job. Therefore, once they finish their training at HAVEN, they are completely ready to be employed.

In addition to practical part, the trainees also receive additional theoretical lessons in areas like cooking, English, computer skills, life skills workshops and CV & interview trainings. 

After one year of training at HAVEN, the trainees graduate and move on to the next step of their program: an internship at a high-end partner restaurant or hotel. Once the internship is finished, many of the students are hired full time by the internship company and are ready to start their own journey. 

A Sustainable Business Model

Creating a self-sustainable social enterprise is one of the biggest challenges that social-environmental companies face today. Many social institutions are based on donations and finding alternative ways of funding can be difficult. However, HAVEN’s business model offers them an economic balance that is possible with the apprenticeship model. However,  that’s one of the biggest achievements of HAVEN’s apprenticeship model.

The apprenticeship model, therefore, is an ideal version for young adults to get education without costs. While being a training restaurants for the trainees, HAVEN, at the same time, is a restaurant with a relaxing and lush garden for its guests. While enjoining delicious Khmer or Western dishes, guests are at the same time, supporting the training program and the trainees. Therefore, the costs of running the program are mainly subsidized through the restaurant’s income. In addition, some extra funds are also raised through donations made by DRAGONFLY – the Swiss association behind HAVEN.

Due to this model, the whole training is free of charge for the trainees and during the whole program, (training + internship) HAVEN provides everything that the trainees need, such as accommodation, food, medical costs, clothing and school material. They are also paid a monthly salary that serves as their personal pocket money.  As a consequence, the trainees don’t need to worry about external factors and can really focus on learning the skills. 

An alternative approach to education

Sara and Paul recall that the apprenticeship model was foreign many people when they opened HAVEN many years ago. It took them some time to   to break the traditional concept of learning inside of a classroom. 

However, today, many people understand and see the the benefits related to the apprenticeship model. By learning practical skills, the trainees are able to learn the skills necessary for work in a relatively short period of time (1 year). Most trainees are able to get jobs in high-end restaurants and hotels around Siem Reap and some of them already become chefs. Every year, new group of students join HAVEN and at the end of the program, they are all ready to move on with their own lives.

Today HAVEN is still run by Pardet, Sara and Paul and their dedicated team, empowering young adults and transforming lives.

for more inspiring stories of everyday life people and from around the world, check out the rest of my blog and follow me on social media

For ideas of projects or collaborations, send me an email or message me on social media