Lotus Outreach

Lotus Outreach International is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the education, health, and safety of at-risk and exploited women and children in the developing world. Lotus Outreach achieves its mission by supporting effective grassroots projects in vulnerable communities.
Sep 16, 2013

Breaking the silence and embracing help

Bopha and friends at Art Therapy session
Bopha and friends at Art Therapy session

Bopha, whose real name has been omitted to protect her identity, is a sweet 11 year-old Cambodian girl. She lived with her father, a cassava farm security guard, her mother, a housewife, and five siblings in the Banteay Meanchey province. Because her father earned such a meager income, the children had to drop out of school before even completing primary education. To make matters worse, her father is an alcoholic, who on many occasions has physically abused his family when inebriated.

In January 2012, Bopha was raped by her 17 year-old neighbor. He had lured her to join him on an evening walk to a shop and attacked her along the way. Immediately after the assault, Bopha was brave enough to tell her mother what had happened. Unfortunately, the neighbor had already disappeared.

Bopha and her mother reported the crime at the communal administration police post. Thankfully, the police officers at the post referred Bopha to Lotus Outreach’s Banteay Meanchey safe shelter.

At the shelter Bopha received crucial legal assistance, including being assigned a lawyer to represent her at the provincial court. She was also offered psychological counseling and healthcare while her case awaited trial. The shelter staff enrolled Bopha in the school nearby, but because of her grave emotional stress and trauma she didn’t perform well initially. After several months of therapy – including art therapy, and individual and group counseling sessions - and a great dosage of love and care from the shelter’s staff and residents, Bopha’s disheartened outlook changed. She was able to rebuild her trust in others, develop healthy relationships and gained renewed enthusiasm in her studies and life.

Bopha has been granted an extended stay at our shelter because her rapist is still on the run. Since she has already testified in court, it is unsafe for her to return home until the perpetrator is caught. Understandably, Bopha greatly misses her parents and siblings, and to ease her homesickness her counselor accompanies her on visits home.

After assessing Bopha’s family situation, our reintegration officer recommended she be supported with a life start-up package and a business grant to help lift her family out of poverty. Dreaming about the future, Bopha aspires, “I hope to one day become a schoolteacher!” Accomplishing her dream will allow Bopha to help improve the lives of the people in her community, multiplying the support given to her manyfold.

Lotus Outreach was able to help and protect Bopha because of your generous support. Sadly, there are so many other stories like hers. In the first half of 2013, with the legal assistance provided by Lotus Outreach to rape victims, 4 perpetrators have been tried, convicted, and sentenced to jail. Another 6 cases await trial.

Cambodia has a strict penal code for sexual assault. Nevertheless, according to a 2013 United Nations study on violence against women in Asia and the Pacific, only 49.8% of perpetrators are arrested in Cambodia, and only 28.3% of those are tried and convicted. Disturbingly, the same study found that Cambodia men who admitted to ever raping a woman or girl did so because they felt sexually entitled, wished to punish their victim or were simply bored and looking for “fun.” The existence of safe shelters like Lotus Outreach’s and the cooperation of police officers are vital to the reporting of cases, protection of victims, and eventual prosecution of perpetrators of sexual assault. This is how together we can help reverse the trend of violence against women in Cambodia.

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Sep 12, 2013

The difference a ride to school can make...

Our biggest bus yet!
Our biggest bus yet!

Government schools in the Mewat district of Haryana, India have been highly dysfunctional for at least 20 years. The population is 90% rural and 70% Muslim. While the last decade has seen some improvement in literacy since the 2001 census (when female literacy in Mewat was reported to be less than 3%), the schools are only just coming out of a very dark period in which parents understandably lost their faith in the public education system.

The poor quality of Mewat’s schools is compounded by a conservative Muslim culture and high incidence of violence against women which, when brought together, tends to influence parents to keep their girls cloistered, uneducated, and destined for early marriage. This dynamic is thankfully changing, in large part due to the intervention of the Blossom Bus in concert with our LEARN program, which mobilizes villagers to demand accountability from local education authorities.

Girls travelling to school through the rural countryside face a very real threat of rape and violence. The lack of upper primary schools in each village exacerbates the problem and while we have been lobbying through LEARN for upgrades to full elementary education (grades 1-8) in all villages, many still don’t offer schooling beyond grade five. And if a girl doesn’t have a grade-appropriate school in her village, she simply stops going.

It is for these reasons and more that families in Mewat hesitate to keep their adolescent girls in school, so for the time being we are providing buses and jeeps to ferry girls to and from nearby schools. We now have one big bus with a capacity of 50 girls and two big jeeps with capacity of 20 girls each. All of these vehicles are making two rounds in the morning and afternoon. Jeeps make three rounds each day in the morning and three in the afternoon as one school at Aharwan starts at seven in the morning and closes at 12. All vehicles carry girls from different villages to this school at seven in the morning making two rounds and then carry girls from villages at 8:30 to other schools at Aharwan and Chaisa.

The LEARN program is bringing profound changes to negative attitudes and behavior with respect to education while working deeply within these villages through community meetings, development of School Management Committees, Sports Days, and more. The Blossom Bus is one further component that gives us leverage with families in Mewat and enrollment and retention in higher grades is rapidly increasing as a result. There are now hundreds of girls in grade nine and above from the predominantly Muslim villages in our work area whereas in 2009 – just four short years ago – there were absolutely none. Zero.

We use our local field staff to identify at-risk girls from villages that are somewhat distant from the schools they need to attend. Some of the girls had been in school but would not continue after lower or upper primary (after grade five and grade eight, respectively), and some had dropped out a year or two ago.

All of our Blossom Bus girls are role models and change agents, and continue to actively promote education for girls their communities. Some girls like Afsana — a first generation learner and the first Blossom Bus girl to reach high school–have personally brought a number of girls into higher grades by themselves.

We thank you so much for investing in this project and giving these girls a chance to become model daughters and citizens. To learn more about the Blossom Bus or pledge additional support, please visit http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/the-blossom-bus/.

Blossom Bus girls get back-to-school supplies
Blossom Bus girls get back-to-school supplies
Riding to school in style
Riding to school in style

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Sep 11, 2013

Pedaling the long road to college: Mealea's story

Mealea: bright, beautiful, and born into poverty
Mealea: bright, beautiful, and born into poverty

The profile of 20 year-old Mealea is typical of the hundreds of girls we support through Lotus Pedals in Cambodia, and her inspiring story underscores the extent to which a bicycle can alter the course of a girl’s life.

Survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide, Mealea’s illiterate parents were forced by poverty and high-interest debt to migrate illegally to Thailand in search of work, leaving Mealea and her five siblings—all under the age of 13—alone to fend for themselves.

Though Mealea struggled to help feed and care for her siblings, she always placed a high value on her education. “When I was in the fourth grade, I started to work making rice wine and feeding pigs,” she shares. “I often got to school late because of those chores and the long distance from home to school. However, my school performance was not bad; I was always among the top 10 in my class.”

Recognizing both her aptitude and her precarious situation, Lotus Outreach began providing Mealea with a scholarship—including a Lotus Pedals bike—in junior high school to prevent her from dropping out. This scholarship not only covered Mealea’s school fees, supplies, healthcare, books, uniforms, bicycle, and lunch money, but provided her with a large bag of rice each month to ensure her young siblings wouldn’t go hungry if Mealea continued going to school instead of work.

We shared Mealea’s pride when she passed her rigorous exams to graduate high school in 2010, and was admitted on a full tuition scholarship to the Vanda Institute of Accounting in the capital. Mealea continues to receive support from Lotus Outreach for her living expenses, food, travel, and school supplies through our GATEways university program, and looks forward to graduating next year. In the meantime, she continues to excel in her studies and has expressed a deep and passionate commitment to helping other children in Cambodia. In addition to studying full-time, working part-time to help pay down her parents’ debt, and learning English on the weekends, Mealea volunteers at her school as well as with the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center. 

“I feel very deep gratitude to the donors for supporting me,” shares Mealea. “When I was sick, you cared for me. When my bicycle broke and I couldn’t get to school, you helped me fix it. You educated me and offered me every opportunity you could. You have been like my parents, and I will not be satisfied until I have been able to repay your generosity by helping others!”

We thank you for clearing the path for hundreds of girls like Mealea to pursue education and contribute to the development of their families, their villages, and their country. To learn more about Lotus Pedals and pledge additional support, please visit http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/lotuspedals.

Mealea (left) on her Lotus Pedals bike
Mealea (left) on her Lotus Pedals bike
Mealea (right) at her university library
Mealea (right) at her university library

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