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