Help a young woman escape Cambodia's sex industry

by Lotus Outreach
Eum beautician skill training
Eum beautician skill training

The Non Formal Education program provides education and vocational training to around 130 sex workers and their children for 2-3 hours, 5 days a week for 1 year. With this training, 75% of the NFE students leave the red light districts for jobs or peruse further educational training. The story below explores Eum's experience before NFE, and how it is currently impacting her life. 

Eum is a 19-year-old who was born in Tropang Vihea Village in the Takeo Province. Eum is one of three siblings. Her father has not been present in her life and her mother passed away in 2014. When Eum’s mom was sick, her family fell deeply into debt and Eum had to drop out of school so that she could take care her mother and support her siblings’ education. To make a living, Eum caught fish that she then sold at market.

In 2012, Eum decided to come to Phnom Penh to look for work. She bounced around a couple jobs and then found a housemaid job for a nice family with a monthly salary of $50. Besides doing household chores and looking after children, Eum also helped her boss to sell clothing at market. According to Eum, her boss felt pity for her situation and often gave her money and bought her snacks. Unfortunately her boss’s wife became very jealous and Eum was forced to leave her job.

When Eum was out of work, she was told by her cousin that working at a karaoke parlor was profitable and easy job. Since Eum had nowhere else to go, she agreed to work at the karaoke parlor. Eum made a good salary and earned between $50 and $100 tips per month that she would send to her family. Eum was paying rent and barely had enough money to survive. Eum started only eating one meal a day; the free meal she was given at the karaoke bar. While being interviewed for this report, Eum cried while explaining that she would do whatever she can to make sure her two younger siblings are educated because there are only the three of them now that her mother has passed away.

While working in the karaoke, Eum met with the NFE(Non Formal Education) officer who went there to promote the NFE program and its benefits. Eum was interested because she missed the chance to be educated when she was younger. Eum wants to be able to read, write, and comprehend more. Eum enrolled in the NFE class on May 28, 2015 and qualified to do beautician skill training in November. She earned the qualification by studying hard and currently ranks at one of the top students in her class.

When being asked about the differences the program has made, Eum explained “Before joining the program, I couldn’t write much. When I wanted to note down what I wanted to buy before going shopping, I couldn’t do so. I couldn’t read big words either; I had to ask people what the words are and what they mean. People used to get annoyed and didn’t want to answer me. Some spoke behind my back that I am so stupid because I am not able to read or write. I feel much better than before now because I don’t need to bother people—I can read and write by myself! In the future, Eum wants to have her own beauty salon in Phnom Penh where they are in high demand.

“Thank you so much for giving this orphan with such a golden opportunity. This means a lot to me and I will do my best to realize my dream. I won’t make your efforts go to waste and I won’t make the donors disappointed,” Eum said when asked to give her final thoughts to her experience with NFE. “With the new skill, I will give my all to make sure my two siblings finish university,” she added.

 

Job skill training
Job skill training

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. Here is Muon's Story:

Muon is 24 years old. She was born in Prey Lich Village, Ahcha Leak Commune, Steung Sen District, Kompong Thom Province. She is the youngest among her 5 siblings (2 girls and 3 boys). When Muon was young, her parents got divorced. Her father eventually remarried and her mom passed away when she was in 8th grade. Muon has lived with her Uncle on her mom’s side who has four children. Muon’s uncle was very poor so she worked on the weekends to save money to buy her school uniform and materials. She often helped her uncle farm after school.

Once she had lived with her uncle for 4 years, she was sent back to live with her father because her uncle could no longer afford to feed her. While living with her father she had to sell vegetables at market to earn the means to support her education.

With all the struggle and difficulties Muon had been through, she successfully graduated high school in 2013. Without support and guidance after graduating, Muon ended up working in a beer garden as a hostess in Phnom Penh. She was told by a neighbor who had worked in the beer garden that she could earn $100 + tips. Women who work in Beer gardens make a good salary but are also pressured to make arrangements with men. Muon said that before working in the beer garden, she didn’t know the nature of the work. Muon just wanted to be able to make enough money to support herself.

When Muon first started the work, she was very shocked that she was made to sit and drink with customers to entertain. She was approached for sex often, but always refused. Still, she was physically and verbaly harassed everyday. Although Muon disliked her job, she didn’t know that she had other options. She continued to stay in the business until one day her friend (NFE graduate) told her about NFE program. Muon was told that it was not just about learning to read and write (something that didn’t interested her because she already graduated high school) but also about health issues, life skills, setting goals, skill training such as tailoring, beauty skill and cooking etc. Having heard that, she decided to enroll in NFE program in April 2015. Muon started taking classes and she found out that she really enjoys both literacy and sewing classes.

Eventhough she graduated high school, she still finds the NFE program very useful and interesting. The subjects are much more relevant and more practical than what are being taught in the curriculum of formal education. Muon lives 2kms from her NFE/sewing class so the program has provided her with a bicycle so that she can continue to study and do skill training.

Since she joined the program, Moun has been studying very hard. She is only working one shift at the beer garden now and dedicates the rest of her time to learning literacy and doing tailoring skill training. She hopes to have her own tailoring business in the future so that she doesn’t have to continue working at the beer garden. She wishes to recontrsuct her life so that she never has to face the men at the beer garden who take advantage of her.

She is very happy having joined the program as she has been receiving great mentoring from the programs officers and teachers. She feels the warmth and care the program staff and is very happy to be in a positive environment. Most importantly, Muon is starting to form a plan for her future and how she will achieve it. She would like to express her gratitude to the program staff and the donors, without whom she wouldn’t see light of her life and future.

Muon with her bike provided by LO
Muon with her bike provided by LO
Muon on the left with her NFE friends
Muon on the left with her NFE friends
Sreynan (right) in orange suit with her bike
Sreynan (right) in orange suit with her bike

The following story explores the success of Lotus Outreach’s Non-Formal Education (NFE) program and the way it has impacted a Cambodian women’s life. The women who are a part of NFE are survivors of urban sex working and are seeking to escape the Cambodia’s commercial sex industry. NFE provides education and vocational training to 130 sex workers and their children for 2-3 hours, 5 days a week for 1 year. With this training, 75% of the NFE students leave the red light districts for jobs or peruse further educational training.

Sreynan is 29 years old. She was born in Banang Village, Ratanakmondol District, in Battambang Province. Sreynan is the youngest among 3 daughters of the family. In 1997, Sreynan’s mother got seriously sick and passed away, so Sreynan had to drop out at 7th grade to raise pigs at home to help support her family. Three years later she left her hometown to come to Phnom Penh City with her neighbor to work in a garment factory. She made $70 per month including over time.

After working in the garment factory for 10 years, Sreynan was introduced to Karaoke work by a friend.. She was told that the work was easy—working less hours just serving ice and playing disc— and she could get tips. Since she often got scolded by the manager at the garment factory, she decided to follow her friend to work in Pipop Rikreay Karaoke and got $60 per month as a fix salary. However, after working there for only 15 days, she quit. Karaoke has long been a standard camouflage for sex services. Sreynan expressed that she didn’t like when men would enter the room with out her permission. When calling home to her family, she would say that she was working at a garment factory.

Following that job, she got another Karaoke job with a basic salary of $70 and could earn around $10 tips per day. Working there she still had to put up with guys’ mistreatment (physical and verbal harassment). After leaving that job, she ended up at another Karaoke job and met our NFE project officer who was promoting NFE in hopes to inspire more students. Sreynan was inspired by the NFE project officer and wanted to work towards a brighter future.

Sreynan wanted to improve her reading and writing skills because since dropping out of school in the 7th grade, she had forgotten almost all of her school skills. She also wanted to be able to do some math, especially division and multiplication, so that she could develop skills for sewing. She enrolled into the NFE program at the end of January and started sewing skill training (provided by the program) on April 22, 2015. She also received a bicycle from the program, which enabled her to go to her skill training that is 4km from the NFE class she is attending.

When being asked about how she felt about program, Sreynan answered “I feel very happy because I am now able to do more math, I’m acquiring the skill that will make a big change to my future, and I am cared for—the program takes me to hospital when I am sick and consults me when I have any problems.”

When asked if she’s noticed any changes in herself, Sreynan answered “Yes, many things. I started to think about future and how to live a better life which I didn’t before; I have a better saving plan—allocating certain percentage of my earning for saving rather than saving what’s left at the end of the month; and I am motivated to continue to struggle and strive for a better future.” She added “I think the program is very useful. It helps women to become stronger, more independent (not having to rely on men) and having skill to support ourselves, so we don’t have to do the work which was filled with guys harassing us and excessive alcohol drinks.”

Sreynan is thankful for the wonderful changes she has experienced thanks to the NFE program and the program donors who are continuing to support her towards her happy, healthier life.

Sreynan working on her sewing skills, using math!
Sreynan working on her sewing skills, using math!
NFE girls at school, Sreynan in back
NFE girls at school, Sreynan in back
Sophea Sewing in a NFE Class!
Sophea Sewing in a NFE Class!

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.

Sophea Studying in Class
Sophea Studying in Class

Links:

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!

Links:

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Organization Information

Lotus Outreach

Location: Aptos, California - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.lotusoutreach.org
Project Leader:
Alexandra Land
Sacramento, CA Cambodia