Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Crowded House…of LOVE!

Picking up from where HQ left off; the girls are in! On the 29th of November, three of the seven Senhoa community girls moved into the official CCPCR Lotus House. The joy and awe in their faces at their new home was priceless.

The discovery of this perfect place of residence happened a month ago when CCPCR’s manager, Mr. Thy made a trip specially from Phnom Penh for the house hunt. We had arranged with a realtor familiar with our needs and requirements to meet Mr. Thy and took us on a whirlwind, one-day search. Bing, bang, boom it only took 3 houses to find the perfect sanctuary for girls in transition.

The realtor showed us a two-story house a stone’s throw from the conveniences of town. Boasting 5 large bedrooms and 5 bathrooms, 4 communal areas, a kitchen and its sink, we decided unanimously that it was more than well enough equipped to house up to 15 young, hopeful women.

Leading the way for the House, we are very proud to have on board, Nary Ny, the newest member of the team taking on the role of Project Manager and Social Worker for the Lotus House. Nary has extensive experience working within the realm of humanitarianism, ranging from Shelter Manager to Child Rights Promotion Coordinator to Program Manager. Highly qualified (clearly!) for the position, Nary will support the young women in the house, helping them transition from rehabilitation to sustainable freedom.

The very presence of all these women under one roof has already lifted the vibe of the house, instantly turning it into a home. This new home for many is still under development in terms of furnishings and d├ęcor, but it will only be a matter of time. The girls have already reported sleeping better, breathing easier, and a growing feeling of self-worth.

Thanks for joining us again!

With love from,

The Field

PS. Pictures soon!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"Glamourizing" the Anti-Slavery Movement

Greetings from Head Office!

It seems like life is constantly exciting here at Senhoa and that is how it should be!

To kick off, the glamorous, exciting stuff first.

On the 8th November 2010, Glamour’s Women of the Year Awards 2010 was held at Carnegie Hall, New York. The guest list boasted figures like Oprah, Julia Roberts, Hilary Swank, Chelsea Clinton, Cher and Janet Jackson. But most importantly, among them was Supermodel Coco Rocha in Senhoa jewelry! We want to send a big THANK YOU to Coco and her hubby, James Conran, for their support.

And then over and across the border, the Gemini Awards honors the best in Canadian television as determined by members of the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television and other industry professionals (similar to the Emmy’s here in the US). Actress Krystin Pellerin attended the event wearing… Senhoa Jewelry of course! Thanks to our dear friend and Fashion Designer, Thien Le, who conspired to make this happen.

Finally, Jenny Van, Senhoa’s Creative Director, has been cooped up designing a top-secret couture collection for Senhoa which we hope to debut on the big screen early December. We can’t tell you where and how just yet, but stay tuned!

AND NOW! Down to business!

I am excited to report to you, our dear followers, on the progress of a new project called the CCPCR Lotus House. A partnership agreement was officially signed with the Cambodian Center for the Protection of Children’s Rights on 21 October 2010 to launch this project, providing up to 15 young women with temporary accommodations. At the heart of this project are the provision of safe housing, gradual reintegration and the attainment of “sustainable freedom”. Our Lotus House aims to teach women the skills needed for independent living, help them find safe and secure employment and provide other needed life skills. To date, we have completed the following:

  • Located a property in Cambodia for the project.
  • Obtained permission from the local authorities for its operation. We are working with the Village Leader, Commune Leader and District Governor to not only operate the project, but to work in tandem with these government departments to make this project a success.
  • Developed the CCPCR Lotus House policy;
  • Completed job descriptions for our shelter manager and house mother;
  • Developed annual work plan for our project;
  • Hired a fabulous Project Manager;
  • Networked with companies and local businesses for job placement programs for our girls;
  • Received application from girls in need of our service. Our Social Worker is currently assessing their suitability for the program.

Our project partner, Mr Thy is to be thanked profusely for his hard work in jumpstarting this new endeavor!

That’s it from Head Office for this week. Have a beautiful thanksgiving weekend and we look forward to connecting with you again!

Sen-cerely yours,

The Team at Head Office

Monday, November 8, 2010

Let the Blooming Begin

Hello again from The Field in Cambodia! If you’ve been hanging out for reportages on the current activities of Senhoa Cambodia, hang no more! We’ve finally reached the point in these blog updates where we catch you all up to the present time.

It has already been 2 months since the Senhoa Jewelry Program commenced, and many events have unfolded in that time. It’s been crazy but because we all finish each week with a satisfied smile (and exhausted sigh), it’s a good crazy.

So this is how its chronologically gone down:

At last the 6th of September arrived. The scheduled date for the well-anticipated Program to begin. After a month of recruitment, screenings, planning, market trips, furniture Feng-Shui-ing and resource hunting, we were ready to receive our 18 quivering Lotus Buds.

The Senhoa Lotus Line-up includes:

11 girls from our Partner Shelter- girls over 16 years of age who have been deemed dedicated and behaviorally stable enough to participate. Apparently there was a lot of competition to get into the program because everyone had enjoyed the Summer Camp so much!

And 7 girls from the community- these girls were screened by our extremely devoted Outreach Worker who assessed their family and financial situation and vulnerability into the sex industry.

We began with a 3-day induction where the girls made a pledge of commitment to the program; got a taste for the types of soft-skills lessons they’ll be attending and; played around with practice beads and wire, trying their hand at undiscovered craft work. At the end of their induction, each girl received a long-stemmed lotus bud, marked with their name. Ah, symbolism. Gotta love it.

In the first month of the Program, we had the girls all to ourselves- Public Khmer school had not yet started. The schedule was easily set and we all quickly fell into a routine: each Monday and Thursday was life-skills, Tuesday and Friday was reserved for Jewelry and each Wednesday was computer and PLAY (which I enjoy the most. Any idea how fun it is to watch girly, uncoordinated teenagers catch a ball?)

During that month I celebrated daily. In the words of Anh, Senhoa’s former Country Director, ‘it’s so nice to plan something and have it WORK!’ The girls were enjoying all the lessons, happy to be engaged in something meaningful to them (except ‘play’ when they all suddenly had period cramps and headaches. Teen-aged girls are teen-aged girls everywhere.)

It was an especially exciting time when the afore-mentioned Anh (my Humanitarian Soulmate) and our Creative Director, Jenny Ho, flew all the way from the US of A for an intense training course in professional jewelry making! The girls impressed us with their fast learning! They showed persistence at every task, and mastered their skills quickly. For their efforts, each girl was rewarded with a framed certificate with their full name and picture. The way the girls beamed when they received their frame was absolutely priceless.

Jenny teaching the girls about colour scheming

Showing a few tricks of the trade

SL concentrating on the Indian Princess from the Pavo Collection

Our Lovely Lotuses

But a sad day came when one of our girls from the shelter did not come back from the Khmer holiday Pchum Ben (when Khmer people return to their families to reconnect). Our Lost Lotus had chosen to remain with her family who put food on the table by selling souvenirs outside the public toilets at Angkor Wat. Many attempts have been made to bring her back, but to no prevail. She wants to stay with her family to work so that her younger sister does not have to bear the weight alone. We still see her now and then and know that she’s safe.

These last two months have taught us many valuable lessons about our target demographic. I believe the biggest lesson learnt so far is: despite the past, life moves on. Especially after LL’s sudden departure, the other girls seemed to embrace the program even more. Some of the stories behind these 17 youthful, lively, gorgeous girls’ are of great sorrow and pain. But everyday they come to class with big smiles, funny jokes, and a determination to learn to work towards a more hopeful future.

Thanks for tuning in!

With Love from The Field

Monday, November 1, 2010

Come Fly with Me!

Most recently, our head office team visited Cambodia and Laos for nearly two weeks. We had a number of missions to achieve, most of which were executed flawlessly. I share them with you below.

Our first sets of meetings were with various members of the Cambodian government, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Cooperation, Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Social Affairs, Veteran & Youth Rehabilitation. We met with the office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to enquire about our registration efforts as an NGO in Cambodia. We were advised that our request is still pending, and that we should resubmit all paperwork again. And so the journey continues as we push ahead to obtain official recognition for the work that we have and are doing in Cambodia.

For the past few months, we have been corresponding and working with a wonderful NGO in Cambodia called the Cambodian Center for the Protection of Children’s Rights (CCPCR). On this trip, I had the pleasure of meeting face to face (after months of conference calls!) with Mr Nget Thy, Executive Director of CCPCR. We discussed in length the details of our partnership agreement. Senhoa and CCPCR are now in the final stages of setting up the CCPCR Lotus House, a transition home for up to 15 women, providing them with safe and secure subsidized accommodation. We have two specific targets in mind:

· Young women who are vulnerable to sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking;

· Women who have completed a shelter program and are in ‘transition’ from living in a shelter to full reintegration back into society.

For the past six months, we have informally provided accommodations to women in need; the CCPCR Lotus House is an official launch and continuation of this work. It is planned that the Lotus House will commence operation in January 2011.

Another exciting project is the re-launch of a community center to provide early childhood development programs and community-building activities to marginalized families in Cambodia. Children are taught to develop social skills, motor skills, encourage mental and emotional growth and prepare them for entry into primary school. They are washed and provided with a nutritious snack, vitamins and regular medical check-ups. After school hours, the space is also used as a community center, providing community-building workshops. Senhoa will be partnering with Million Kids to re-open this facility in January 2011.

The final leg of our trip was a visit to AFESIP in Laos. AFESIP Laos combats the causes and consequences of trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and girls. In addition to providing holistic care and recovery for those rescued, we were particularly drawn to AFESIP’s social enterprise projects, which aim to support sustainable community reintegration. Our research trip was made very pleasant by the friendly staff at AFESIP, and particularly the Executive Director, Dr Didier Bertrand. It is our hope that one day, Senhoa could work with AFESIP Laos in partnership to provide more sustainable solutions to women in need.

Until next time,

Sen-cerely Yours,

The team at Head Office

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sunny Smiles Summer Camp!

Hello! and Welcome!

Though we are very aware of how behind we are on the timeline of reports, the Senhoa Summer Camp was much too significant to give only a brief mention in this blog. So, hold on tight as we relay to you the magic that happened between the dates of 15th and 18th of the month of August.

It began as a fun way to keep the girls engaged during their school holidays and a way to wrap up our delightfully successful pilot program; sleepovers, games, arts and crafts… Easy-Peasy. But as we flitted in and out of the shelter and learnt more about the girls, our vision for the camp evolved. There was a need. There was a lack of connection between the residents of the shelter. Although it was teeming with unconditional love and the best of intentions, our partner shelter was missing something- a sense of togetherness.

Getting Connected

The Shelter Manager was wholeheartedly enthused about the camp and ran just as hard as we did with our ideas. He handed over his staff to us and permitted us to organize them how we saw fit. Suddenly, we were heading a team of 10 staff members and had 22 girls in our charge. I felt like we had been propped in front of a symphony orchestra with the conductor’s baton shoved into our hands. Which, of course, we gripped and happily accepted!

The camp was a runaway success. No one could believe how well the girls had responded to our foreign mannerisms, the ‘strange’ games, our playful antics, and the discipline enforced. The ideology behind the camp was to provide a 3-day marathon of fun within a structured framework where the girls were held accountable for their own behavior and actions, but still had the freedom to express and play and bond with each other. Everyone understood (or at least tried to understand) the expectancy of full participation, punctuality and most importantly, GETTING ALONG. That was probably the biggest challenge: conflict resolution. The girls were completely unused to the idea of friendly competition and team work. Having grown up in an unstructured environment where betrayals and malevolence prevailed, the girls had trust issues with each other, causing fights and disputes over trivial matters. The girls were demanding to change teams every which way, thinking that would solve the conflict. But we held strong. The teams we put them in were the teams they were to stay in. And you know what? They did! By the end of the camp we asked the girls to finish the camp with a team cheer. The team that had the most difficulty all held hands, jumped in the air and cheered ‘WE ARE BEST FRIENDS!!’

‘Wow! How did it get to that point?’ we hear you enquire. This was miraculously achieved with a simple ensemble of:

1. Flag making: the girls designed a flag that represented them as a team ;

2.Team building exercises: Nhie twuh bhan tay!! (You can do it!);

Retrieving the cure to all diseases from the volcano pit.

The girls all found 6 different ways!

3. A fashion show: a celebration of image versatility (the girls got crazy with second-hand market clothes, hairspray and BRIGHT make up) and individuality;

Getting ready for the epic 'Walk Off'

Ridiculous oversized clothes, make-up and a bit of imagination= laughs for a lifetime!

4. And finally, a Talent Show!

The Talent Show was the highlight of the camp (amongst many other highlights). When we set the timeslot for a talent show, we were picturing the girls getting together and imitating Korean Pop-Stars, making up dances, or skits with Cambodian humor. So you can imagine our stunned amazement when the girls performed how they were trafficked. It was then that we realized that they had not yet properly expressed what had happened to them in the past…and they saw this ‘talent show’ as the perfect opportunity to finally expel the feelings that had been trapped within for so long. One girl, Srey, stood in front of the whole shelter and sung a song she had written about her past. Solo. Her voice wavered and her face strained. Tears flowed down her face and she nearly stopped singing. But the girls in the audience cheered her on and Srey finished her song. Wailing. Then one by one, the girls who shared Srey’s story, tears, pain and sorrow, stood up and joined her on stage and engaged in the first group hug in the history of the shelter .

We love our jobs!

Shelter and Senhoa staff sharing a swing

With Hugs and Kisses from The Field

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cocktails, Crystals, Kristine and Cambodia!

It has been a very busy week at the Senhoa US Head Quarters.

Firstly, we had our Cocktails for a Cause at Brodard Chateau in Orange County on 23 September 2010. 85 people turned out on a Thursday afternoon to sip on cocktails, buy jewelry and support Senhoa. We sold nearly $2,500 worth of jewelry from the Senhoa Phoenix range. It was our first event in Orange County so we were a little nervous, but the support was phenomenal! We had singing superstars Nguyen Hong Nhung, Kristine Sa, Tam Doan and Trish join the event. News anchor, Dieu Quyen, from SBTN was also present with her daughter Lala (both of whom have visited Senhoa in Cambodia).

A warm and fuzzy ‘Thanks!’ to Thi, Heather, Nicole, Jenny Van, Uyen Diem, Duc, Kevin Vu, DJ Stress, Jackie Tai and the lovely Senhoa models for making the event what it was. The ‘wows’ and ‘awes’ said enough. A big round of applause to Quynh Anh, our former Country Director in Cambodia, who overcame her fear of public speaking (with the help of two glasses of white wine!) and moved us all with her stories and compassion. And of course, the evening would not have been possible without chi Giao and Brodard Chateau – thank you for your generosity!

In true rock-star fashion, Quynh Anh was immediately shipped off to the airport after the event for her field trip to Cambodia. Quynh Anh and our Creative Director, Jenny Van, are currently in Cambodia, training 18 girls from our partner shelter on the art of jewelry-making and beading. Over the course of one week, they will also train the girls on Senhoa’s upcoming collection called Pavo (but more on that another day!). To prepare for this trip, we worked over time (until midnight on one occasion) ordering supplies and packing beads to bring over to Cambodia. It was insanely busy but wildly fun at the same time. Thank you, Team!

Another wonderful thing that happened recently was Kristine Sa’s new song, Free to Fly. After interviewing Quynh Anh, Kristine was so moved by our work that she wrote a heart-wrenchingly beautiful song called Free To Fly. For a sneak preview, check out the Heart to Heart interview here:


We have been listening to it nonstop - thank you Kristine! We at Senhoa, sen-cerely love you!

Until next time,

The team at Head Office

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Planting the Seeds- Our Pilot Program

Earlier in the month of July, Senhoa ran a month-long pilot program as a test-run to gauge the response of our budding Lotus Blossoms. We also needed to familiarize ourselves with the program’s active content- after all, a lot can differ between theory and practice.

Four girls were nominated by our partner shelter and four girls were chosen from the ‘community’ to participate. One of the ideas behind the program is to integrate two target demographics:

  1. Victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
  2. Girls vulnerable to entering or forced into the sex industry due to poverty, family pressures, or lack of employment opportunities.

The union of differing populations exposes each group of girls to another world; the shelter girls to realize a different way of life outside of their sanctuary; the community girls to become aware of the real dangers of the sex industry. But ultimately, the integration is to demonstrate that ‘help’ is available to anyone willing to accept it. You can only help those who are willing to help themselves.

The pilot, to our excitement (and tremendous relief), was a success! The girls would leave their Life-Skills class with pensive looks of possibilities and giggle with glee at the beauty of their creations in Jewelry.

In Life-Skills, the girls were introduced to the 5 Keys to success; Organisation, Getting Along, Persistence, Resilience, and Confidence. These keys are from the ‘You Can Do It’ program that is applied in schools in Australia to optimize the social, emotional and academic capacities of young people. The 5 Keys are a constructive and simple way to introduce the girls to structure, routine, discipline, and facilitated learning- the fundamentals building blocks to a successful lifestyle. The girls were always sitting up straighter by the end of class with their chests puffed out with new confidence and inspiration, ready to the face the world! (But of course, not quite yet. Rome wasn’t built in a day!) Their receptiveness to such unfamiliar concepts greatly motivated me, and filled me with magnificent hope for the program’s future success.

In the jewelry component, the girls were taught the basic techniques of jewelry making and within a fortnight they were able to produce high quality Swarovski pieces, ready to be exported and sold in the USA to a growing market of socially conscious consumers. One of the great advantages of this chosen vocational skill is its’ simplicity. With intensive training, jewelry production is a quickly learned skill, even for students with no previous handiwork experience. This provides the girls with confidence that they can generate income with newfound capabilities. But the true beauty behind Jewelry is the therapeutic and creative outlet for the girls; through their own persistence, their creation literally blossoms out of their hands. Imagine her euphoric glaze in her eyes as she holds up her own-made piece to the light…Sa-aht na…(‘So beautiful’ in Khmer)

In my shameless, biased opinion, Senhoa is on the right track in developing these girls’ potential for a better future. We’re going back to basics whilst meeting the needs and demands of the now.

Thank you for tuning in!

With love from The Field

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Our Volunteers

Greetings from the Senhoa Head Office!

I wanted to start my entry this week with an explanation about the writers of this blog. The Senhoa Blog is shared between our Head Office in California and our field office in Cambodia. Each week, our respective offices will take turns to share with our readers the work of Senhoa, our adventures and the ins and outs of running this small organization.

A lot of people think that Senhoa is much bigger than we actually are. But in fact, we are a small non-profit, blessed with wonderful volunteers, whose passion and compassion have made this organization seem larger than life. And it is to this topic of “volunteers” that we want to turn our focus today.

We first met Quynh Anh in the Philippines in 2007. She was then 22 years old, fresh out of college, with very little work experience behind her. She quickly stepped in to become the Office Manager for an organization that was helping to resettle the last remaining Vietnamese in the Philippines. Below is my favorite photo of Anh in Manila, still hard at work at the office, at midnight.

(Anh in Manila at the office at midnight)

After nearly a year in the Philippines, and with all refugees newly resettled to Canada, we asked Anh to come to Cambodia to become Senhoa’s Country Director. That was one and a half years ago.

Many questioned our decision to appoint Anh in this pivotal decision. She was so young. And she lacked the experience needed to lead the team and the project. But we knew with unwavering faith that she was the perfect person for the job.

There are no doubts that we have had our ups and downs in Cambodia. As a team, we have developed, pioneered and executed programs that we knew were beyond our capabilities, but that we had to because the need was so great. We have faced challenges, some beyond our wildest dreams. During this time, Anh was under an extraordinary amount of pressure to respond to the challenges and support the team in Cambodia. Her patience and compassion with the girls (our service users) have been awe-inspiring. Her quiet determination in building relationships with government officials and other stakeholders has been incredible. In the words of one of our Board of Directors, “Anh deserves a medal for the number of times she has had to endure the terrible seven hour bus ride from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh!” (Imagine a monotonous drone of off-pitch Cambodian karaoke for seven bumpy hours each way.)

(Anh (under umbrella) with service users from our community center.)

Recently, Anh completed her tenure as Country Director in Cambodia and returned to the US to study for her GRE and apply for grad school. Upon her return, she visited Senhoa’s Head Office where we did our media round. At Senhoa, we want other young people to hear about Anh’s amazing journey. We hope that through her stories, Anh will inspire others to become agents of change themselves.

(Anh (left), Lisa T.D. Nguyen (center) and Victoria To Uyen on the Victoria To Uyen show for SBTN)

Sometimes, people need to be given an opportunity to realize what they are truly capable of. This is the self-discovering journey of the young women, our service users, that we work with in Cambodia. Wonderfully, it is also the same journey shared by our staff and volunteers.

On behalf of the Board, we want to take this opportunity to thank Quynh Anh for her handwork and relentless commitment. Without you, Senhoa will not be where we are today.

Until next time!

Senhoa Head Office

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Our Partnership

Welcome to the online diary of Senhoa! You are cordially invited to follow our progress in Cambodia.

Firstly, I would like to express my enthusiasm for Senhoa’s new partnership with a well-established after-care centre for victims of human trafficking. With Senhoa’s service, the centre’s resources, and our shared dedication to making a difference, we will advance towards a brighter future for the young women of Cambodia.

The story behind our encounter and new-found cooperation is nothing short of a fateful affair.

Once upon a time, Senhoa worked with IJM on police operations to rescue victims of sexual exploitation. The Senhoa staff involved must have left a lasting impression on the rescued girls. Months later, whilst Senhoa was setting its foundation in Cambodia, the most motherly of the Senhoa staff heard her name called out at the local markets. She turned and immediately recognized the stunningly beautiful girl that had been rescued on one of the operations. After some time chatting, the girl brought ‘Mom’ back to her new home. Neither of them was sure if this was proper protocol by way of the shelter’s privacy policies, but considering their previous encounter, they took a chance.

So, Mom was introduced to the manager of the shelter. As it happened, the shelter was looking for a vocational program of our comprehension to implement on the grounds of the centre. We had the plan; they had the space. Why not fuse the two to make further way into the healing of broken youths? Communications were thrown open and the rest is history.

Senhoa is now implementing its Vocational Jewelry Program within this promising partnership. What sets Senhoa’s program apart from others is that its objective is not only to provide girls with an opportunity for income generation. It also aims to equip the girls through a soft-skills curriculum to facilitate their success in life outside of the centre.

We are very excited about this partnership. With this shelter we can maximize our potential to provide the service that is so very needed in this country. Part of our philosophy is passing on the knowledge and compassion to give those girls the chance they may not receive otherwise. This partnership is a blessing on a silver platter. Together, we are bound for great things.

Thank you for joining me on this entry. This is the first of many.

Sincerely Serendipitous

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

About Us

Senhoa supports victims of human trafficking by providing income-generating opportunities, social reintegration and programs for self-empowerment.

We believe in:
Income generation so that vulnerable women can gain economic independence.
Educational and social programs for intellectual empowerment.
Using business sensibilities to achieve humanitarian goals.