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.
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.
In the red light districts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the perils of the sex trade abound, and there are few chances for economic advancement. Cambodia’s chaotic history has turned it into a notorious destination for sex tourism, and Phnom Penh is the epicenter of it all. Here, karaoke bars and restaurants serve as fronts for brothels where the employees serve Cambodian men and tourists mostly from the United States and Europe.
In this once desperate area of Phnom Penh, young women are studying and working with the inspiration of a new hope. Tieng Sophy is 20 years old and currently enrolled in Lotus Outreach’s Non-Formal Education (NFE) program. She is learning the technical skills to be able to work in tailoring and escape the degrading work of Cambodia’s red light district.
Sophy was born in the Tuol Kpuos Village of the southeastern Svay Rieng Province. Tragically, by the time she was 10 years old, both her mother and father had passed away. Following her mother’s death, Sophy lived with her 6th sister and advanced only to the 5th grade.
She acquired some experience in sewing and came to Phnom Penh in 2009 to work in a garment factory. Dire circumstances faced by so many women her age led her to start working at a karaoke bar in the Sen Sok District. Fortunately, she discovered another karaoke bar where Lotus Outreach’s NFE class was running and found a new chance to pursue her dreams!
Sophie joined the NFE class in January, 2013 and is currently bolstering her sewing skills through a special skills training. She was selected for the training because of her hard work as a student and her previous experience with tailoring. Sophy is very happy with this new opportunity and dreams of returning to her home town to run a sewing shop and grocery.
Nearly 700 persons have been enrolled in Lotus Outreach’s NFE classes, and less than 4% of graduates return to work in the sex trade. Many move on to further their skills in cosmetology and tailoring and acquire much-sought-after positions in garment factories and beauty salons.
Non-Formal Education not only gives young women a chance to move out of exploitative karaoke bars but also creates develops the economy and creates job opportunities for other people. Students of the NFE program have gone on to start their own businesses which employ other Cambodian women and men. One such graduate started a business which now employs over 100 people!
Education is the cornerstone of any economy, and it’s the center of Lotus Outreach’s development strategy. Women who are educated and economically empowered are more likely to invest their money in their children’s health and education. The long-term impacts of educating women reverberate throughout the community and through future generations.
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