My Day with Lotus Outreach addressing Cambodia’s Sex Industry and Women’s Rights

On March 14, Alexis and I visited Lotus Outreach’s Non-Formal Education program. Bright and early we met up with Raksmey from Lotus Outreach. First, we attended a sewing training. This training is part of the non-formal education classes providing life skills, basic education, and small business training so that the girls have necessary skills to survive outside of the karaokes, massage parlors, and sex industry. These women are the most vulnerable group because some are illiterate and a large majority never completed higher than an elementary school education.

With Lotus Outreach Sewing Class

With Lotus Outreach Sewing Class

One of the sewing class trainees explained to me that she hopes to open a small business in her hometown someday. Another said she worked in a karaoke bar and found out about the training, so joined to have her own business one day. A third girl said she might not be able to work in a karaoke forever, so she needs more skills to prepare her for another job. I asked her why she worked in a karaoke and she said she could not find other work to support her child. The instructor’s assistant said before she was illiterate, but now she can do calculations, read, and write since she joined the NFE program.

Following the sewing class, we visited a non-formal education class at the housing accommodations of girls that work in a local “karaoke”. These karaokes serve as locations for men to enjoy the company of women with the option to gain more.

The challenge is that the families of these girls demand money and support so the girls not able to make enough money in traditional jobs have to take alternative forms of income generation that is quick and provides large sums – income generating activities such as selling their bodies. They often lack skills to gain more secure and higher wage jobs in places like the garment factories, so Lotus Outreach is providing the training and skills as well as job placement for girls in their NFE programs. Providing a sustainable and feasible alternative to the sex industry – a job that the girls can be proud of. Finally, we ended at another “karaoke” where Lotus Outreach provides Non-Formal Education and vocational training classes in beauty like hair, nails, and makeup for the girls to get out of the sex industry.

The trainer and trainees were busy practicing on each other – creating beautiful nail and hair designs. One of the trainees had barely received any formal education growing up, but now had skills that she could make a living for herself outside of the sex industry.  Soon after, the first customers began to arrive… and we knew it was time to leave. These young women were so inspiring to meet and hear their stories because despite their hardships, they still have hopes and dreams they are working to achieve. These young women live in such harsh conditions, but at the end of day still wake up to attend the basic education classes, to study, and to practice their vocational training to have another life.

with Non-Formal Education Class

with Non-Formal Education Class

After, Alexis and I visited recipients of the Lotus Pedals project. The recipients were 2 young girls who received a bike from the Lotus Pedals program.  Before they had the bikes, these girls would have to walk an hour just to get to school. Now the bikes cut the time in half, and they have more time to study in between school and work. Where do they work? The rubbish heaps nearby to earn extra income for the family. They pick things like plastic bottles and items that can be sold to recycling plants. The average income is $1.25USD per day picking rubbish.

The Louts Pedals project goal is to not only provide bicycles to young girls but to increase awareness about the importance of education for the family as a whole. Lotus Outreach works with families and the schools, before enrolling in the schools Lotus Outreach staff meets with parents to identify needs and challenges for the kids to get to school. Lotus Outreach also helps to decrease the gender gap between girls and boys.

Lotus Pedals recipients with bike

I asked one of the sister recipients what her favorite subject in school was and she said science because she loves the environment. The other said her favorite was social studies and Khmer traditional dancing class.  The father said he hoped for the future of his kids involved getting a good job and to stay in school as long as they could afford it.  I turned to the girls and asked what they wanted to be when they grew up – one said a primary school teacher and the other a doctor.

My Weekend in Kratie and Day with Cambodian Rural Development Team

Traveling by land, exploring the outskirts of Phnom Penh, 7 hours later I arrive in Kratie Province.  Last weekend, I explored a northern province of Cambodia and visited Cambodian Rural Development Team’s GlobalGiving Project to Provide renewable energy to 15 families in a rural village on Koh Pdao Island separated not only by income but also by rivers from society and the main markets.

Finally, Monday arrived and I was able to visit Cambodian Rural Development Team’s project…

My day began meeting Mr. Bin Dim, the project manager, in Sambor province and off we were to board a ferry to Koh Pdao Island. The villages that we were off to visit are on an island and the main source of income included the selling of animals and agriculture. When we arrived, the area was hot and dry. Cows and water buffalo roamed free and the pace of life was definitely a lot slower than just across the river. We arrived at the first beneficiary family’s home. It consisted of a widow and her 6 family members. 

One of the daughters welcomed us into their home, immediately recognizing and so happy to see Bin. Bin showed me the outside biodigester that they installed on behalf of the funding raised via GlobalGiving. This was one of 15 families that received them.  Then the daughter and Bin proceeded to show me how it worked and she explained how she used it.  I then asked her what she used before this gas resource – and she said batteries. Before, the family had to take the batteries into town across the river to pay to recharge them constantly. Also the family used wood to cook so had to go chop trees in the forest, using valuable time they could be spending on farming and helping out in community.  Cooking with wood also created a lot of smoke making the place dirty, she said. I also immediately thought that it probably was not good for their health either. Finally I asked her how the gas has benefited her family, and she replied that now when she needs to boil water or cook dinner all she needs to do is turn on the gas light the pilot and put the water or food on. It is so easy and now they have time to focus on work [income generating activities].

We went on to visit many other families all with the same explanations of how much the gas system has made things easier. I asked where they get the manure though if they don’t raise cattle or pigs, and they responded that they are able to collect extra from neighbors.  These communities I found out are extremely communal. They even decide what each family will grow or make based on the needs of the village during community meetings.  This is how CRDT works within the communities – speaking with the village leaders and villagers identifying needs and obstacles to their ability to focus on activities that will support income and raise the standard of living.

One other need CRDT recognized was for sanitation –due to no running water and electricity, organizations along with CRDT such as Oxfam have stepped in to provide fishing ponds, toilets, hygiene and health awareness campaigns and trainings, animal husbandry trainings, incinerators to get rid of “rubbish”, environmental education programs, and now looking into irrigation. Also, CRDT has started an ecotourism project that brings tourists to spend a few days within the village working and living alongside families in homestays. This is to promote income for the villages as well as cultural learning for both sides.

About the Biodigesters:

Who gets these biodigesters?  A lottery system was put into place to determine who in the villages received the first batch of biodigesters. One widow exclaimed after being chosen that she was “very lucky.”

How do they work? Biodigesters take manure and turn it into natural gas that can be used for cooking and electricity.

Why is this important? Families can spend less time destroying the local forest, and injuring their health inhaling smoke while cooking. Children can study at night due to electric lights from the gas system; the source of energy comes right from their own animals that they raise and use for food, income, and transportation.  The day and productivity no longer ends when the sun goes down and they have run out of batteries or candles. Time spent waiting for food to cook over wood fires is now spent doing other productive activities.

At the end, Bin Dim and I sat down to have a home cooked lunch of fried fish, banana chips, rice, and noodles with egg and vegetables. An older woman and husband in one of the homestay locations hosted us. They both had many questions for me such as where I come from, what life is like there, if people in US move out at 18 and are independent generally in adulthood… then who decides what your career is and decision making when get married? You decide for yourself I replied. And they were pleasantly surprised. Many other questions went on including how old are was I, and if I knew anyone in Georgia. They did not know Texas  – but Georgia they knew because they had heard of Cambodian families moving there. Finally, they wanted to know about the 9/11 disaster, terrorism, why USA was attacked, and then finally wanted to show me all of the gifts they received from their many international visitors – gifts from Australia and even… Idaho!

Before I left the husband stopped me to say – thank you. Thank you for supporting CRDT so that they can help the villages.

What can I do for you? A story of Friends…International

This story is not about what you should do or what is best – this is about what can I do for you? That is how Friends International began. It began by asking, “what can I do for you? What do you need?” On 22 of February 2012 I was able to meet with staff from Friends International, recently voted Top 100 NGO in 2012 by Global Journal, as well as experience their work, “help out” in it, and live the impact. James and Charlotte welcomed me into their head office to share a bit about their backgrounds, the projects, and the impact.

Part I – Beginnings

Almost 15 years ago when Cambodia was opening up post Khmer Rouge, Sebastian, the Executive Director, was traversing through Cambodia on his way to Japan. While resting he noticed truck after truck of NGO and Aid vehicles passing by. But beyond the image of these, in the distance along the river, were homeless and suffering Cambodians and youth laying along the riverside. The amount of aid pouring into the country since it opened was enormous – but why were there so many homelss and impoverished youth untouched and unaffected, Sebastian thought.

Sebastian decided to start speaking to them about their stories asking them what they needed. The number of education facilities and orphanages were skyrocketing, but the surprising answer from these youth were not to go to school or for a bed –  they wanted work to support themselves and families.

Part II – An answer to the calling: 4 Friends Programs

Yes, educational opportunities exist (for those under 15 if they wish). Outreach teams go out to street kids, ask what they need, build relationships, and encourage the value of education.  The participants are never forced but supported to make the decision on their own, but the demand was for opportunities to gain skills for jobs, and so was born the (1)Friends Programs providing vocational skills training, (2) Friends Social Businesses to support the trainings and provide real world application, (3) CYTI Alliance, a coalition of best-practices and lessons learned to collaborate and involve NGO’s in supporting marginalized communities, and finally the (4)Childsafe Network to spread advocacy and include the community in child-safe tourism and business practices. This includes the “Thumbs Up” logo that is featured everywhere from tuktuks, to hotels, police, and even airlines (coming soon).

The Friends Educational and Training Center 

Part III – Experiencing the Vocational Programs

It is one thing to hear about and read about programs, but it is another to experience it first hand. After the meeting, off I went to track down the social businesses and trainings, speak with the beneficiaries, and observe how well their hospitality program REALLY was. I was able to find 2 restaurants, which has now separated to be its own entity (Mith Samlanh) as well as the stores selling the beneficiaries’ products, and a beauty training salon.

Mith Samlanh – Romdeng Restaurant – Social Business and Vocational Training
Romdeng Friends International Product Store – featuring items made by beneficiaries

Vocational Training – Nail and Beauty Salon

Finally, I decided to sit down, relax, and try out the training program of Friends Restaurant. First thing I did was ask a “Teacher” and staff how it worked from their  perspective – and the trainer was VERY well versed. He knew all of the details of the levels of the hospitality program. This trainer was actualy from the local university there to support the program. Another staff with little anglais did not want me to go empty handed even though he could not answer my questions (language barrier) so he brought me a ChildSafe Traverler Tips brochure (in Khmer). It was thoughtful and sincere. Every member of the staff were sincere, focused, and in a state of learning – the highest state I would say to be in life.

The Training Process:
Step 1: preparing food for chilfren in schools (4months training)
Step 2: Training in serving and hospitalitiy in Cambodian restaurants (for locals) (about 10 mths)
Step 3: Move to training/working in Friends-Mith Samlanh Center

And voila… there I was about to sample the cooking and services of Friends International trainees…

Menu, staff, and trainee board (in background) at Friends Restaurant

Getting work done at Friends Restaurant while having a non-alcoholic Passion Fruit chiller, reading the ChildSafe pamphlet, and about to taste the  tuna and egg salad (YUM)

Part IV: Creating Advocates

At the end, I was sold. Not only did I buy gifts and a Friends trainee-created notebook for myself, but I had lunch at the restaurant and visited their training salon. Yes, Charlotte and James were fantastic pitchers of their program. But beyond that (and I am not saying I am a hardened jaded global development specialist)… it takes a lot to get me to buy in. And there need not be any pitching necessary – because the products were quality, they were items I wanted to buy for myself (but I couldn’t be selfish…so I’ll call them gifts and figure out who they’re for later), the food was delicious, and I had better service than at the more expensive restaurants of Phnom Penh.

When I asked James how he would describe the FRIENDSISH image,  he said it is about fun, smiling, and bringing those back into the community from the margins. It is about collaboration (see previous post), and being young at heart. When you learn you feel young again, and being young is not about age.. it is about a state of mind. That is how he viewed friends… and that’s how I experienced it.

For more information: Friends-International

GlobalGiving InTheField Traveler | Texas

Jacqueline is an InTheField Traveler with GlobalGiving and is now making her way across Southeast Asia. Jacqueline has lived all around the U.S., Central America, backpacked along Australia’s eastern coast while volunteering for the National Park Service, western Europe, and traveled around the world. You can also follow her via Twitter.

For more information about GlobalGiving, click here

My day with Happy Football Cambodia Australia – Homeless World Cup Participants

On Saturday morning, 18 January 2012, I was able to join the Happy Football Cambodia Australia (HFCA) for one of their first soccer (football) trainings of the season with Jimmy, Head Coach, Vibol, Country Manager, and Chandara, Coach and Assistant Country Manager. After surmounting a few obstacles to secure a field, including field repairs and a surprise out-of-season rainy downpour the day before, the program pressed on and the season began. HFCA’s team of Cambodian impoverished and orphan youth were able to attend and play in the Homeless World Cup Paris on the Champ de Mars in August 2011. I was able to spend a day with them getting to know some of the youth that went and observing the work of HFCA.

When I arrived, the youth were divided into 4 groups: 16 and up, 14-16, under 14, and the girls. This is because 16 years old is required in order to qualify and play in the Homeless World Cup. The program consists of fitness, basic soccer skills training, scrimmage, and fun. Despite the fact that some of the kids did not have proper soccer gear or even shoes to run in, they were all laughing and running – as if they had no problems or concerns in the world.

Part of the fitness and agility program

The youth come from 5 different orphanages with one driving over 3 hours just to bring their youth to this program on the weekends. Why do they do this? I was told because it is for the kids – it provides opportunity, confidence, and to spend their free time not in the streets but learning a sport and teamwork.

During this time I was able to speak with 2 youth that were able to attend the Homeless World Cup in Paris, and one that went to HWC Melbourne.  What was interesting was that not one spoke about future success and opportunity – they all spoke about how happy they were to meet and play with players from other countries and that the most important thing was to bring their experience back to Cambodians. Here is a clip…

It was inspirational to find out that Vibol, as Country Director and volunteer for HFCA, came from humble beginnings as well – and that’s what brought him to support these youth.  The stories of what motivated everyone to be a part of HFCA was definitely uplifting, and whether it be to share “football” with the kids or stop the cycles of poverty… everyone shared a common goal – to provide opportunity for these kids.

How do they get to go to the Homeless World Cup? HWC subsidized a major portion of the travel costs. HFCA brought 1 player from each orphanage/organization plus the top 3 deserving youth…and off they went. But “it’s not all about the Homeless World Cup, this [the program providing opportunities for these youth] is what’s important. The Homeless World Cup is just icing on the cake,” said the Head Coach, Jimmy.

I spoke with a representative from one of the orphanages (the one that drives so far just to be there). His name was Sokhom and he was with the Cambodia Kids Foundation. He said he was “happy because kids can learn football. It keeps kids from selling things at market”. He also said that 3 of his organization’s youth were able to attend the Homeless World Cups and that they were very happy.

Very happy was a common phrase that day.

The girls’ team: one ran up to me, said hello, asked my name, and proudly proclaimed she wanted to play football when she grew up. Then ran off to play again. They were all full of  laughter and joy.

The Obstacle: Organizations want to send more kids but costs and resources are limited. The HFCA is fighting for self-sustainability, but currently runs on donors, charity-tournaments, and fundraising events. The program can only take care of a certain number of kids and only on Saturday mornings as of now, but the demand for a Sunday program and more kids to participate is growing. The current soccer gear all currently comes from the little budget they have as well as a monthly pick up of donated supplies from local Phnom Penh International Schools.

The next Homeless World Cup 2012 will be in Mexico City. For more information on Homeless World Cup, click here, and on Happy Football Cambodia Australia, click here.

GlobalGiving InTheField Traveler | Texas

Jacqueline is an InTheField Traveler with GlobalGiving and is now making her way across Southeast Asia. Jacqueline has lived all around the U.S., Central America, backpacked along Australia’s eastern coast while volunteering for the National Park Service, western Europe, and traveled around the world. You can also follow her via Twitter.

For more information about GlobalGiving, click here