Sieb, 25, is recently divorced from her abusive husband. Sieb’s former husband has taken 2 of their 3 hectares of ancestral land and all their savings. He refuses to part with half, as is customary, or anything for that matter. They remain in a legal battle but with no land titles or documentation; it’s not clear what the outcome will be.
Back in November 2012, Sieb took refuge at Lotus Outreach’s shelter for survivors of rape, trafficking and domestic violence. While she stayed at the shelter for nearly six months, Sieb received sewing skills training and was offered a small business startup grant of $200 to help her get back on her feet.
Sieb’s first venture was reselling produce. She bought sweet cakes made in Thailand but didn’t account for the rainy season and perishable nature of the product and lost $40. Next, she bravely jumped into making dried fish but she cut off the fish heads which should have been included and which reduced the weight of the final product. She couldn’t make a profit and suffered a further loss of $100.
Sieb’s third venture is proving more successful and Lotus Outreach Field Director Glenn Fawcett recently visited Sieb at her home to find out more:
We arrived mid-afternoon to Sieb’s home in Oo Ambaal on the edge of Sisophon town in the Western Cambodian Province bordering Thailand. We could hear that familiar sound, “rat-a-rat-a-rat-a”, of a pedal driven sewing machine as we mounted the broad stairs of Sieb’s stilted wooden home with a corrugated iron roof. Inside, Sieb was working on her garments next to her parents and the usual gaggle of nephews, nieces and sundry neighborhood kids surrounded them.
After Sieb’s initial disappointments from her first two business ventures, it was clear that she would have to make absolutely certain that her next venture was a success. One day, as Sieb sat on her stoop watching life pass by her, she noticed a neighbor returning some garment piecework to a manager and told the neighbor that she could also do some of the sewing piecework for a lower price. The neighbor agreed and pretty soon Sieb was stitching shorts and shirts on piece rates. She’s not very fast as of yet, but it’s a start, and she works 6 hours on most days, which earns her about US$2 a day. This modest income makes a big difference to her and the family at the end of each month and with more practice she will doubtless get faster and generate more income.
Not surprisingly, Sieb says she isn’t going to stop at that. She tells us, “I’m putting money away to start a small grocery store, which I will find more stimulating. It will increase my skill and capacity by having to keep accounts, a budget, and stock in and out.”
Even after all she has endured, you can sense a strong confidence in Sieb, fifth of ten children, forced to leave school at sixth grade to look after her younger siblings, tend pigs, and manage other work while her parents labored wherever they could find work to keep food on the table for a family of 12.
Sieb’s story is by no means unique; many Cambodian women face a similar reality after an abusive relationship. Sieb is tremendously brave to strive to improve family’s circumstances after so much hardship. We are absolutely delighted she’s making the best use of the opportunity provided to her through the Counseling and Reintegration program in establishing an income and standing on her own two feet.
On behalf of the hundreds of women served by the Counseling and Reintegration program, we thank you for your support and generosity!
In any country, not having a proper education creates a lot of added difficulties and risks for a person, and this holds especially true for women. It becomes more difficult to get a well-paying job, and in Cambodia it can even cause young girls to try to migrate to Thailand to find work.
Lotus Outreach designs its programs empower women economically and allow them to avoid risky behaviors like migrating to find work. Migrating puts young women at great risk of violent crimes, trafficking and rape.
For the many women who cannot avoid these perils, Lotus Outreach offers reconciliation through our Counseling and Reintegration program. Please consider donating— a week’s counseling can be provided for only $10.00!
Mulika is one such woman who has benefitted from counseling and economic reintegration services provided through this program. Her name has been changed to protect her identity.
Now 16 years old, Mulika dropped out of school at a young age due to her family’s extreme poverty. She travelled to Thailand by herself to find construction work, leaving her parents and her two siblings behind. She did manage to arrive and to find work in Thailand, but the danger for young Mulika was not over.
A Cambodian man who was Mulika’s coworker at the construction site forcibly raped her, beat her, and sliced her face with a broken bottle. She was seriously wounded and was hospitalized for her injuries.
Her wounds required multiple surgical treatments, and so Mulika was transferred back to a Cambodian hospital in Banteay Meanchey, near the Thailand border. The incident traumatized Mulika, and her family incurred significant costs in obtaining the medical treatments she needed. Her sense of self-worth plummeted, and things were made worse when her Cambodian fiancé decided to separate from her.
Fortunately, Lotus Outreach’s Counseling and Reintegration program was there to catch her as she fell. Mulika’s parents sought help from our local partner, the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, and placed Mulika in the center’s residential care program.
Mulika began participating in group counseling sessions, learning to manage her depression and her anger. The anti-social behaviors which she exhibited when she joined the program lessened, and as she became more engaged in the therapy she was able to smile and make friends once again.
Counseling and Reintegration aims not just to help women reconcile their traumatic experiences, but also to prepare them for life and work beyond living in the crisis center. Mulika is attending literacy classes at the shelter, and she is learning the skills which her impoverished background had always denied her.
What’s more, the center has helped Mulika to file charges against her attacker, a Cambodian man who at the time of this report was still at large. Prosecuting their assailants gives some reconciliation to the survivor, and successful prosecutions help keep other women safe from dangerous rapists and abusers.
Mulika still has a long way to go, and dealing with the experience of a violent rape and traumatic migration is not easy. She is beginning to feel better, and she is grateful that Counseling and Reintegration is there to give hope, even to the hopeless.
Thank you for contributing to support these brave survivors!
Lotus Outreach’s Consoling through Counseling client Dany* has a story not for the faint of heart.
Born the fourth of seven children to a seasonal laborer and her now deceased husband, Dany lived with her younger siblings in an orphanage in Battambang province. Her mother would travel to find work, while Dany studied at the local high school. Her family is so poor that she lived at the orphanage until she was 20 years old, just so she could survive and go to school.
In September of 2012, her older sister who was already married pulled Dany out of the orphanage so she could work as a gardener in the border town of Poipet. She lived with her uncle nearby until a terrible thing happened in January 2013.
Dany’s brother in law called her and asked her to come over to his house to talk. Her sister was not there, but their young daughter was, so Dany was not concerned. But everything changed once she stepped in the door:
“When I arrived there, my brother in-law took my hand and dragged me into his room and threatened me. He then forced me to have sex with him and threatened to kill me if I told anyone about it.”
At first, Dany did not share what had happened with anyone. She was too terrified to break her silence until her brother in law asked for the phone numbers of her younger sisters. Even more concerned for her sisters’ well-being than for her own, Dany decided to tell her older sister what her husband had done.
Fortunately for Dany and her sisters, Dany’s older sister believed her, and she took Dany to the police and to Lotus Outreach’s partner the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center (CWCC) in Poipet.
To keep herself safe, Dany decided to stay at CWCC’s shelter in Banteay Meanchey to wait for her case to be processed and to receive social and psychological support. By the time she arrived there, Dany had sunk into depression. Conselors noticed she spoke and walked slowly. She distanced herself from the other women at the shelter. She was sad, thin, pale, exhausted and hopeless.
Recognizing her psychological symptoms, Dany’s counselor listened to her carefully. Over the course of months, her counselor built a bridge across Dany’s isolation and taught Dany exercises to deal with her trauma. Small group therapy and breathing exercises are now helping Dany cope with what happened to her. Dany is learning to recognize her strengths and reflect on her own thoughts so she can be motivated to think about good things and move forward.
It is still hard for Dany, but things are getting better.
She feels better from time to time, and she is bonding with the other shelter clients. Lotus’s Consoling through Counseling program is providing her with legal representation through CWCC so she can prosecute her assailant, and her court case is being processed.
Consoling through Counseling is currently providing services to 26 women. In the last quarter, eight survivors were reintegrated into their home communities, and staff conducted follow-up visits to thirty-three already reintegrated women.
The program doesn’t just help women find reconciliation, but it also helps them find justice by prosecuting the perpetrators of the violent crimes against them. So far, the program has aided in the convictions of eight rapists.
Recovering from trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is not easy. But you can help these women to overcome and move forward with healthy, productive lives. Just US$100.00 can provide therapeutic counseling for these survivors for a full year. The program also connects them to economic opportunities to make sure they have the things they need to succeed.
Hands can give and hands can take away. Thank you for giving to support the recovery of these beautiful and powerful women.
*Dany’s name has been changed to protect her identity.
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.
We arrived at Van Kun Phet’s family’s tiny hutment, located precisely in the middle of nowhere about an hour’s drive from Sisophon, Banteay Meanchey’s provincial capital. The last six miles of the journey took place on a deeply rutted dirt track which even the 4WD had difficulty managing. Van, a mere 23 years old, is single mother of a three year-old daughter and lives with her mother and father. Van’s dad, now 53, is a landmine victim from his short stint fighting against the Vietnamese as a child soldier where he lost a leg at the tender age of 14.
Van herself was a victim of labor trafficking in Thailand after accompanying her brother to work on a construction site in Bangkok. The owner absconded from the project without paying anyone. “I then went to work at a Japanese-owned factory making machine parts,” Van shares. “After a month I didn’t get paid there either. I was very despondent having been cheated twice and absolutely broke. I walked three days and nights until I reached the Cambodian border. I did not have the proper papers and was arrested by the border police in Thailand. They kept me overnight and deported me the following day. The whole experience was disappointing and painful,” she continues. “I went to Thailand in the hope of earning money as we were facing dire poverty and then in the end didn’t earn anything and was beaten and abused.”
Unfortunately, cases like Van Phet’s are not rare. The Khmer Rouge genocide halted economic and industrial growth and good paying manufacturing jobs are scarce even today. With few domestic employment opportunities, Cambodia’s poor are drawn to foreign countries for any opportunity for paid work and are highly vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous factory owners and labor brokers.
Van’s choice to illegally migrate to Thailand in search of work is hardly surprising, given her family’s hunter-gatherer mode of subsistence. “My father forages in nearby forest land for firewood to sell and in the rivers and streams for fish and frogs to eat and support the family,” Van shares. “My mum searches for reed to make roof tiles to sell.”
Fortunately Lotus Outreach has provided some cushioning against these hardships in the form of shelter-based training and reintegration assistance, where trafficking victims like Van can seek refuge, learn about the dangers of migrating on a “promise”, and obtain valuable entrepreneurial skills.
“I arrived at the shelter in February 2012 and graduated in November. I applied for and received a small business grant of $250 to start a chicken-raising business, as well as $50 as new-life start up assistance. My father and I designed and built the chicken coop ourselves and we spent $100 on chickens as stock. The chickens are free-range, and we supplement their diets with a feeding formula that I learned to make in the shelter.”
In the training, Van also learned to keep and manage a journal of income and expenditure and is very clear about the investment against returns. “When the chickens reach 1.5 kg I’ll be able to get $3 per kg return and will sell some while keeping back enough to increase my stock through breeding.” With a beaming smile Van tells us, “I feel very happy to have my own animal raising business, I had always dreamed of raising chickens and now I am doing it! I now have 3 roosters, 11 large and 3 small hens with 15 chicks.”
We are delighted to have met Van and her family. Van is such a nice person, and so lively and full of enthusiasm. We are excited that someone like her--someone who has been cheated and exploited through no fault of her own--is now getting a chance and establishing herself and her family on a sound economic footing.
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