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.
Nov 6, 2014

Changes and Blossoming

A few months ago, I would not have believed that I was going to spend my day-to-day with a group of young girls who are real examples of success, the real lotus flowers. Four months ago, I landed in Siem Reap, Cambodia, without knowing what to expect: in my head, the words “management,” “evaluation,” “finance,” “artisans” and “monitoring” were circling around and around, always thinking in terms of numbers, challenges, aims, results, results, results… then, 12 young girls - the amazingly talented jewelry artisans – turned my thoughts into “hope,” “dreams,” “team,” “thrive,” “future” and “yes, we can!” I am Allin Delgado, Country Director of Senhoa in Cambodia, a Mexican learning every day from 12 beautiful lotus flowers and the most passionate and committed staff ever!

I started working with Senhoa in July 2014 and was lucky to be witness to one of the Jewelry Program’s biggest milestones yet in Cambodia: our launching event of the Senhoa Jewelry Brand in Siem Reap. Since 2010, and through many challenges, we have transitioned from being an NGO with a Vocational Training Program for at-risk Cambodian and Vietnamese women, into a social enterprise. The main goal for many non-profits, we have achieved it.

Throughout the past 4 years we have provided our artisans guidance for personal and professional development, opportunities and tools to reconstruct their self-confidence. Senhoa has been working hand-in-hand with each one of the girls not just teaching the most advanced skills in jewelry making, but seeking to revive “that” spark in their eyes when they dream about the future and they express “It is possible.”

Senhoa, as a whole organization, has been a role model for the girls as well: changes are always for the better, changes lead us on our way, changes represent development and a clear path to walk on. Thanks to an amazing team in California, our partners and supporters - like Global Giving - that have been working very hard to fundraise for the Jewelry Program, Senhoa in Cambodia has a new office with a spectacular showroom displaying every piece of our collections and the artisans’ original jewelry line called “OOH - Our Own Hands.”

Also, the artisans are working in their new design studio since August – upstairs from Senhoa’s office – with a beautiful view to the Siem Reap River, a workshop that is a safe haven where they can share their dreams, where they can break the barriers of dreaming higher, where they can trust that Senhoa is not “just an employer” but an organization that will push its own limits to give them the quality of life, support and life and professional skills that they need to become empowered women and, why not, young entrepreneurs, jewelry or fashion designers, their own brand.

Khmer society, as I perceive, is a little bit reluctant to changes, maybe due to the heartbreaking history. During this moving process, plus a new Country Director, production on our new EM Collection, the day-to-day challenges of any start-up, and a new Production Coordinator - who, by the way, was one of the artisans! -, the girls and the staff were confused of what was happening. It has been a constant learning process for all of us to cope with the changes and understanding that those changes symbolize Senhoa’s development. But like the lotus flowers they are, they emerged successfully from changes and realized that all this means: “maybe I can learn sales and improve my creativity for new designs…” or “look! That is my piece that is being sold!”

Now the artisans have a small Sales Team composed of artisans who are interested in learning sales skills, customer service and practicing English with visitors and clients. The Designers Team is encouraged every day to draw, imagine, research on internet and create their own designs and teach the rest of the girls. With the help of Dara, our Social Worker, the girls have daily counseling. Senhoa wants the best of the best for the artisans, and we are on our way.

The girls achieve small goals every day without them even noticing; just 2 days ago, the quietest girls, always afraid to speak, introduced themselves to a visitor – in English! –laughing and without hesitation. These small achievements are the whole reason why Senhoa keeps growing, including them in Senhoa’s self-development: they haven’t pictured that, what comes from their own hands, is an astounding and glamorous product in which - we believe - belongs to the high fashion industry and runways around the world.

Now, they are in the process of believing it: they are skilled, they are capable, they are dreaming, and Senhoa trusts in their capacity. Small steps are leading them to learn more new skills, like *Sara*, who has become a Production Coordinator since September; She is now creating reports, Excel spreadsheets, emails in English, etc. all that combined with studies preparing for University next year!; or like *Tanya* who was a very bright but rebellious girl, recently became a Supervisor. She checks quality control and teaches the girls the more intricate techniques. Her compassionate manner and her leadership skills are blooming. She is becoming a wonderful team leader and extremely responsible!

We are committed to improving these wonderful 12 lotus flowers’ lives and, hopefully, more in the following years. What I have found during these past 4 months is that Senhoa’s Jewelry Program is not just a Vocational Training Program, but a whole package of resources, tools and support guiding these young ladies to believe in their capacities, to believe that they are beautiful inside and outside, to believe that they are already on the way to empowerment, and to believe that all Senhoa’s team believe in them.

*Names were changed.

Sep 29, 2014

Wow-Moments of Discovery at LKC

I have mostly spoken about the Pre-school Program at Lotus Kids Club. Our Afternoon Community Program is thriving also. It is a very challenging program as it is a drop-in program for children of all ages. So you can imagine the struggles we have had in providing activities of interest for the varied ages. And to be truthful my expertise lies with pre-school age kids. Over the years I have fortunately done some work with older children. I have learned a lot at LKC. And it can be, surprisingly to me, quite satisfying and fun.

The youth that attend LKC are enthusiastic and hungry for knowledge and new experiences. We want to make the program interesting and create an environment for them that will encourage discovery and learning. We want to expose them to a world they have yet to have discovered. How cool it is to hear exclamations as a youngster looks through a microscope for the first time and see the intricacies of a butterfly’s wing and exclaims “Wow”! Most of our teachers in fact have never looked through a microscope to see the amazing wonders of nature. It’s a wow moment when a child balances a gyroscope on a pencil tip and then learns it can be done on a tight string also.

We were donated these books with stunning photos of nature and animals. Many wows are exclaimed as the youth pour over the photos. I believe new worlds open up for them when they see the most amazing photos of the frozen northern and southern tips of the world, especially having never seen actual snow. Seeing animals and plants they could never have imagined is thrilling. We want to introduce them to games and activities that will stretch their imaginations, inspire creativity and encourage critical thinking. We want them to realize that there are opportunities in many fields of study in the world for them. We hope they see that it is possible to follow their interests and that they have choices. Once they understand this they will have dreams and goals that will more likely lead them to a fulfilling life. They will see and experience more ‘wow moments’ throughout their lives.

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.

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