The following story highlights the power of Lotus Outreach’s Non-Formal Education (NFE) program to alter a Cambodian women’s life. NFE offers incredible educational and vocational services to young girls and women stuck in sex work and harsh labor, in order to give them the support necessary to make profound and impactful changes in their lives and their family’s lives.
Sophea, 31 years old, was born in Roluos Village of Kompong Trobaek District in Prey Veng Province. She is the second of seven siblings. Her father died of cirrhosis when she was 13 years old, so she had to dropout of the 5th grade to move to Phnom Penh to help her aunt with household chores, which included raising pigs and selling groceries in exchange for smalls amounts of money.
After working 4 years with her aunt, Sophea left to work in a garment factory with a basic salary of $35 a month. Five years later she got married to a motor taxi driver and now has one child. Her husband and her have had many difficulties throughout their marriage and have separated twice. He is a gambler, drunk and has had various affairs on Sohpea. He also never is able to give her any money, and thus, having a husband has done nothing to lighten the load. She only decided to take him back, because she didn’t want her child to experience a life without a father like she did.
In 2009, Sophea quit the garment factory due to bad health condition. She then found another job as a cashier in a beer garden; however, two years later the beer garden was closed. She again found herself a job in another beer garden as a waitress, but it was again closed two years later. She kept changing her workplace a few times and eventually found stable work as a hostess at a beer garden near an NFE class in Sen Sok District. She then found out about Lotus Outreach’s NFE program.
She decided to enroll in an NFE class, because she wanted to learn tailoring skills, so that she could change her career for a better life. She is facing a lot of challenges working as a hostess at the beer garden like being forced to drink a lot, which results in many stomachaches and frequent dizziness. She is also afraid that she will get cirrhosis like her father, a disease caused by poor liver. Not to mention she is often approached and harassed for sexual services.
Sophea started NFE English classes and a tailing class on January 14, 2015. She studies very hard and comes to both classes regularly. When she first joined the program, she could read some simple text, but could hardly write. She didn’t know how to do multiplication nor division. Since she used to work in the garment factory, she is picking up tailoring very quickly. She has already made 10 women’s garments and 2 male trousers. She also really likes reading. She has borrowed a life-planning book, a health related book and a magazine from the library box to read.
Sophea plans to buy a sewing machine by the end of this month, so she can start doing her own work at home. Once she finishes the skill training with the program, she would like to run a tailoring business in Phnom Penh with her sisters who are now working in a garment factory.
Sophea is extremely delighted for the opportunity to acquire literacy, numerical and vocational skills. She would like to show her gratitude to the programs and all the donors for reaching out to her and other Cambodian women and girls who need support to make the many dire and much desired changes in their own lives.
Lotus Outreach’s Non-Formal Education (NFE) program serves over 100 young women working to escape sex-work and harsh labor by learning basic skills like literacy and numeracy, in addition to skills like sewing, food service and cosmetology. Beyond skills and education, these girls and young women gain a new found self-confidence. Take a look at Chantha's story:
Chantha, 29 years old, is the first of 7 siblings. She had to drop out of school in sixth grade in 1999 to work in Phnom Penh to help support her family. To make matters more difficult, her father died of Malaria in 2000, pushing her family into severe debt and deeper into poverty.
When Chantha arrived in Phnom Penh alone in 1999, she worked in 2 garment factories for over 10 years for a very small salary. Her health deteriorated as she became weak and got sick quite often. She then became a hostess at a beer garden working long hours, hoping to restore her health. Once she learned about NFE classes and sewing training at the beginning of this year, she decided to change her workplace to another beer garden so that she could attend class from 8am to 4pm during the week in addition to working her new job.
She decided to take the NFE classes in part to improve her skills so she could read menus, write orders and communicate properly with others at work. In addition, before joining NFE, she was at a fourth grade literacy level, but now after just one year in the program her level is as high as 10th grade. In addition, she is now able to do advanced multiplication and division whereas before she could only multiply numbers with 1 digit and she was unable to divide.
Chantha is very happy and proud of herself now that she can stand on her own feet with confidence. She exclaimed, “Before, I normally just followed others. I didn’t have my own thoughts or decisions… I can [now] plan for my future. I have my own ideas and thoughts. I don’t have to follow what others tell me to do anymore.”
Chantha also gets support from the program on health issues and often consults with the project officer on any concerns she has. Moreover, with ongoing encouragement and training from the program, she also started to save (for the first time ever) in order to run a tailoring business in the future. By the end of this winter, she is going to buy a sewing machine for roughly $200 in order to sew at home in her free time to earn extra money. Actually, she is already making additional money from sewing as people have asked her to make clothes for them after seeing the dress she made for herself.
Chantha requests the program to continue supporting other women in crisis like her, because without education and only minor skills, they cannot do anything to truly help themselves. Last but not least, she would like to sincerely thank the program and donors for giving her this precious opportunity to build invaluable skills and self-confidence!
Vuth grew up in the rural Kondal Province which surrounds Phnom Penh and serves as a major agricultural and economic belt for Cambodia’s capital. She is the second oldest of eight children, of which six are girls and two are boys.
Vuth dropped out of school at the sixth grade because of the economic needs of her family which had made her attend very irregularly. Not knowing much math, nor how to read or write very well, she moved to Phnom Penh where she found employment as a waitress in a Chinese noodle restaurant.
So much of Cambodia lives below the international poverty line that Vuth’s very slight income from waiting tables was a sad step up from her family’s earnings.
Twenty-eight percent of Cambodia’s population lives on less than $1.25 per day, and Vuth’s new job landed her an income of $50 per month, or about $1.67 per day.
The area where Vuth works is surrounded by Phnom Penh’s infamous karaoke brothels, which promise incomes twice what Vuth makes, but come at a much greater cost.
After just one month at the noodle restaurant, she succumbed to the temptation of earning up to $100 per month at the Karaoke bars nearby. She worked in this environment for one year before deciding that she could not continue and wanted to move up and out.
Vuth knew she needed to learn to read and write better, and she looked to the NFE program to help build the basic skills that would help her get out of poverty. Khemara’s staff welcomed her into the Borei Kamakor class in January 2014.
From the very beginning Vuth studied very hard and excelled in her NFE class. She asked to be enrolled into the Sewing Skills class, and was quickly accepted based on her superb performance.
Now at age 23, Vuth is working hard to avoid the pitfalls which loom over so many young women in her neighborhood. Thanks to your support, she hopes to someday open her own tailoring shop!
Thank you for supporting Vuth and the Non-Formal Education Program!
School’s out for summer, but not for the hard-working students of Lotus Outreach’s Non-Formal Education (NFE) program! NFE has 100 young women enrolled working to escape sex-work by learning basic skills like literacy and numeracy, and we have 30 more learning advanced skills like sewing, food service and cosmetology. These young women are capable of so much, just look at our student Phannin.
Phannin is a twenty-one year old student receiving advanced skills training from the NFE program. After working at a number of Phnom Penh’s beer gardens and infamous “karaoke” brothels, she has finally found a way to build a healthy life, and your support is making that happen.
As a child, Phannin managed to stay in school until she had advanced to the 8th grade. Because her family was so poor, she was forced to begin working at beer garden restaurants in Phnom Penh at the age of 17. Waitresses at these venues are often considered as available for sale as the food items, and the restaurants are frequented by tourists and Cambodians alike. For her work she was compensated only US$35.00 per month.
By the time Phannin was making a comparably decent wage, she was being worked almost to exhaustion. At a Karaoke Bar in Takeo Province, she was placed as a supervisor and made US$100.00 per month. There she was forced to accompany customers day and night and imbibe as much alcohol as the patrons wanted. The work and constant alcohol consumption gave Phannin a chronic stomachache for which she had to quit her job and seek medical attention.
She moved in with a friend while recovering from her stomach problem, and it was then that she encountered Lotus’s NFE program. Staff from the program explained how the program allowed a flexible schedule for her to learn the most useful subjects to young, adult women like her. The opportunity was compelling, and Phannin decided to sign up!
Before attending the program she was only semi-literate and did not understand basic math like division. Now she number one in her fifteen person class.
Phannin spends her time reading borrowed books and magazines from the school’s library, and she is even planning for her future. After reading a book entitled “Getting Rich Fast,” she has cut down on spending money hanging out with friends, and now she’s saving money for the future.
“Now I’m even teaching my friends about financial management and how they can live to be healthier!” she reports.
After she finishes her skills training, Phannin wants to start a restaurant of her own where she’ll work on her own terms. Phannin is enrolled in a class at the Food & Beverage Center where she studies restaurant management and service skills. Her father works for a tourism company and says that he will help by bringing customers by her restaurant.
Please donate to support Phannin’s amazing work. Many more women are still forced into the degrading industry of sex-work. $170 pays for a girl’s education for an entire year. Please support these promising young students and entrepreneurs as they work to improve their lives and communities!
Srey-Pov is 26 years old, born in Mittapheap village, Sangkat Russei Keo, Khan Russei Keo, with three brothers. Her journey to complete the Lotus Outreach Non-Formal Education (NFE) program has been long, and she has had to fight every bit of the way.
But this year Srey-Pov completed a skills training in sewing after having taken the NFE literacy course in 2010, and she is finally moving forward into a hopeful new period in her life!
Srey-Pov’s life has not been easy. In the second grade she had to drop out of school to take care of her father who was dying of AIDS. By the time she was 15, her father and her mother had both passed away, her three brothers were scattered to the wind, and Srey-Pov was married and pregnant. After the baby was born, her husband quickly became abusive, there was a difficult custody battle for the child, and a divorce leaving Srey-Pov with nothing.
With no income, no parents, no husband, and no education, Srey-Pov was left with no other option but to find work at the karaoke-parlor brothels endemic to Cambodia.
Srey-Pov quickly became tired of the drunken indignity and powerlessness of karaoke work, and so she signed up for Lotus Outreach’s Non-Formal Education class at the karaoke parlor near where she worked. In the year 2010 at age 23 she learned to read, spent much of her time studying, and finished with excellent grades. After finishing the NFE literacy program, she started to learn sewing through the NFE skills training.
Sewing skills and cosmetology trainings through NFE have the power to transform women’s lives and give an option to escape exploitative sex work. Just $20 covers a month of skills training that can save a woman’s life from tragedy!
It’s not easy to turn your life around overnight. But with effort and a little good luck, Srey-Pov began to see changes happening. In 2013 she landed a job at a garment factory using her sewing skills, and a man fell in love with her. By May she and he were married, and they are moving soon to Sen Sok where she will reunite with her daughter, now age 13. Srey-Pov insists she will keep her daughter enrolled in school until she graduates.
When you start off so far behind, it can take a long time and a lot of hard work to catch up. Taking the NFE literacy class in 2010 was the first step, and it laid the groundwork for her to move forward into a dignified life. Now she is saving her money to buy her own sewing machine so she can work from Sen Sok. With any more luck, her daughter will have a much easier life than Srey-Pov did.
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