*Spotlight is a chance for us to share about a foundation or person that has hit us right in the feels. We will feature a Spotlight post once a month highlighting their impact.
The reality is that slavery still thrives. It now encompasses people of all race, color and age and has a new name – human trafficking. It robs people of all dignity, hope and a future.
There are an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today. This is more than twice the number of people taken from Africa during the entire trans-Atlantic slave trade. Today’s slaves are not bought and sold at public auctions, nor do their owners hold legal title to them; yet they are just as trapped, controlled and brutalized as the slaves in our history books.
People become slaves because they are poor and vulnerable, and their basic rights are not protected. Lack of access to work, land, education and lack of enforcement of laws prohibiting the holding of people in bondage result in slavery. Slavery provides ’employers’ with a form of extremely cheap labor which they will fight to protect. A person who is poor and in need of money, perhaps for an emergency or because one of the family is ill, finds it hard to get a loan. The only option is to pledge their labor to repay their debt. Some resort to selling one of their children. Slavery is illegal in virtually every country worldwide.
Each girl is unique and so is her story and for this reason we do not show recognizable photos, however, remind people she still matters even if you don’t know her name or see her face. We do not rescue girls directly ourselves, but work in co-operation with other anti-trafficking organizations within Cambodia. Rescues are carried out by highly specialized staff from organizations such as International Justice Missions, SISHA and APLE who work in co-operation with local police enforcement. Girls we receive have been trafficked, raped, prostituted, or are at risk of these things.
Although illegal, sometimes it’s the family who tries to sell their daughter for financial gain. Cambodian culture facilitates children following their parents’ wishes so they do not bring shame and dishonor by not contributing to the family’s income. One of the girls we received at the age of twelve was about to be sold to a brothel, following in the footsteps of her two older sisters whom their mother had already sold. A day center she was attending discovered she had been sexually abused in readiness for this sale and was able to intercede. This child’s response, when talking to our counselors was that she did not want to be a sex worker, but would if her mother wanted her to.
In recent years, prevention and education in poor rural areas has been a priority in other organizations working within Cambodia. It is great to see the results of this work as a girl we recently received was sent to us before the family had a chance to finalize her sale. The plans of this were overheard by a neighbor who contacted an organization that could intercept this sale. As a result, we were able to receive this girl before she was sold and had suffered the atrocities associated with this.
All girls, regardless of their age, are given the gift of education. From the time they are young children, girls in Cambodia are discriminated against and lag behind boys in education at every level. In poor families, girls are the first to be pulled out of school as they are needed at home to look after younger children or to help out in a family business. When it is safe to do so, the girls are enrolled in a private school, where they attend half-days, 6 days a week. They also receive further schooling in Computers and English classes by one of our staff, who is a teacher, each afternoon. For the girls whom it is not safe to enroll in school, they receive full day education with our teacher.
Our goal is that every girl would reach a minimum of a Year 6 level, where they can read and write Khmer competently. For many of our older girls, around the age of 15, have never been to school, or have only completed six months of Year 1 before coming to us, this can be a challenging discipline for them to learn to study and apply themselves. We consider it to be so important, for even the girls entering vocational training, to continue their education in being able to read and write.
We love that, in Cambodia, we’re able to connect with many other great NGO’s (non-government organizations) offering vocational training programs. Through these connections, we have been able to give our girls great training in the fields of hair and beauty, hospitality, tailoring, and cake baking and decorating. Some of our younger girls have expressed an interest in learning to sew as a means to earning an income to assist their families. We’re able to send them to another NGO to learn these skills. As a result, they’re able to make SHE items including fabric bags and hearts we sell internationally in both Australia and the USA. They love being able to earn money they can save towards goals they have personally set whilst many girls choose to also use some of their income to help their families by purchasing rice, vegetables, fruit or cooking utensils they’re able to present to their families on Family Visits. Not only is this significant to her family, but also gives her a great sense of self-worth and self-esteem…offering something to her family.
Each girl within the SHE Rescue Home has regular contact with a counselor and social worker. These are essential relationships in their healing and restoration journey. All girls in the home receive a minimum of weekly counselling when they first arrive, and this may be reduced to three-weekly during their time in our care. Counselling services continue even once a girl is safely reintegrated back to her family. Our counselors provide specific trauma therapy for every girl, along with being a person who the girl can share about their day, their relationships, their family, and their fears. Counselors are often asked by the girls to pray with them or to simply sit and be there for them. We regularly send our counselors along to extra training and professional development to continue equipping them as such important people in our girls lives.
Our social workers work closely with families to help equip them to be able to receive their daughter back into their care. This process involves life skills training, employment assistance, vocational training, and sometimes involvement within our Family Assistance Program. Family needs are assessed regularly and we’re often able to connect with other organisations who can also assist in supporting families particular needs. We were recently able to support one mother to receive urgent surgery. We were also able to assist another mother receive treatment for a health condition poverty had not allowed her to treat for 13 years! Family support has also involved us building and repairing houses, gifting pigs and chickens to families, building animal shelters, helping communities access clean water, and educating communities. The aim of our work is to always be able to reintegrate a girl back into a safe, supportive, and stable family and community.
All girls in our SHE Home receive regular medical care, including vaccinations, dental, optical, and any other necessary care. Due to their trauma, a number of the girls who enter our home need treatment for STIs and STDs. One of our girls also receives treatment and support for HIV. In 2011, a life-saving operation was given to one of our girls who had a heart condition of which she wasn’t receiving enough oxygen to her heart. The condition was crippling and prevented her from engaging in the everyday life of a 12 year old. Thanks to the generous support of our sponsors, we were able to fly her to Singapore to receive the major heart surgery. She is now a bright, happy, growing and energetic young girl who proudly shows off her scar to all she meets.
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