Since the middle of the last century, Cambodia has been ravaged by decades of civil war and suffered terribly during the Vietnam war and the terror regime of the Khmer Rouge. As a consequence, Cambodia is now one of the poorest countries in the world. In its capital Phnom Penh alone, tens of thousands of children live on the streets, suffering hunger, illness and abuse. To provide these children and their families with a life in decency, we need to provide help on the ground.

Smiling Gecko is dedicated to helping these people – be it in the form of direct aid or through supporting other NGOs. Smiling Gecko focuses on areas of greatest need and helps people to help themselves through sustainable cluster projects. Its six pillar projects are


  • «Village School Project»
  • «Agriculture Family Project»
  • «Smiling Gecko Carpentry»
  • «Farmhouse Smiling Gecko»
  • «Sustainable Garment Education & Production»
  • «Industrial Education & Training Campus»


Smiling Gecko Switzerland (SGS) was established in 2012 as a not-for-profit organisation under Swiss law. It provides direct aid in the form of finance and other support to the needy in Cambodia, sponsoring projects that are sustainable both from an ecological and economic standpoint. Smiling Gecko is a non-governmental organisation engaged in a number of development and aid projects. These include: humanitarian projects assisting children, families and village communities through campaigns and / or direct aid; mediation services, bringing the people behind projects (or the relevant sponsors) into contact with potential donors; allocation of donations according to the wishes of the donors; information for donors on the progress of projects and how their money is spent. Meanwhile, SGS is partnering with a network of esteemed Swiss institutions who sustain our projects by supplying financial funds and lending them their specific know-how and / or by taking on such responsibilities as planning, design, training, coordination and controlling both in Switzerland and Cambodia.


In 2014, Smiling Gecko Cambodia (SGC) was officially registered as a local NGO in Cambodia. SGC is legally independent of Smiling Gecko Switzerland. Following its mission of «Cambodians help Cambodians», the organisation provides direct aid to disadvantaged people in the country, supporting local job initiatives and promoting self-help among the rural population. Apart from providing direct aid and supporting other NGOs, Smiling Gecko, thus, focuses on fighting the causes of poverty and helping people to help themselves. To this end, SGC launched a project on a previously acquired site to the North of Phnom Penh whose objective is to provide several thousand Cambodians with future job training and a regular income in the sectors of agriculture, tourism, industry, and trade. In future, the proceeds are intended to cover the operating costs of the innovative pilot school, which is also part of the cluster and provides education to nearly 1,000 children (from preschool to senior high school).




Establishment of Smiling Gecko Switzerland (SGS)


Establishment of Smiling Gecko Cambodia (SGC)



Acquisition of 220,000 m2 of land for cluster project


Smiling Gecko Tuk Tuk Projekt

First tuk-tuks or three-wheel cars are handed over to families living in slums


Smiling Gecko Farm Projekt

Families take over the first farms


Tuk Tuk Projekt

Donation of 3 tuk-tuks to CSC (Children Surgical Centre)


Establishment of Smiling Gecko USA (SGUS)



Completion of renovation of village school


Farmhouse Smiling Gecko

Official opening of guesthouse with restaurant, located on the Smiling Gecko farm


our own carpentry

Official opening of our own carpentry



Extension of the Farmhouse Smiling Gecko



Handover of the last 14 of 31 Tuk Tuks donated by Kiwanis to selected slum families


Start of Construction Village School Project


To provide relief to the needy children and families in Cambodia, Smiling Gecko is pursuing a holistic approach whose objective is to enable and promote the ability for the rural population to live a self-determined life. Since 2014, SGC purchased a 110 ha site in the northern province of Kampong Chnang, which is at the heart of the organisation’s holistic cluster project. At present, the open cluster model is founded on 6 pillars that go hand in hand and are supposed to be self-financing in the long run. All cluster projects share the following common goals:

  1. Fighting hunger and poverty
  2. School education and vocational training for young Cambodians
  3. Benefit to the community
  4. Economy
  5. Ecology


Our vision is to create a model rural community that, after overcoming initial challenges, is capable of operating as a self-sustained entity and provides the people living in it with sustainable education and training that will earn them dignity and gainful employment. Smiling Gecko is convinced that this approach will contain rural depopulation and urbanisation as it encourages the rural population to remain in their villages and abandon the slums and shantytowns surrounding the city of Phnom Penh.

Attending school and undergoing the vocational training offered by the individual cluster projects puts the people in a position to permanently earn a living for themselves and their families thanks to qualifications that meet their specific needs.

Putting sustainability front and centre, Smiling Gecko works – both at the planning and the implementation stage – in close cooperation with such renowned Swiss institutions as the ETH Zurich (Department of Architecture and Construction), the Swiss Hotel Management School Lucerne (SHL), Zurich University of Teacher Education (PHZH), the Center for Development and Cooperation (CDC) at the Technical College of Bern – architecture, woodwork and constructions – and the agricultural college of LBBZ Schluechthof Cham.

The 6 pillars of the cluster project:

grafik-6-saulen1. VILLAGE SCHOOL PROJECT (education)
Education is the linchpin for the development of any society and is, therefore, a factor of paramount importance to the cluster project Smiling Gecko has set in motion. The nearby village school was given an overhaul in 2015, and 2017  the first implementation stage of the innovative and modular village school projects for which we have joined forces with the ETH and the Zurich University of Teacher Education has started. The project involves the creation of a pilot school for nearly 1,000 students varying in age from preschool to senior high school. The school is intended to serve as a model for the entire Cambodian school system and is supposed to be adaptable by countries outside of Cambodia as well.

Launched in 2014, the agriculture family project currently offers 12 families, who, in part, originated from the slums of Phnom Penh, a way to earn a regular and dignified living. The village close by boasts an additional 300 local farmers who are able to cultivate their produce for the cluster project thanks in no small part to the technical and financial support they receive from Smiling Gecko.

The Smiling Gecko carpentry workshop started operation in August of 2016. The new operation has created additional jobs and apprenticeship positions for up to 15 young Cambodians. The carpentry workshop is in charge of any work that needs to be done on the cluster’s premises, thus reducing the original costs and the maintenance costs associated with the infrastructure. In addition, it offers its services to external parties as well, thereby generating additional revenue for the overall project on site.

Opened in December of 2015, the Farmhouse Smiling Gecko is the first guest house to go into service on the premises of the cluster project. At present, the operation employs a staff of 20 in the areas of food services and hotel business. In an attempt to tap additional revenue options, the farmhouse has been expanded in 2016/2017 to offer additional leisure time facilities.

Another undertaking that is projected for 2018 is the construction of a sustainable garment education and production facility that will include comfortable housing with common and recreational rooms for the workforce. Initially, the garment production site is intended to employ around 300 local people, paying fair wages and offering equally fair and safe working conditions.

6. INDUSTRIAL EDUCATION & TRAINING CAMPUS (Competence Centre, Vocational Training)
eaming up with new partners, Smiling Gecko is currently hard at work to establish additional commercial operations in the cluster area in an effort to create an Industrial Education & Training Campus and, ultimately, secure even more jobs and apprenticeship positions. This creates additional jobs at fair wages and humane conditions and offers an opportunity for regional, national and international education and training in the commercial sector. In addition, the Campus acts as a training and meeting place for students of the Village School Project and from the environment.

The UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

In many ways, our Smiling Gecko aid project shares the same goals as the UN’s 2030 agenda for sustainable development to whose objectives Cambodia made a commitment in 2015 just as all other member countries of the UN. The agenda stipulates 17 goals that are intended to promote sustainable development and 169 set targets that need to be met for the implementation of these goals.

Constantly striving to devise innovative and exemplary models that help Cambodia attain the goals set out by the UN, Smiling Gecko has made especially significant strides in achieving the goals listed below.

  • Goal 1
    End poverty in all its forms everywhere.
  • Goal 2
    End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
  • Goal 4
    Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
  • Goal 8
    Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.


Smiling Gecko was established in 2012 as a not-for-profit association by the artist photographer Hannes Schmid and the lawyer Dominique Ruetimann who, over the course of many years, maintained many private and professional ties with Asia. When word got round that they planned another trip to the region, they were often approached by friends and acquaintances who gave them money to help people in need in the country they were to visit. It became obvious that people were more than willing to make donations, provided they knew the people behind the organisation personally and received feedback regarding the use of the funds.

Hannes and Dominique, along with like-minded people, therefore decided to establish Smiling Gecko as a mediator organisation between donors and people in dire need of aid. The association cooperates closely with clinics and care homes in Asia that Hannes and Dominique have known for many years as trust-worthy institutions.


Smiling Gecko Switzerland

People who support Smiling Gecko know that their donations will go directly towards the charity’s projects. All members of the board of management of Smiling Gecko are volunteers who do not receive any salaries or wages. Their professional skills, connections and insights are invaluable to the charity. Board members pay their own travel and other expenses arising from their work for Smiling Gecko.

Board of management

Advisory committee

Office Smiling Gecko Switzerland

Smiling Gecko Cambodia

Executive Committee

Ngon Sokleap / Director
Hannes Schmid / Deputy Director
Nut Phanun / Finance
Dy Neurth / Advisor


Following a thorough examination, the tax authorities of the Canton of Zurich have recognised Smiling Gecko as a charitable association. As a consequence, the organisation is not only exempt from taxes, but donors can deduct their contributions up to a certain limit from their taxable income.


We are proud of our cooperation with numerous renowned institutions and corporations. Without their support, many of our projects would never have come to fruition.

ETH Zürich
Berner Fachhochschule
Dirk Hebel
Julius Bär