Lotus Outreach

Lotus Outreach International is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the education, health, and safety of at-risk and exploited women and children in the developing world. Lotus Outreach achieves its mission by supporting effective grassroots projects in vulnerable communities.
Apr 19, 2013

Planting the seeds of change in Svay Pak

In the early 2000s, Dateline NBC went undercover and exposed the village of Svay Pak (on the outskirts of Phnom Penh) as a hub for child sex trafficking, sparking a national and global movement to end trafficking of women and children in Cambodia. At the time, Svay Pak was a known stomping ground for international sex predators, where girls as young as five years old were sold to the highest bidder. After these girls were purchased and brutally raped, their vaginas were often sewn up and they were sold as virgins for a second, third or fourth time.

While many of the brothels housing children have been since shut down, Svay Pak remains a notorious red light district with karaoke bars and massage parlors operating as fronts for bonded and freelance sex workers. Since 2005, Lotus Outreach has been working with these extremely marginalized women and girls to provide access to non-formal education (NFE), life skills, and vocational training. Since its inception, our NFE program has witnessed over 100 girls graduate and set up their own sewing and tailoring businesses, leaving the lethal pitfalls of the Cambodian sex industry behind them.

Building upon the success of our sewing workshops, Lotus Outreach recently hired 42 year-old Hee Sokeang to bring a higher level of skills training to the girls participating in the program. A professional tailor and teacher since 1994, Hee tells us, “In the past two months I’ve taught the girls usable skills, but the course should run six months so I can teach more advanced cutting and design concepts which are the ultimate in tailoring skills and easily convertible to good business anywhere.” We’re planning to continue employing Hee as long as possible to ensure the girls are equipped to produce quality shirts, trousers, blouses, skirts and even wedding and formal attire—all necessary skills if they hope to start their own tailoring businesses. There were 10 trainees at the beginning of the course and two have already left for work in nearby garment factories. Hee is available in our workshop from 8am to 5pm every day, and the girls flow in and out of the class throughout the day according to their availability.

Srey Po, 27, is a 2010 NFE graduate from Srey Sros Karaoke, and recently returned to the program to enhance her tailoring skills. Srey tells us, “I have an 11 year-old daughter to support and feel really happy about the course. I learned basic sewing skills from the program earlier and find this extra training will be useful and it also helps me get up early after working late nights so I can do something constructive with my time.” When asked about her plans for the future Srey Po tells us, “I’ve now saved enough money to buy a plot of land in the countryside and will go back and set up a tailoring shop. The NFE program staff have had a tremendous influence on me. The NFE course helped keep me strong and taught me to be hopeful and make a life plan that I can follow step-by-step. This tailoring course is another step in the right direction for me and I am sure I can now reach my goals.”

Based on student demand, we have also recently starting supporting apprenticeships in tailoring and cosmetology. These opportunities are wildly popular, and other promising students have recently asked us to extend the training to them as well. In the words of one student, “please, can you help us so we can leave this terrible work?”

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Apr 15, 2013

Celebrating 20 new Phnong teachers in Mondulkri!

The Phnong Education Initiative just wrapped up its third year this past December, and we are delighted to report that in this short period of time, the program has already graduated 20 Phnong scholars from the Provincial Teacher Training College. All of these promising young educators are now back in Mondulkiri’s public classrooms paying forward the gift of education to other linguistic minorities. The cost of training one teacher—who will spend her lifetime inspiring and educating other Phnong children—is just $340 for the full two years.

Of our 31 lower-secondary school students, all but three had remained in the program at the close of the year. Three girls dropped out of school to enter arranged marriages, and we were unfortunately unsuccessful in persuading them to delay marriage until they completed their studies (in Cambodia, it is illegal for a child to attend public school if she is married). Three equally needy girls have been identified to take their places and are now attending school regularly. Overall, 90% of students advanced to the next grade level in 2012, and 26% of them ranked in the 75th percentile of their class.

The program’s cultural club continues to research and document Phnong cultural traditions, and recently prepared and presented a report on Phnong funeral processions. Members produce traditional Phnong scarves, baskets, and wine which they showcase in the cultural center and sell to local visitors and tourists. The students also recently stocked the Phnong Cultural Center with traditional skirts, jars, baskets, gourds, and arrows.

The program’s student council in Oraing recently started a small vegetable garden to serve the school dormitory, and installed a pond for a small fish farming operation. This effort is aimed at enhancing the nutrition of our scholars, and may eventually provide a way to generate income and enable the program’s self-sufficiency.

We thank you for giving the gift of education to these promising young students, and we look forward to keeping you posted on the program’s many successes in the months and years ahead. If you have any questions, please contact us at info@lotusoutreach.org

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Apr 11, 2013

Sanctuary and justice for survivors of rape

Small group counseling session
Small group counseling session

Srey is a 14 year-old girl from Pailin province, which remained a stronghold of the Khmer Rouge well into the 1990s. Poverty drove Srey’s mother to migrate to Banteay Meanchey to seek work as a cook in the bustling but impoverished town of Poipet. An eighth grader, Srey was left at home alone with her father and her three younger siblings.

After her mother left, Srey’s father began to repeatedly and brutally rape Srey, threatening to hurt her if she told anyone. Crushed, terrified, and desperate to escape, Srey eventually mustered the courage to tell her mother and her uncle what had happened. With their support, Srey filed a police report and her father was arrested. While awaiting trial, Srey came to stay at Lotus Outreach’s safe shelter where she could receive legal assistance, counseling, healthcare, and social services.

When Srey first came to the shelter, her shame and sorrow consumed her. She refused to interact with the other clients, and told her counselors that she thought she was “the most shameful person in her village.” Srey suffered from depression, anxiety, and insomnia and was quick to anger. She was traumatized by the incident as well as the overwhelming fear that her father would be released from jail and come after her.

Through individual sessions, Srey’s counselor gradually built a trusting relationship with the girl and Srey began to open up about what had happened. She soon began to attend group counseling sessions and spoke openly about what had happened to her, offering support to other clients who had also been raped. Over time, Srey developed friendships with other girls at the shelter, returned to school during the weekdays, and even started taking a sewing class. She released her stress through reading books, writing down her incident and then ripping up the paper, drawing pictures, and practicing mediation. Soon Srey told her counselor that she now loves and values herself, and no longer blames herself for what happened. Srey has recently expressed a desire to finish high school and continue on to college to become a nurse. And with the support of the shelter’s legal staff, Srey’s father has now been sentenced to prison for rape. 

Srey's case is unfortunately not unique. During 2012, 19 other rape victims stayed at the safe shelter, nearly 80% of whom are children. To date, eight of the perpetrators have been convicted and another five are awaiting trial. This represents a remarkable sea change in the attitudes of both rape victims and the courts, as in 2009 there were just 468 recorded cases of rape in Cambodia despite the fact that one in four men in the region report having raped a girl or woman. Today, approximately half of rape cases to come through our shelter result in a conviction.

Thank you for giving young girls like Srey hope for a brighter future. To learn more or pledge additional support, please visit http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/ctc/

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