Senhoa Foundation

Supporting vulnerable persons and survivors of human trafficking by providing income-generating opportunities, social reintegration, and programs for self-empowerment. We believe in: - Income generation so that vulnerable women can gain economic independence. - Educational and social programs for intellectual empowerment. - Using business sensibilities to achieve humanitarian goals.
Aug 11, 2014

Moving on from the Past; Looking Toward the Future

My name is Sylvia. I work in Senhoa's Head Office in Huntington Beach, California but was given the privilege and opportunity to lead the jewelry program, in Cambodia for 6 months. I eagerly accepted and am forever grateful for the experience. Beyond living in a new place, being immersed in a new culture daily and seeing our work as it is on the ground (and not just through daily emails and Skype calls to the field team), the intimate interactions with our field staff and service users and what I learned from them will forever stay with me. 

Acclimating to Third World conditions amidst a growing tourist town was a lesser challenge; cultural differences--how different from what you are used to in the Western world is not necessary worse or needs improvement--was slightly more difficult to grasp. Above that was the delicate balance between catering to our artisans' needs, extending continual grace and being sensitive to their situations AND managing a productive and efficient business and teaching the girls to be good employees and not coddle or debilitate them by allowing irresponsibility or bad habits to develop.

Leading the girls was an amazing, fun and challenging experience and there were many lessons to be learned. Possibly the most important lesson was a reflection of the girls' own experiences: healing and moving on from the past and looking forward to the future.

In our descriptions of what Senhoa does, we had always written that we support survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. We said that we are in a fight against modern slavery. We use bold and dramatic language that get our point across. We know that donors and supporters, particularly in the West, need to feel connected to a cause; they want to hear about the brutal stories. They want to feel like they are helping bring change to a harrowing cause. In short, we needed these strong words to sell and market our cause, to bring awareness to our mission.

Being in Cambodia, I felt differently. Those strong, dramatic words, describing the "victims" that we worked with and their situations, however true, were not helping us move forward. They were holding us back, continually labeling and exploiting the girls (although not deliberately), reminding them that this is who they are and where they've been. It is ok to acknowledge the past, but we must make efforts to move forward and look to the future. We need to focus on the girls' accomplishments, how far they've come, the dreams they want to pursue going forward. We need to empower them.

More than that, the girls were beginning to be more involved in the business, helping with sales, talking to customers at a weekend market we started selling their jewelry at. Visitors were coming into the design studio to see their artwork, to see them working hard at their craft, watch these amazing jewelry pieces being created by these talented girls. How could we continue to use the language that we used in front of the girls, whom we were teaching English to?

In July we had a launch event in Siem Reap for Senhoa Jewelry. Our artisans were all there, dressed to the nines and beautiful, so excited to watch the first-ever live fashion show they've ever seen. Better yet, this show showcased their work, their art. It was an incomparable experience watching the pride and sparkle in their eyes as 250 people gathered for an event to celebrate their work and their accomplishments.

We needed to do a short presentation before the fashion show which included a speech on what the Senhoa jewelry program was all about. It sounds rather silly now, given all of the different challenges I've faced since being in Cambodia, but I remember thinking in that moment of preparing for the presentation, I felt that THIS was the hardest moment. Figuring out what to say about the girls and this program when they are right there in front of you. In the past we have many scripts prepared, all utilizing the descriptions that I've provided above. But now, what to say to describe what we do and who we work with, when the girls are watching and listening to you?

We decided to say the truth, we work with young women who have gone through many hardships and have had few opportunities growing up. We are here to provide them with the tools they need to move forward from their pasts and live independently and take care of themselves and their families. And more than that, to live out their dreams.

Dreams are difficult to live out when you constantly hear these words about yourself. We cannot shield them from the words we use to describe our programs. We are not in the business of keeping them in the dark. As we learned this, we are effectively making efforts to change the language on our website and marketing channels to reflect change and moving toward the future and less on victimization and labeling. We are not perfect and are constantly learning, but we strive to inspire growth and make our girls feel comfortable, safe, happy and free.

Jul 1, 2014

LKC Preschool Kids Just Playing? I Think Not

Happy, healthy, playful kids allowed to be kids
Happy, healthy, playful kids allowed to be kids

Lotus Kids’ Club Pre-school Kids Just Playing? I Think Not

Lotus Kids’ Club is a program within Senhoa and the Pre-school Program is part of that. The children at LKC come from one of the most poverty-stricken areas in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Many of these children would not have a chance at attending school, as it is too costly for many parents. Once they graduate from our program they enter primary school with our support. LKC instills in children a ‘ready to learn’ attitude and prepares them for success.

Below is a write-up from a well-respected, award-winning Early Childhood educator from the USA which beautifully describes LKC. She visited LKC in February of this year.

Observation at Lotus Kids Club Preschool, February 10, 2014

Physical environment

The physical environment was beautiful and interesting and offered a wide range of age-appropriate learning activities. A very partial listing of options that day includes: painting, sponge painting, water play, trains, dress up, group games, equipment for climbing, crown making, etc.

I started to categorize these options by what area of child development each supports but the outstanding quality of LKC is a deep (maybe nonverbal) understanding that children’s learning doesn’t segment like that. A child involved in a teacher-facilitated group game is developing her physical body, learning concepts, developing language, and learning to cooperate. A child playing alone at the water table is developing problem solving skills, math concepts, early physics concepts, fine motor coordination, and developing concentration and focus.

The environment was spacious, areas for different types of play were clearly delineated without being rigidly adhered to. Teachers were very much on top of the large amount of housekeeping required to keep a classroom space interesting and play productive.

Excellent use was made of repurposed and home-made materials (two examples are the funnel board and the use of toothbrushes as bubble blowers.) This sort of material is great for developing problem solving and ingenuity (and, although this is less important in your setting, for fighting consumerism).

Finally, and most importantly, the children were accompanied in their day by s smiling, helpful and emotionally available adults. When we smile, the body relaxes and our minds can absorb new information more easily.

Behavior management

Challenging behaviors decrease when children are within an interesting and age-appropriate environment. They decrease even more dramatically when teachers focus on the positive—what we focus on strongly tends to be what we get more of. The LKC teachers had both of these aspects working wonderfully. Some other aspects were also noteworthy. Teachers frequently were providing extra support to enhance participation of a child who was somewhat shy and withdrawn or to calm and focus a child who could be overly boisterous. Nothing was done that would identify to the child and her classmates, “This is a troublemaking kid!” just a look, word, gesture, touch or invitation to sit on a lap, a willingness to join with that child in doing something. When a child was stuck on using and not sharing a particular truck, an invitation to the water table soon had him happily re-engaged. When a child threw her crown on the ground, a teacher’s gentle hand on her shoulder encouraged her to pick it up and get it to the trash. Teachers were very available to the children, frequently squatting to talk with them at eye level. Transitions were very well managed with children doing something (singing, talking, etc.) as opposed to trying to “wait quietly!” An example of this would be at tooth brushing time when one teacher helped children brushing their teeth, another led activities for children who had finished and another talked with children who were still eating.

Overall pacing of the day, as well as pacing of particular segments was a pretty perfect mix of repetition and novelty. Finally teachers simply seemed to have the knack of being in the right place at the right time: moving into a game so that more children would be included or to keep the game interesting by introducing a new element, moving out of a game to notice what the children could integrate, being available for conversation which is the real cornerstone of second (and first) language learning, keeping the environment interesting and organized, noticing and moving close to a child who might soon come undone, etc, etc.


This leads to what in the USA we are calling mindfulness education for children—it’s the hot “new” thing here and LKC is probably doing it better than any preschool in this country. Science keeps providing evidence that a calm, happy child will learn more effectively than a fearful, worried child and that teachers can help children learn techniques to become more calm and happy. Techniques such as: being aware of your breathing, being appreciative of your food, your friends, other good things in life, focusing concentration on the sounds around you—all things I observed during one brief morning at LKC. Research also shows that doing something like singing together enhances subsequent cooperation within a group—think of how often and how joyously LKC children sing together.

LKC kids love singing along with teachers daily
LKC kids love singing along with teachers daily
LKC kids star in their first musical!
LKC kids star in their first musical!
LKC kids in 1st musical-Savann the Moon Catcher!
LKC kids in 1st musical-Savann the Moon Catcher!
LKC kids star in their first musical!
LKC kids star in their first musical!
May 9, 2014

Story From the Field - *Tida

(*Note: Names have been changed to protect the girls' privacy)
In 2010, Tida* was a slight, fearful and anxious girl who rarely spoke and always looked to the floor, averting others’ gazes. Her stepfather routinely beat her and her mother when he was drunk and kicked Tida out of their house. One month, he kicked her out 20 times. She could not sleep, had trouble eating and carried a chronic cough from untreated Tuberculosis. She had never been to school a day in her life.
Tida’s mother helped the family get along by traveling around Siem Reap and offering to
do people’s laundry and providing “cao gió,” a traditional Vietnamese medical
treatment in which the skin is scraped to produce light bruising and, as it is believed in
popular tradition, to release unhealthy elements from injured areas and stimulates
blood flow and healing. Tida’s stepfather took on odd jobs, just as fishing or driving
moto-taxis, when he wasn’t drunk, which wasn’t very often. Tida herself worked long
hours in the heat doing construction manual labor for $2 a day. With her frail body and
declining health, it was a wonder how she managed it.
One day Tida’s friend Dara* referred her to Senhoa’s social worker. Dara told us that her
friend desperately needed a safe job that would pay her more money to help out her
family and also a safe place to stay when her stepfather would kick her out of the family
home during one of his drunken rampages. Our social worker met Tida on a
blistering day in 2010 and it was determined that Tida was a good fit for our Lotus
House and Jewelry and Life Skills Training programs. Senhoa helped Tida receive
immediate medical care of her TB, she moved into the Lotus House and started training
to become a jewelry artisan at OOH, and the rest is history...
Today Tida is Senhoa’s top-paid artisan. Although she is somewhat slow in her work due
to her past trauma, she loves to make jewelry and the quality of her work is impeccable.
She is very diligent about creating high-quality work and is a talented designer. Her TB
has been treated, she has gained weight and appears more healthy and vibrant and has
started learning how to read and write Khmer. Tida now raises her head when she
speaks to others and exudes more confidence; she does very well in her Life Skills classes. She has since moved out of her abusive family home and now rents a room on her own. Tida wants her mother to move out of the house and stay with her, but her mother is reluctant to leave her husband. For now, Tida will continue to work hard and save money to be able to help her mother, hopefully someday soon.
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