Help a young woman escape Cambodia's sex industry

 
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Chantha Learns to Sew!
Chantha Learns to Sew!

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!

Chantha Finishes Her Own Dress
Chantha Finishes Her Own Dress
Chantha (Left) Wears New Dress!
Chantha (Left) Wears New Dress!

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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!

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Phannin went from 60% literate to #1 in her class!
Phannin went from 60% literate to #1 in her class!

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!

Students wearing beautiful dresses they made!
Students wearing beautiful dresses they made!

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Srey-Pov
Srey-Pov's wedding day after a difficult journey

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.

Srey-Pov (2nd from left) graduating NFE in 2010
Srey-Pov (2nd from left) graduating NFE in 2010

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A happy Vannah and her 6-year-old daughter
A happy Vannah and her 6-year-old daughter

Lotus Outreach views the relationship between us and the women we have the privilege to support as a partnership with them for a better, more just world. In this update we are honored to present the tenacious and graceful Vannah. The inspiring story of 31-year-old Vannah demonstrates the underlying potential of the 45% of Cambodian women that have been denied education. Vannah is part of an entire generation that had no access to education due to the Khmer Rouge’s shutdown of the public school system and execution of 90% of the country’s teachers in the late 1970s. Growing up in the wake of genocide, civil war and foreign occupation, Vannah and her siblings were forced by poverty and political turmoil to spend their childhoods laboring rather than studying.

While many NFE participants are able to better their lives tangibly as a result of the classes, Vannah has used the skills she acquired to improve the livelihood of an entire village. She entered the NFE program in 2011 while working at a brothel in Phnom Penh and swiftly rose to the top of her class. Despite the hardships she endured, the determined Vannah used her spare time constructively and encouraged other girls to also take skill training. In addition to her daily lessons in basic literacy, numeracy and business management, she enrolled in our sewing and tailoring course, which proved to be the foundation for her career as a prolific businesswoman. “When I started NFE, I couldn’t sew a straight line,” shares Vannah. “It was the skills I learned during NFE that have made me the successful tailor that I am today.

In just a few years, Vannah has managed to invest in 30 weaving looms and four sewing machines, effectively employing 100 local villagers who support as many as 500 people. Her weaving and tailoring workshops are able to maintain a local tradition of silk making, a process that transforms raw materials into vibrantly patterned, hi-quality silk fabrics. Ingenuity and careful business planning have allowed her to employ the bulk of her extended family, and she reflected on how the family no longer has to experience hunger each day. “Every day we used to worry how we would survive. Now I feel very happy knowing we’ll be okay.” Vannah, a single mom of a 6 year-old girl, is now able to earn $200 a month – two times the per capita income in Cambodia – and hopes to buy her first home in the near future. Vannah is also starting up a small retail operation, and recently purchased second-hand blue jeans, which she plans to re-sell with a good margin of profit.

Our visit with Vannah marked the most interesting and satisfying visit I can remember in many years and hundreds of visits with Cambodian families,” shares Glenn Fawcett, Lotus Outreach’s Director of Field Operations. “Vannah is a warm-hearted and generous boss who pays her employees well and inspires those around her to find the best in themselves. We are so happy to see such a kind and talented person in the midst of great success.”

Thank you so much for your support of the Non-Formal Education project! Your generosity is the backbone of this project and the platform for incredible transformation like the one we witnessed with Vannah.

Vannah puts her sewing skills to good use
Vannah puts her sewing skills to good use
Vannah oversees a worker at a weaving loom
Vannah oversees a worker at a weaving loom
A joyful employee of Vannah
A joyful employee of Vannah

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Organization

Lotus Outreach

Aptos, California, United States
http://www.lotusoutreach.org

Project Leader

Thmas Waltcher

Sacramento, CA Cambodia

Where is this project located?

Map of Help a young woman escape Cambodia's sex industry