Restoring hope to trafficked girls in Cambodia

by Hagar USA, which supports the work of Hagar International
94% show improvement in resilence
94% show improvement in resilence

Meet Leakhena.  Your support provided for girls like Leakhena to experience wholeness!

Leakhena was supported by Hagar Cambodia for 10 years and is now grown up and self-supporting. She has sharp eyes and says with a smile that she is not shy or afraid to share her story. She wishes to share her life – the life of a girl once abandoned now on the journey of recovery.

Today, is 22 years old. She is a single mother of a three year old daughter. She no longer needs help from Hagar because she has a good job and is able to earn a living for herself.

When Leakhena was three years old, her mother sold her to a family who wanted to adopt a young daughter. Leakhena never mixed well with the family and they eventually sent her to other family members in a different province. She never felt like a member of the family and they eventually brought her to Phnom Penh and abandoned her in front of Hagar. Hagar took her in.

Leakhena has walked a very long journey in Hagar for more than 10 years. She was supported by numerous projects during that time including the Community Learning Centre and Community Foster Care.

While reintegrated into the community, Leakhena became pregnant. She was brought to Hagar’s recovery shelter for follow up. She had the opportunity to attend several of training classes provided by Career Path way project, such as, art work, computer and soft skills.

In 2010, after delivering her baby girl, Leakhena got a chance to practice her skills by interning in Hagar Main Office as admin assistant. At first work was not easy because

everything was so new to her, and her knowledge was limited in terms of computer skills. However, over time she grew as she was trained.

Six months later she decided to pursue further schooling and Hagar placed her at World Essential Organisation as a part time admin assistant. Life was not easy for her as an employed student single mother. But she knew she had to be strong for her daughter and for the future.

“My daughter was my motivation. I do everything just for her. I feel like I am no longer alone, when I have her. I want to raise her up with a wholeness of life,” she said.

In the middle of 2013, she successfully completed high school. Then she upgraded to work full time at a job with Be Free Cambodia, a company which sells handmade souvenir products.

She is satisfied with her work because she can use her creativity as well as her knowledge to teach people who have similar backgrounds like her.

“Though I am not good at English, I am able to work smoothly with my foreigner boss, and he does like my work,” she said.

Nowadays, she earns a living wage that covers her house rental and food for their family.

Lost hope is not Leakhena’s choice; she is looking forward to see her daughter’s future, so she will never give up with any obstacle of life.

“When my daughter is bigger, I will continue my study to university, I want to sharpen my ability in order to fulfill my dream of working as a manager in a big company,” she said.

“To me, my future relationships depend on God. I listen to him, if he wants me to get married, I will, yet if he wants me to be alone, I will stay alone with my daughter forever.”

Last message from Leakhena is that, she encourages everyone, especially the people who were abused or abandoned like her, to not give up and be strong, because no one can help you better than yourself.


  • Cambodia was invited to provide training to over 3,000 Singapore police on how to recognize trafficking for labor and for sex.
  • The staff at Hagar Cambodia were able to work with the Ministry of Education to create sustainability for catch-up teachers.  They are now under the Ministry of Education, meaning they will continue to teach the most vulnerable and those who have been trafficked, but won't be paid for by Hagar anymore.
  • Hagar partnered with UNICEF for a study, the first study of its kind documenting the experiences of child victims in Cambodia’s courts and recommendations for developing a child-friendly system. More than 90 government officials, NGO partners and media representatives attended the launch event.

Key Research Findings and why your support is so important.

"The police extorted us, demanding money before they worked.

A System Just for Children highlights police treatment of child victims and witnesses. While children generally felt the police behaved ‘normally’ toward them, 10 respondents said they were treated disrespectfully or were mocked or ignored by the authorities. In 11% of cases, the child met the perpetrator at the police station and 20% of respondents reported paying money to police before the case moved forward.


The Courtroom Experience

The study found that the court process was rarely child friendly. Strangers were often present in the court room and in one instance, media representatives were in attendance during the trial. Children often had to sit through other cases, sometimes being exposed to violent crimes. No participant reported seeing or using a child-friendly waiting room.

“Being in the same room is too close. I was afraid immediately when I saw the perpetrator.”

Nearly every child interviewed found themselves exposed to the perpetrator on the way to or in the courtroom. In most cases the child was two or three meters from the perpetrator during the hearing and in some cases, even travelled to the court house in the same vehicle.

“I do not know what is happening in my case”

Many children were given little information about what was happening in their case and 10% of the children interviewed did not know clearly if their case was finished or not.  It was rare for children or their guardians to get copies of their statements or any other documentation relating to the case. 


Demeanour of Judges and Lawyers

While social service and legal aid staff largely agree that judges’ demeanour towards children in court has improved over the years, there is still room for improvement. The court environment remains frightening for children and in some cases, the judge asked inappropriate questions or laughed at the victim, particularly if the witness was an older girl or boy. Defence lawyers sometimes acted inappropriately, including trying to confuse, trick or intimidate child witnesses. Often, it was the child’s lawyer, not the judge, who requested such behaviour stop. 

“I am still fearful that the man’s relatives will take revenge on me for sending him to jail.”

The research demonstrates the safety concerns children and their representatives have after the trial. There were apprehensions about whether prison sentences would be served and when the perpetrator would appear in the community again. Court authorities provided no comment about this and there seemed to be no clear responsibilities for child victim or witness safety during or post-trial.




20 Participants from nine families were trained to be foster parents.  This will give trafficked girls in Cambodia a chance to lives, safely, in a family setting while on the journey of restoration.  

Country Director

We are pleased to announce the appointment of Steve Penfold as Country Director, Hagar Cambodia. Steve is both a leader and public health professional with more than 17 years' experience in NGOs. “Hagar has a track record of reaching victims of extreme levels of gender-based violence, abuse and trafficking. What I see deeply ingrained in Hagar is the patience, compassion, professionalism and innovation needed to enable vulnerable women and children to rebuild their lives and stand on their own two feet." Steve is looking forward to leading the team and working with donors, beneficiaries and partners to develop programs, research and social enterprises to enable that to happen as well as building local capacity, working to maintain a 97% local staff rate.

Your Support Gives Kalyan Hope

With her black sharp eyes, Kalyan is a friendly and energetic woman. It is hard to believe that she has had such a dark past. When she was 15 years old, she was trafficked for sexual exploitation by her mother. Now, aged 18, she is a beautiful young woman living in a group home project supported by Hagar. 

Kalyan is grateful to Hagar for providing her with a range recovery services, in particular counseling. “When I came to Hagar, I learned a lot, the programs made me feel relieved and happy until I forgot all the painful memories,” she said. Hagar has changed her life completely.

Screen shot 2014-06-30 at 5.11.10 PM

Despite Kalyan experiencing serious trauma, she has enjoyed success in Hagar’s educational programs. She achieved an outstanding study record in Hagar’s Community Learning Center while she was living in the Girls Recovery Shelter. Kaylan was loved by all the teachers and was seen as a top student. Although studying Khmer language was challenging for Kalyan because her mother tongue is Vietnamese, she can read and write Khmer well now. “I am always the number one student in the class, or sometimes I am number two, but I had never gone to number three, so I get a reward every month,” she said.

For the past 12 months, Kalyan has been living in a group home. She prefers life in the group home more than in the shelter because she has more freedom and independence. She has her own room and can go out alone after informing her caregivers. “Living together with other children in the same home is fun, yet sometime we also have arguments. Luckily we have good caregivers who always help, give advice and solve problems,” she said.

In her group home, Kalyan receives food and daily accessories. She also receives a monthly wage for her own personal spending and is able to supplement her income by beading creative art products (pictured). Kalyan is now studying grade seven in Beltei International Institute in Phnom Penh. She goes to school on a bicycle provided by Hagar’s Education Assistance Program. In secondary school, her study record is not quite as good as her primary results because she is competing with affluent class mates who can afford extra classes and tutors. Kalyan believes that she is also disadvantaged by being the oldest in the class and is subject to further discrimination for having a Vietnamese name.

Kalyan still loves her study but feels that it will take too long to finish high school. Consequently, she plans to join the Employment Empowerment project and train to work in a hair salon. “I know that I am completely adult now, I want to have one particular skill for myself, before I leave Hagar,” she said.

Once she learns the job skills, Kalyan would like to go back to live with her mother who has just been released from prison. She forgives her mother for what she did to her, believing the law has punished her enough. Hagar will work closely with Kalyan through the reunification process.

Cambodia Programme Updates


Two girls were admitted to Hagar and began to receive counselling this month.·

Hagar house mothers were taken out for a day of fun and relaxation together. They expressed that they felt respected and valued this Mother’s Day by the expressions of love that were shown to them by Hagar managers and leadership.

One Hagar client, an asylum seeker, was finally given official refugee status by the Refugee Office of the Cambodian Government, after three long years of waiting.

3 children reintegrated into kinship care or families of origin

17 CLC clients began attending music classes conducted by the creative arts team twice every week

Clients participated in a Legal and Protection orientation to prevent criminal activities, fighting and conflicts

158 Follow-up visits to Hagar clients were conducted by the case management team

Rany’s Story

My name is Rany. I am sixteen years old. I am originally from Prey Veng province, but for most of my childhood I have lived in Phnom Penh city. I remember many things from when I was young. My life was very difficult and the memories are hard to forget. My father never allowed me to go to school. He forced my sister and me to beg for money at the Russian market while he spent most of his time drinking alcohol. Luckily, Hagar found us. They gave us a safe place to live and the chance to receive education. Life at Hagar was easy and I was able to study very well. I even went on a trip to the beach with other kids. I had never experienced life like this before. I was eventually transferred to live in a community in Takeo province with a foster family. My father has continued to look for me, so it is important for me to live in a separate community until I grow up and can live independently by myself. At first, I didn’t want to come here to the foster family. I didn’t have any friends here. I used to cry while I was all alone. I am trying to fit in with my foster family and I always help out with housework after school time. Over time, I have started to feel at home in the community. My foster parents usually encouraged me to continue studying until I finish my education. They care for me, and when I was sick, they looked after me. My neighbors are also good to me. Even though they know about my background, they don’t lookdown on me. They have shown me sympathy. I am in grade 10 now, and I have my own goals. I want to study tourism and be a tour-guide. I especially hope to work with tours from Korea, and to know the Korean language. Every day, I wish for time to fly by so that I can graduate from high school, go back to Phnom Penh and pursue my goals. I have always encouraged myself by remembering that every person has their own value. I believe that as long as I pursue higher education, nobody can look down on me. Now I know that I can make my own good choices for my future. I believe in God because He has raised my up. Now, I feel like I am a beautiful lotus that has grown out of the mud.





Cambodia Highlights 

257 Clients received counseling services in January

8 women and 14 children are receiving care in recovery communities

85% of our students took their second term catch up exam and passed

Following the opening of Hagars Joma café in Phnom Penh, 3 of Hagar’s clients have been placed in jobs with Joma. Five other clients have also been placed in jobs – 4 at Hagar catering and 1 as a hair dresser


Marry’s Story

A 13 years old girl named Marry is in love with the Creative Arts programme. She is an outstanding student at Hagar’s Community Learning Centre.

Marry says she likes playing football very much and is always excited for football class. She says that football makes her stronger, healthier, and allows her to sweat out all the stress of school as well as her past experiences.

“I love the feeling of hitting the ball and many people come to cheer me on, and it makes me want to play nonstop,” she said.

Besides football, Marry enjoys hip-hop dancing. She likes watching and practicing hip-hop dancing to songs on TV. She would like to perform some day in the future.

But there is more to the Creative Arts programme than just fun and entertainment. Marry says she can use her beading skills to earn some money as well.

“I earn some money, about 3 USD, whenever I bead products,” she said.

The Creative Arts Programme provides a variety of arts opportunities to clients, including drawing, painting, sewing, designing, beading, etc. Clients are able to focus on what the skill they enjoy. Some students enjoy drawing while others enjoy sewing.

Creative arts plays an important role at Hagar, encouraging client productivity as well as creativity. Clients have the chance to show off their talent through different performances. Marry hopes to see all children at Hagar pay more attention in creative art classes. She wants them to stay away from trouble by being involved in creative arts.


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Organization Information

Hagar USA, which supports the work of Hagar International

Location: Charlotte, NC - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Catherine Sherrod
Director of Development
Eau Claire, WI United States

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Thanks to 633 donors like you, a total of $127,262 was raised for this project on GlobalGiving. Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.

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