Empower At-Risk Girls in Cambodia

by Senhoa Foundation
Senhoa artisans happy with their new glasses!
Senhoa artisans happy with their new glasses!

We provide an annual health fund for each artisan in the Our Own Hands program and encourage them to see the doctor or to let us know when they have any medical needs but they often neglect their health.

Recently, we had a consulting team from the University of North Carolina visit our program and interview our team. The team is helping us evaluate our program and social business and offer their recommendations on how to improve them. 

During one of the interviews, one artisan mentioned that she had a hard time seeing. The team let us know, and we took her to get a vision exam. David, one of the professors in the group, footed the bill and told us that he would take care of any of these “emergencies” personally.

Our manager ended up taking all of the artisans for eye exams and most of them ended up needed glasses. They are very happy with their new glasses and can see clearly now! Thank you to the UNC team for noticing this and for David’s generosity. 

After the eye doctor visit, we reminded the artisans that although we will help them with any of their medical needs, they need to look after themselves and let us know if there is anything wrong or if they need any help. One of our focuses in the OOH life skills curriculum is promoting self-care. Many of the young women we work with have not had the luxury of a traditional upbringing with parents who tend to their basic needs, so they often overlook their health and self-care. At Senhoa we endeavor to teach our artisans life skills so that they can be independent and lead healthy and fulfilling lives.

Ms. Samoeut certificates
Ms. Samoeut certificates

Ms. Samoeut, 22 years old, is a vulnerable person who received support from Senhoa Foundation in 2013-2014 through a rehabilitation program. She is an orphan living in poor condition with a one year old son. Samoeut was selected to attend Senhoa's vocational program (jewelry making). After finishing her vocational training, she was employed as a full time artisan and received a fair wage salary to support herself.

During Ms. Samoeut's stay at the rehabilitation program Senhoa helped her apply and receive a birth certificate and in 2016 we helped her obtain a family book which is necessary to live legally in Cambodia, as a Cambodia citizen.

This is a big task as the Social Worker needed to run all the processes through the local authorities.  After working closely with local authority, she first received her Residence Book and soon after received the Family Book for her and her siblings.  Her siblings were very appreciative and said if they didn’t have Senhoa staff’s intervention in their case they would have never received the family book to live legally in Cambodia. With support and cooperation between Senhoa and local authorities, she was able to receive her documents quickly.  

This is a big success for Senhoa in providing support for Ms. Samoeut to become a legally citizen and live permanently in Siem Reap.   The support was not only beneficial for Ms. Samoeut, but her son will also be able to register for his birth certificate as a full citizen.  

Our Program Accountant, Houy
Our Program Accountant, Houy

Jessica Jeang recently sat down with Houy Chap, Senhoa’s accountant in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Houy is a vital asset to Senhoa’s team. She has a clear picture of how donor generosity is put to good use. She knows that donor gifts boost the local economy and transform the local community. Houy believes Senhoa nurtures its service users’ personal development. She dreams of spreading Senhoa’s holistic intervention model to other parts of the world. In fact, her work with Senhoa has inspired her to think globally about the world’s toughest problems.


JJ: Can you tell us about your background and how you found out about Senhoa? 

HC: I am a Cambodian citizen. I was was born in Siem Reap. I graduated from high school in 2002 and earned a bachelor’s degree in finance and accounting in 2006. For six years, I worked as an accountant for a variety of five-star establishments, including international restaurants, hotels, and clothing stores. In spring 2012, while working in fashion, I met Linda Lam, who was [the Our Own Hands jewelry director] for Senhoa. Linda convinced me to come work for Senhoa.

JJ: What is it like to work for Senhoa?

HC: At first, I struggled to adapt my experience in the for-profit sector to fit Senhoa’s non-profit operations. Working for a non-profit was completely different to my previous work. Eventually, I developed a system for organizing Senhoa’s finances. 

From the start, I felt Senhoa was a great foundation because the staff wanted to help the Cambodian people. Even when the work is challenging, Senhoa staff members are very adaptive and responsive to changes since everyone has a shared goal of serving the community. Local and expat staff are all very friendly. They help each other and share experiences, despite coming from different cultures. When I don’t understand something in English, I can ask the volunteers. Now my writing and speaking in English is much better than before.

JJ: Which Senhoa programs are especially important to the local community?

HC: Senhoa Jewelry Social Enterprise is very important. Many of the girls who come out of bad situations have a very low level of education. Some are illiterate because they have spent much of their lives in exploitative conditions. Senhoa’s jewelry program provides crucial education and includes classes in Khmer, English, math and life skills. The life skills classes are important since they teach the artisans skills like budgeting and goal setting. When artisans leave Senhoa, they can use these skills in their personal lives. Finally, Our Own Hands, the jewelry program, gives the artisans a marketable skill. They learn to design jewelry, and all the money goes back to support the program. The artisans also designed an affordable line of jewelry (called OOH), which sells in the local Cambodian market. The [profits] from the affordable jewelry line’s local sales goes directly back to the artisans (the artisan who created the sold item receives a payment for it and the rest of the proceeds go into a social fund for the artisans to use as they choose).

The Lotus Kids Club is also important. The preschool program encourages the community to keep its kids in school instead of sending them to work. The preschool is the hub of several programs including education, nutrition, community building, hygiene and healthcare. Basic schooling is provided, along with study supplies, uniforms, backpack, nutritious food and hygiene supplies. Hygiene supplies such as toothpaste and soap are provided for use at school and at home every two months. The children are taught to wash their hands before eating and brush their teeth after eating.

When preschoolers graduate, Senhoa provides the kids with tuition and support to attend public school. The sponsorship includes a backpack, shoes, uniforms and a bicycle for transportation. The students also continue to receive nutrition and hygiene supplies.

The nutrition program was designed to give parents motivation to send their kids to school. In poor communities, some parents prefer their children to work to support the family. In Cambodia, children are sent out to collect trash, or worse, left vulnerable to trafficking. The preschool has a parents’ meeting once a month during which a supply of rice, cooking oil and sauces for the entire family are distributed on the basis of the student’s attendance.

Healthcare is also provided to the kids at the Lotus Kids Club. All the kids receive vaccination for Hepatitis B and complete annual checkups. We also take the kids for dental checkups and cleanings once a year.

Community programs are offered at LKC in the afternoons and on weekends. After school, community children who don’t attend LKC regularly visit for sports, cooking classes, sewing classes and music classes. Every Saturday, the kids learn to play guitar. We always provide healthy snacks for the community programs. In addition, Lotus Kids Club kids can also partake in a variety of activities. They enjoy when we take them swimming or on other short trips.

JJ: What are some line items that show how a little money can go a long way for our programs?

HC: When kids graduate from LKC, we provide bicycles so that they can get to school. About 30 children get bikes each year. In 2015, we spent $980 on bicycles, which cost $30-$35 each. We also spent $168 on helmets.

In addition, we provide hygiene supplies year-round to almost 70 public school kids. We buy in bulk every year and package the supplies into plastic bags to distribute every two months. In 2015, we spent a total of $720 on hygiene supplies.

In case you’re wondering what food supplies cost in Cambodia, $8,420 provides nutrition every day for 54 kids for a full year. An additional $9,537 provides rice for 102 local families annually.

JJ: What would you like to say to Senhoa’s supporters?

HC: I’d like to say thank you very much to the donors who support Senhoa. Your support is critical to a community of people. Thank you for wanting to help people who have been through trauma, domestic violence and human trafficking. Thank you for wanting to help end these problems.

As for my role as accountant, I try to do my best to organize my work and always use your money in the most effective ways possible. If you wish to discuss a budget proposal or a report with me, please don’t hesitate to ask. I feel 100% responsible for using donors’ money to help people, and I take the non-profit’s mission very seriously. Prior to working at Senhoa, I did not know much about the non-profit landscape or the issues that non-profits aim to address. Working with Senhoa, I’ve developed a humanized view of suffering that has expanded my compassion and sensitivity. Since I’ve been with Senhoa, I have met so many people and learned about these girls. I grieve for them, even though I work with the money. I have learned how to talk to them and try to understand how they feel.

JJ: What are your plans for the future? What are your hopes for Senhoa’s future?            

HC: I want to move to the US to learn more about accounting for large international organizations. I want to open my own accounting business and use the money to help Senhoa’s mission in Cambodia and spread Senhoa’s practices to other countries. Right now, I can only give my ideas, but in the future, if I have money, I can do more. I want to see Senhoa become more independent and increase its marketing in Asia and abroad in order to support its social enterprise. Someday, I hope to see Senhoa expand into other countries, because other communities have the same problems. We are all the same all over the world.

Houy with her beloved Senhoa team
Houy with her beloved Senhoa team
Houy with the LKC team
Houy with the LKC team
Houy with Team Senhoa members
Houy with Team Senhoa members
Our artisans thriving in their jewelry career
Our artisans thriving in their jewelry career

Chaya* is Vietnamese and the eldest of 3 siblings and has 4 step-siblings. Her mother was her father's second wife. Chaya grew up poor and learned Khmer up to Level 2 and Vietnamese up to Level 3. As a young child, she and one of her sisters suffered abuse at the hands of a family member.

In 2009, Chaya approached Senhoa (when we were working under the nonprofit VOICE) for placement in a vocational training program. Right after she started the program, her mother fell ill and needed immediate and costly medical treatment. Desperate for the money to pay for the surgery, Chaya spoke to her family about working in a brothel. Despite starting a promising training program with Senhoa, she knew there was no other way to come up with the funds needed for her mother's operation. 

Senhoa stepped in and paid for the procedure for Chaya's mother. Chaya did not have to resort to her desperate plan to work for a brothel. She also entered Senhoa's safe house, rehabiliation and reintegration program, Lotus House, to stay away from her abuser. 

Chaya worked hard during her training and was promoted to jewelry trainer in the beginning of 2011. During her time with Senhoa she learned life skills, basic education and housekeeping and participated in a work internship to get more experience. The program taught her how to live independently, and in July 2011 the program reintegrated her to live in the community.

She enjoyed her time with Senhoa but in 2012 had to return to Vietnam to sort out some family issues. While she lived there, her mother's health improved and she got a good job in the city.

Senhoa followed up with Chaya in April of 2015 to see how she was doing and asked if she was open to working as a Supervisor and Design Coordinator for us. Chaya showed exceptional skill when she was in our jewelry program and at the time we were in need of someone to fill this role. We offered to pay for her moving costs back to Siem Reap, and Chaya agreed to come back. 

Chaya: I am so thankful of what Senhoa has done for me.

The day that I know Senhoa, it looks like the lucky day for my life. If I do not know Senhoa program maybe I am not who I am today. Senhoa saved my mom’s life and my future. I cannot imagine if Senhoa program does not come to me. What can I do if does not have this program?

The last 6 years I did not imagine that I will have today. I am only a simple girl and will be a simple person in future, did not have a job and life is bad, too. Because I am a Vietnamese girl and the most of Vietnamese girls in Cambodia always choose the easy way to get the money. They all get a job in the bad places. Sure that I will choose the same way to them when my family has problem with finance and my mom also sick at that time. But when I know Senhoa program everything has changed. The program supported in my mom’s treatment and gave me the job also. Senhoa taught me how to have confidence in myself. How to have a dream and how to catch it and make it come true.

Last few years I wrote a letter by pen and paper, but now I can write these letters today by typing is because I have Senhoa and who are supporting the program. These letters cannot show out all my grateful to Senhoa program but what all of you are doing is not futile.

Today for small amount of people, tomorrow will for a lot of futures and dreams.

I hope this program will open in the others country that has people like me.



*Chaya: name has been changed for privacy.

Our artisans at a self-improvement workshop.
Our artisans at a self-improvement workshop.

Sovanna is 22 years old and one of our most skilled and committed artisans in our program. She came from a farming family with 6 other siblings in the household. Aside from economic struggles, Sovanna had to deal with domestic violence at home.

In grade 8, Sovanna quit school to find more income for her family. Her family wanted her to work in the capital at a sewing company. Although she missed school and wanted to continue her studies, her responsibility to care for her family had her planning to migrate to Thailand for a better opportunity.
In 2010, she was able to move to Siem Reap and found a job as a nanny for $0.50 USD a day. She became friends with one of our artisans who eventually introduced Sovanna to Senhoa and recruited her for jewelry training. She was able to get not only a better salary but also the opportunity to return to school. She began working part-time at Senhoa and continued her studies until she graduated Grade 12 in September 2015. 
“I would like to say thank you to Senhoa Foundation and donors who have supported my education. If I didn’t meet Senhoa, I might be a migrant in Thailand” - Sovanna 
She hopes to continue her studies at a university in 2016.
Our artisans at work. Photo by John D Russell.
Our artisans at work. Photo by John D Russell.

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Organization Information

Senhoa Foundation

Location: Artesia, CA - USA
Website: http:/​/​senhoa.org
Project Leader:
Lisa T.D. Nguyen
Executive Director
Artesia, CA Cambodia

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