Our director of field operations, Glenn Fawcett, shares his experience on a recent visit to one of our Non-Formal Education classes at Srey Sros karaoke bar:
At a new NFE beauty skills training class in Phnom Penh, we asked the students if we could take their photos and share their stories, or if they would prefer anonymity. I was struck by 21 year-old Heng’s dignity and determination as she said in no uncertain terms, “I am very proud of myself and have no problem with my identity being revealed. I don’t care about those that would discriminate against sex workers. I’m not doing sex work because I want to, but only to support my family.”
Another student who lives and works at the karaoke bar, Srey Pov, until this point was hesitant to let us reveal her identity. But a few minutes into taking photos, the 20 year-old also let us know that she would also like to have her picture taken from the front with no need to hide her identity. Srey Pov is working to support her mother who suffered internal hemorrhaging.
Whether looking after parent’s health, sending their siblings to school or caring for their own children, most of the more than 20 women and girls working at this bar are only doing so to make ends meet. Only two of them even have bank accounts, and none of them are stacking cash away.
Heng and Pov are paying $100 in installments to do the beauty skills training, which they fund by entertaining men at the karaoke bar. The course is run by a qualified beautician who learned her trade in Banteay Meanchey at her sister’s salon. Now she lives in at Srey Sros to teach these young women a range of beauty skills, including how to deliver a comprehensive wedding package, preparing them for a lucrative business - wealthier Cambodians spend a great deal of money on weddings.
Some very drunken customers arrived before the class was over, giving us a taste of what the mood must be like there when the “karaoke” bar is running. The men were not ready to wait while their chosen girls finished class, and instead demanded to be entertained immediately. The latent aggression was evident as they wandered between us with no concern for the fact we were there working or that the girls were busy. I thought to myself if this can happen at lunch time in broad daylight, the mood must be horrific at night when the house is working full speed.
Sensing a dangerous mood, the women and girls moved quickly to serve the men, quickly finishing up the class and running to get their makeup and hair done. Some slipped into tight fitting, short skirts to quickly change gears from sleepy premises into nightclub mode.
We left feeling great pride in the courage these young women show in the face of extraordinary adversity. We were thankful to be able to give them a lift up on their road to the simple, dignified family life they crave.
Srey Pov and instructor Choot Chanti
Ready for a wedding