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