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.
Jan 14, 2011

Thida's Happy Return to Hope

Thida chats with an NFE classmate at Goat Soup
Thida chats with an NFE classmate at Goat Soup

Although poverty presents the most pervasive challenge to the people we serve, the sad reality we often encounter is that many women must also overcome abuse at the hands of their own fathers and brothers. This is the case of Teuk Thida, an avid student who was forced into a karaoke bar after the sixth grade to pay for her brother’s wedding.

The middle child of five, Thida was often thrust into the role of an eldest sibling due to the negligence and mischief of her older brothers. The family’s small plot of land could not provide enough rice for subsistence, so her parents also worked on neighboring farms for $3 a day. To help, Thida scavenged for vegetables, river shells and snails to sell after school, bringing in an extra $0.50 on a good day. None of this distracted her from her studies: she left her house every day at 5am to walk six kilometers to school, usually finishing the year near the top of her class.

As Thida was finishing primary school her oldest brother was planning to marry. With no job and no family savings to rely on, he turned on Thida to come up with $150 to cover the expenses. Behind her parents’ back, who were often away working in the fields, he beat and harassed her to come up with money. In desperation, she turned to her neighbors for loans, but all she could manage was $112. So she fled, terrified, more than 50 kilometers to Phnom Penh in the hope of both escaping her brother’s wrath and finding a way to repay her loans. She found work as a servant for the proprietors of Goat Soup karaoke bar, where Lotus Outreach operates a Non-Formal Education (NFE) project.

At just 15 years old, Thida found herself suddenly working a slave wage. At 18 ½ hour days from 4:30am to 11:00pm for $30 a month, she had been better off selling snails and shells from the river. Instead she swept her bosses’ house and bar, cared for their two children, clerked in their grocery store, and washed dishes in the bar at night. She was, however, permitted to attend NFE classes with the karaoke bar’s female entertainers. This proved to be the sliver of luck that would reverse her fortune.

During a donor visit in mid-November, Thida was identified as being young enough to return to school, and Lotus Outreach’s director of operations made a note of her name. The NFE program manager returned shortly after to gauge her commitment to her formal education, and found that with a bicycle to cover the nine kilometers to the lower secondary school nearest her village, Thida would happily return to attending classes regularly.

The owner of Goat Soup didn’t take kindly to the idea, and threatened to withhold Thida’s wages if she tried to leave. NFE's program manager intervened with a few threats of her own – namely a lawsuit for child exploitation. By the end of the month, Thida was on her way home with scholarship materials and her Lotus Pedals bicycle.

“I am very happy with the bike – it’s the first ever that my family has owned!” says Thida. “And with more education I will be able to get a better job, that doesn’t have long hours like what I had been doing.”

With her brother living in another province with his new wife and the door to secondary school propped open, life has been much brighter. Yet the road ahead is full of challenges for Thida. Although she packs a rice lunch from home, she sometimes must buy food at school. Two required courses (Math and Physics) are fee-based and exam papers must be purchased. Although this averages only $0.60 per day, the small sum is a strain on Thida’s family.

Thida remains focused on the opportunities now available to her, aware that ironically, without being run off to Phnom Penh she would never have come into contact with NFE, Lotus Pedals or the bike that has made secondary school a reality. “I hope at least I can hang on to school until grade 9, so that I can have a better understanding of how to live a better life in the future,” says Thida. “I love studying very much, but if my family cannot afford to keep me in school through high school I may come back to NFE to learn tailoring skill, especially to support my little sisters’ education.”

With the continued support of our generous donors, we will help Thida reach her goal of finishing high school so that when she does join the labor force, she will have the strongest bargaining position possible. Given the opportunity to prove herself academically, a strong student like Thida may even attract a scholarship for higher education. We thank you sincerely for standing beside us to touch the lives of hundreds of girls just like her.

The first bike in Thida
The first bike in Thida's family
Public transportation to Thida
Public transportation to Thida's house
Safe at home, with her family
Safe at home, with her family

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Jan 11, 2011

Lily's Rescue and Recovery from Forced Labor

Lily, safe in Sisophon
Lily, safe in Sisophon

Thanks in large part to the support we receive from our generous donors on Global Giving, our Consoling Through Counseling program is braced for a strong year in 2011. We extend our warmest thanks to you for helping us provide desperately needed care and nurturing to hundreds of girls and women who have suffered exploitation and survived to share their story. Here is one, told by a young woman seduced by the promise of honest work. After a terrifying foray into Malaysia’s migrant labor market, 17 year-old Lily* escaped to Thailand this summer where authorities referred her to our shelter in Sisophon.

Last year, Lily was recruited from her home province of Battambang for domestic work abroad. Her excitement at the prospect of employment was choked off even before she left Cambodia: at the recruiting transfer station in Phnom Penh, recruiters forcibly hacked her hair off and refused to give her a copy of her signed labor contract. Clinging to the prospect of a paycheck, Lily hoped for the best and continued to Malaysia.

Once in the home of her new employers, however, Lily lost what little of her autonomy remained. Discovering she had acquired a debt for her transport to Malaysia, she was informed that she would not be compensated for her labor until it was settled. She soon learned not to expect regular meals. Her travel documents and work permit were taken from her, complicating any scheme to find work elsewhere under new terms and conditions. On New Year’s Day in 2010, Lily was given $25 in a red envelope – the only pay she’d received in four months.

After nearly a year as a slave, Lily managed to flee by bus to the Thai border where she was referred to our partner, the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center. As a client in our Sisophon shelter, Lily has receive one-on-one and group counseling to process her feelings of violation and helplessness.  Already, she is looking ahead to our reintegration services and getting back on her feet.

“Before I leave here I intend to apply for a loan/grant to raise pigs,” says Lily. “I’ve seen people doing it near my home and feel confident I can do it also.”

With such a positive outlook and the right resources, we also feel confident that Lily will be able to build her own secure source of revenue – eliminating migration and personal risk from the equation forever. Thank you for making this possible!

*name has been changed

Lily speaks with Sokny, our CTC therapist
Lily speaks with Sokny, our CTC therapist

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Jan 2, 2011

Sisters Ride to School and Away from Arranged Marriages

Murshida at a White Lotus event
Murshida at a White Lotus event

When the right factors converge, even the course of longstanding tradition can be rerouted. One of the most important factors is the support we receive from generous donors like you! You make possible the Blossom Bus program, which places a new destination on the map for pious Muslim girls in rural Mewat, Haryana. Our partner and advocate for education, White Lotus, is relying on its stellar reputation with the community to bring that destination within reach.

The parents of 11 children, Farooq and Amna were planning marriages for four of their daughters – Farana, 15, Ruksana, 14, Murshida, 13, and Farzana, 12. With the girls’ completion of grade 5, the highest level of schooling available in Babupur village, marriage was the safest option to ensure the girls were properly provided for. Responsible parents in Mewat don't permit their daughters to commute several kilometers unattended through empty fields, where they may be subject to harassment or attract undue attention.

Yet these young women had a taste of the upper schooling available to their brothers. Until their father found a job driving a truck that kept him away from home, he had accompanied the girls to an upper primary school in a neighboring village. Farana advanced as far as grade 8, but her father’s employment signaled the end of her and her sisters’ academic careers.

Murshida dreamed of reaching grade 12, like her eldest brother. When White Lotus Officer Suraj Kumar approached her mother this April about sending her and her sisters back to school, her heart leaped. Although her marriage was being planned, it hadn’t yet taken place - there was still time to take another path. Her mother refused, but Murshida spoke up in support of Suraj’s appeal: all four sisters wanted badly to return to school, and could travel together.

Suraj suggested a better solution.  He proposed supervised transportation, even allowing for one person from the family to serve as the chaperon. Amna still balked, but Murshida and her sisters argued that their brother got to attend school eight kilometers away while four daughters were being refused even with transportation available.  Amna relented, but left the final word with their father.

Suraj contacted Farooq by telephone to resolve the matter.  Learning that the organization offering transportation was the same that had been working in the area over the previous three years to improve the conditions in schools, Farooq gave his consent.  The work of White Lotus was esteemed in the community, and he felt safe giving its new program a chance.

Since this fall, Murshida and her three closest sisters have traveled to school together on the Blossom Bus, and feel confident they will each at least reach the tenth grade. Best of all, says Murshida, is that none of the four will be pressured to marry before she is 18. Lotus Outreach joins Murshida and her sisters in thanking you, our generous donors, for making the Blossom Bus possible.

Murshida and Babupur girls catch the Blossom Bus
Murshida and Babupur girls catch the Blossom Bus

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