Help a young woman escape Cambodia's sex industry

 
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This month our team visited NFE graduate Srey Leak ("lee-ack") at her new job as a beautician in Phnom Penh’s riverside Old Market. Formerly a karoke bar worker, Leak completed NFE in 2010 and in 2011 was one of five graduates to receive additional beauty skills training from the program. LO Director of Field Operations Glenn Fawcett describes the observable change in Leak’s appearance:

“I remembered Leak’s apparent sadness and lack of energy on the many occasions we met during our visits to the karaoke bar where she lived, and could hardly believe how happy and easy going she is now,” says Glenn. “Her happiness to be away from her former life, where she was prone to abuse and exploitation, and to now be among good friends that nurture and love her is so apparent - the transformation is extreme.” 

During the visit Leak laughed often with her co-workers, and her boss, Pov described the atmosphere: “We all love each other very much.” There is little reason to doubt her sincerity – in addition to full-time work and a living wage, Pov provides Leak with free training in nail design.  

What’s more, Pov has invested heavily in a training course in Hong Kong, and is saving to open up her own training school. It’s clear that Leak has landed in a positive, future-focused environment where she will have room to thrive, living on her own terms.  

“I will continue to add to my skills,” says Leak. “I plan to open my own small business in this market, maybe on this very spot when Pov opens her training school.”

While Pov partially hired Leak out of pity for an orphaned young woman trying to make a better life for herself, Leak wouldn’t have been a viable candidate without the training in hair, nails and make-up she received from NFE.

Bridging the small gap in education and training to make these women marketable in their communities is precisely what NFE is designed to do, and it makes us incredibly happy to see this come to fruition in a case like Leak’s. Thank you so much for making these happy endings possible!

With Lotus Outreach Sewing Class
With Lotus Outreach Sewing Class

Jacqueline Lee is an InTheField Traveler with GlobalGiving who is visiting our partners’ projects throughout Southeast Asia. Her “Postcard” from the visit in Cambodia:

On March 14, Alexis and I visited Lotus Outreach’s Non-Formal Education program. Bright and early we met up with Raksmey from Lotus Outreach. First, we attended a sewing training. This training is part of the non-formal education classes providing life skills, basic education, and small business training so that the girls have necessary skills to survive outside of the karaokes, massage parlors, and sex industry. These women are the most vulnerable group because some are illiterate and a large majority never completed higher than an elementary school education.

One of the sewing class trainees explained to me that she hopes to open a small business in her hometown someday. Another said she worked in a karaoke bar and found out about the training, so joined to have her own business one day. A third girl said she might not be able to work in a karaoke forever, so she needs more skills to prepare her for another job. I asked her why she worked in a karaoke and she said she could not find other work to support her child. The instructor’s assistant said before she was illiterate, but now she can do calculations, read, and write since she joined the NFE program.

Following the sewing class, we visited a non-formal education class at the housing accommodations of girls that work in a local “karaoke”. These karaokes serve as locations for men to enjoy the company of women with the option to gain more. 

The challenge is that the families of these girls demand money and support so the girls not able to make enough money in traditional jobs have to take alternative forms of income generation that is quick and provides large sums – income generating activities such as selling their bodies. They often lack skills to gain more secure and higher wage jobs in places like the garment factories, so Lotus Outreach is providing the training and skills as well as job placement for girls in their NFE programs. Providing a sustainable and feasible alternative to the sex industry – a job that the girls can be proud of. Finally, we ended at another “karaoke” where Lotus Outreach provides Non-Formal Education and vocational training classes in beauty like hair, nails, and makeup for the girls to get out of the sex industry.

 The trainer and trainees were busy practicing on each other – creating beautiful nail and hair designs. One of the trainees had barely received any formal education growing up, but now had skills that she could make a living for herself outside of the sex industry.  Soon after, the first customers began to arrive… and we knew it was time to leave. These young women were so inspiring to meet and hear their stories because despite their hardships, they still have hopes and dreams they are working to achieve. These young women live in such harsh conditions, but at the end of day still wake up to attend the basic education classes, to study, and to practice their vocational training to have another life.

with Non-Formal Education Class
with Non-Formal Education Class

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Srey Mach, helping at the restaurant
Srey Mach, helping at the restaurant

Srey Mach demonstrates the importance of Non-Formal Education benefits that cannot be measured, like confidence, as well as the close bond that NFE students develop with project manager Sokhorn. Although she finished the course in 2007, our staff is still in touch with her and easily arranged an interview during our visit in December. 

“The NFE course had a profound impact on my life journey,” says Mach, who is now married and eight months pregnant. “Before NFE I was aimlessly going from one thing to another. The course helped me to think for myself, taught me how to set goals and to understand what steps were required to reach them.”

Mach, just 15 years old in 2007, was struggling to help pay off her family’s $2,000 debt through the only work she could find at a seedy karaoke bar in Phnom Penh. She heard about a new program called NFE and decided she had to make time for it. Focusing primarily on math and sewing skills, she was able to qualify for a position at a garment factory, which she found with the help of Sokhorn.

“I needed to find acceptance and be valued,” says Mach, “and I realized I would have to achieve my goals to win that.”

A career change was the first of many goals Mach has since set and achieved for herself. She worked and saved at the garment factory for a year before returning to her home village at Odor Meanchey to set up a food stall with her mother. Eventually, though, the $100 monthly rent for the premises proved too burdensome, and they closed it. 

Mach returned to Phnom Penh for long, hard hours at another garment factory, but she was able to recover from the food stall setback. Today she still works in the garment business, but closer to home where she is able to help her mother run her new restaurant. This time, they’re using space owned by a relative, and rent is more manageable. Her mom clears $140 a month, and the family eats their meals there, as well.

Mach’s earnings have increased, too, from $100 to anywhere between $140 - $160 a month. Her sister, Raksmey, who also completed the NFE course with her, is making almost the same. Always reinvesting in her future, Mach recently spent $150 on an advanced tailoring course and she has already started selling her own clothes. 

“I now plan to do more tailoring training so after the baby is born,” says Mach.  “I can make the very best clothes I can and will continue to help my mother’s business.”

There’s no reason to doubt that she will succeed. Together in the last five years, the three women have paid off the family debt, sold their house and bought a plot of land, built a new house and just recently bought a motorcycle. After recounting everything that has changed in the last few years, Mach remarks, “ I feel that I have now achieved the recognition I was looking for, and feel proud of myself, who and what I am.”

Current NFE students we met the day before told us that for the first time they could think and analyze for themselves. They felt they had been given a rudder to steer through life, where before they were floating aimlessly. We hope you share our enthusiasm at having given such an opportunity to Srey Mach. You are providing the same chance to dozens of others today through your generosity. Thank you for believing in this project!

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Making her own clothing line
Making her own clothing line

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Sok Khea cooking with her daughter
Sok Khea cooking with her daughter

One of 13 children, You Sok Khea never had the chance to attend school in her native Kampong Cham province. Having spent her childhood helping her mother raise her siblings, her first taste of independence came after she moved to Phnom Penh as an adult and found restaurant work.

A few years later as a wife and mother of four,  Sok Khea assumed reading and writing were opportunities that had long since passed her by. Yet her hopes sprang back to life in March when we opened up our NFE class in Tuol Song Kae, not far from her home. She enrolled at the first chance and has excelled, currently ranking fifth in a class of 21 students.

The course and its teachers have exposed Sok Khea to thoughts and ideas that felt well out of reach just a few months ago, quickly raising the bar beyond the basic skills of primary education. One lesson that got her wheels turning was on a cassette called “Keys to Success and Leadership”. Inspired, she enlisted the help and guidance of her teachers to open a small grocery. Today, she runs a successful business out of her house and continues to attend NFE, eager for all it has to offer.

“Before I didn’t know how to calculate so people could cheat me easily,” remembers Sok Khea. “But I’m different now! I can not only read, write and do math, but I can think, analyze and even run a business. I owe a great deal to the program – I don’t know how to thank you enough."

We couldn't have said it better ourselves. On behalf of Sok Khea and all of our NFE students, we thank you for your support and wish you a happy and safe holiday season!

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NFE students at a sewing skills class in Svey Pak
NFE students at a sewing skills class in Svey Pak

The totals are in for the first half of 2011! We currently have 108 students in our Non-Formal Education classes, with 94 women, 80 former or current entertainment workers and 31 vulnerable children. The story of 22 year-old Korn Srey Neat demonstrates the type of outcome we hope to achieve for each and every one of them.

Born in Tra village of Prey Veng province, Srey Neat is the second of five children. Her mother, a widower, is employed as a cleaner in a factory but makes only a meager wage. Srey Neat quit her garment factory job in January 2010 to earn more money at Srey Sros karaoke bar, where she began attending our NFE class.

Srey Neat proved to be a strong student, and passed the final exam in January of 2011. In March, she attended sewing training with our local partner, Khemara, where she learned about tailoring training opportunity another NGO that specializes in rehabilitating victims of trafficking. LO and Khemara collaborate with AFESIP to refer NFE students to tailoring apprenticeships, and Srey Neat showed keen interest in the program. 

She set her sights on entering the course in June, yet she would need money to live on during her apprenticeship at AFESIP’s training center. To save enough would require a great deal of discipline and sacrifice, and she questioned whether this was the right move for her. She called upon her friends and clients for advice.

Almost universally they encouraged her to take the opportunity, reminding her that karaoke work held no future or promise. Quite the opposite, they said, it was an unhealthy atmosphere where she was and always would be expected to drink in excess while entertaining karaoke clients.

So Srey Neat opened a bank account and spent the first half of this year saving her money, even convincing two of her younger friends to do the same. With the support of peers, she felt confident enough to leave Srey Sros.

Unfortunately her boss, the owner of the karaoke bar, held a different point of view. He forbid her to go and told NFE program staff not to help his employees find other work. It took some doing, but our officers discretely continued to help Srey Neat get accepted to the AFESIP apprenticeship.

That’s where she is today, thanks to the encouragement and faith of so many people – including you! The NFE program would not be possible without the support of our donors, so on behalf of Srey Neat and 108 new students just like her, we thank you sincerely. 

Beauty day school at Srey Sros karaoke bar
Beauty day school at Srey Sros karaoke bar
Our local partner Khemara
Our local partner Khemara's dedicated staff

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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