Salin, from hardships to a fulfilling life as a teacher at LKC

Steve Mojica is the Technical Advisor for Senhoa’s preschool programs, Lotus Kids’ Club.  As a social worker with 20 plus years of experience working with young children and families, he has been devoting his expertise for the past three years to our foundation. Here he shares with us a story about one of our beloved teachers and her journey to LKC.

 

At Lotus Kids' Club our three full-time teachers have been with us almost from the start, which was over 6 years ago. I don't believe many preschool/kindergarten programs can boast that even in the Western world, certainly not in Cambodia. I feel they are all competent teachers, understanding what young children need in order to be successful in primary school. That is what we do, prepare the children so they are ready to learn. School readiness is what we are about. Although none of our teachers have had formal training in early childhood development or education--there are no programs at the universities in Cambodia that offer degrees in that field of study--these teachers do a fine a job as any I have seen in my decades of work in early childhood education. I don't credit myself, as most of their learning has come from me, but in their willingness and enthusiasm to learn and their love of teaching the children. They all have had their individual journeys to LKC. What follows is one journey.

Salin (named changed to protect her identity) was born in a poor and rural province in Cambodia to a family with 10 children. She was a middle child with brothers and sisters both older and younger. The two-parent family farmed rice and sold ice cream. They were very poor, like most families here, so all family members--even the youngest--worked to help support the family. At 6 years old she would daily have to pick morning glory, a staple leafy green vegetable in Cambodia, and sell it for less than 100 riel (500 riel equals less than 13 cents). She was fortunate to attend school through 4th grade but unfortunately left school to move to Phnom Penh with her father and a few of her brothers. In PP they could earn money to send back home. To this day she regrets having to give up her studies.

At 9 years old in PP she would cook and clean for her father and brothers and sometimes work with them at construction sites. Over the years until she was 12 she would occasionally go back home to attend school. But missing so much time in school she was always behind in her studies.

At 12 she started working at a brick factory in PP, although her mother wanted her to continue her studies. She felt her family needed the money she could send home. It was difficult and sometimes dangerous work. At around 14-15 years old Salin worked with her brother in the construction industry, again with grueling work and long hours. She returned to work in the brick factory at around 20 years old. At 22 she went to work in a sewing factory for better pay and benefits however with long hours and pay though better still low. Around this time she entered into an arranged marriage.

Salin's husband was a good partner, and they had one child, a daughter. Unfortunately they had financial problems and lost money in a scam. Her husband blamed her and left. The child was 2 years old and a judge awarded custody to the husband. This was very painful for her and still is although she has contact with her. Salin was presented with an opportunity to move to Siem Reap for a job maintaining a household. It was in SR that she met her second husband. When LKC opened, her home was right next door and she would see and hear the kids playing. She always loved children and regretted she didn't continue her studies, knowing the importance of these children gaining an education.

Salin's niece attended our program so she asked our program manager if there was ever a job available she would be interested. Lucky for us there was as our cook/cleaner. Salin took on the position and did a fabulous job and was enthusiastic and meticulous. It was obvious that she loved being around the children and was happy to help care for them when needed. She seemed to be a natural teacher to us. So when we expanded to a second location, we approached her about a teacher position. It is an understatement to say she was thrilled. She learned quickly about what our goals were for the children and was eager to do her best.

It took her a while to feel confident in her work but through our encouragement and praise for her work, she felt she had found a place of work she could be proud of. She has steadily improved since she started and has pulled herself out of poverty. She has a 3-year-old daughter now and with her husband is building a small business. She states she loves her job and will continue to work for LKC as long as we exist. She helped make LKC the premier preschool/kindergarden program that it is. We are fortunate her life’s journey took her to LKC. She deserves to have a happy and fulfilling life after the hardships she endured. We are happy for her.

 

August 10, 2017 by Sylvia Dang

Made With Love

These beautiful, hand-knitted toy bears have been made with love by Nana Brenda Mooney. 

Brenda has 8 children, 18 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren. She is 93 years old and wants to help vulnerable children.

Please make a donation to purchase this toy (minimum $50) AND Brenda will MATCH your donation! For more info or to purchase, please email info@senhoa.org. 

100% of the sale proceeds go to support Senhoa Foundation's Lotus' Kids' Club program in Cambodia. Senhoa supports street-working children, their families and the community through education, basic health care and community building. Money from the sale of these toys will help provide scholarships for 100 children to be able to stay in school. 

How sweet is Nana Brenda! We love you!

May 25, 2017 by Sylvia Dang

Senhoa Bride

Hieu contacted us last summer to create a customized comb for her wedding in October. She also gifted Charmed lotus necklaces to her bridesmaid. She finally got her photos back to share with us.

Hieu: "I feel we spent so much on the wedding day itself but this one is well worth spending not just for the beauty of it but the cause of it. The thought of wearing something that is going towards something means a lot for me. My only hope is to spread this around and in hope that more brides will lean towards this direction, of using products or vendors that has some sort of contributions to the good cause."

Thank you so much for having us be a part of your special day!

 

Photos by Kien Lam.

March 14, 2017 by Sylvia Dang

Why So Much Fashion? And Meet Our Stylist... Andrew Philip Nguyen

Often times, when we connect with other nonprofit organizations and they peruse our website and social media channels, they ask us why is there so much focus on fashion? Aren't you a nonprofit? We tell them this: yes, we are an NGO that provides support services for survivors of and people vulnerable to human trafficking and sexual exploitation. One of our programs is a vocational skills training program, Our Own Hands, that teaches jewelry making. We chose jewelry making because it is an easily-acquired skill, can be picked up by those who are illiterate (as many of our artisans often are) and can be therapeutic for those who have been through trauma and abuse. We also run a social business that specializes in producing and retailing the jewelry that is made by our artisans. The girls produce jewelry for the Senhoa brand, OOH brand (the girls' own creations), and for partner labels. When we first started OOH in 2010, we had the jewelry available for sale on our website and at events, but we did not establish the social business until 2014.

The term "social business" was defined by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus as "the new kind of capitalism that serves humanity's most pressing needs." We believe that conscious consumerism can positively impact the world and its people. So in 2014, we took our shelter-retention vocational training program to the next level--employing women full-time as artisans--elevating them from "service users" to "skilled employees." We also adopted business strategies to grow the brand: devising wholesale structures, amping our marketing campaigns and reassessing our cost of goods sold to create a thriving business. We did this because we wanted to focus on empowering the women we served by teaching them a marketable skill and providing them with fair wages and benefits and access to the global marketplace, as well as celebrating their talent as artisans. We also chose this route to maintain sustainability. 100% of the profits from the sale of Senhoa jewelry is rerouted into the jewelry program, with the excess going to the foundation to fund Lotus Kids Club and our other anti-human trafficking efforts.

In our first year as a social enterprise, we grossed $85,346, nearly twice as much as 2013's sales. It is our goal that Senhoa jewelry revenue will eventually cover all foundation program costs. It'll take some time and a lot of team work and support, but we will get there.

When you see all our Instagram photos of models and celebrities donning Senhoa jewelry or see us at LA Fashion Week, remember that we are striving to utilize business sensibilities and fashion as vehicles to achieve our humanitarian dreams. And the man behind all of this "fashion" is our in-house stylist, Andrew Philip Nguyen. You'll see him behind the scenes at our photoshoots and directing models during our fashion exhibits and shows.

APN at work

Andrew has always had a love of fashion, even at a young age he was mesmerized every time his mother would get ready to go out on the town. Her beauty regimen would put him in a trance as she layered on her jewels, found the perfect hand bag for every occasion and finished off her look with her signature Chanel No. 5 parfum. It was almost a religious experience for him.

A Fashion Installation (featuring our latest collection, Kat & George for Senhoa) at our 5-Year Anniversary Gala Curated by Andrew Philip Nguyen
Hair: Tuyen Tran & Trang Do, Makeup: Jacky Tai, Furnishings: Master Designs, Models: Image Powerhouse & Shahana and Sydney Elaine Steinaker, Wardrobe: BGR Designs, Stylist: Andrew Philip Nguyen, Assistant Stylist: Hien Phan, Hair Accessories: Kat & George for Senhoa, Jewelry: Senhoa. Photo by Robert Swapp Photography.


It wasn’t until his freshmen year of high school where Andrew reignited and focused his undying passion for fashion while watching the first season of Project Runway. When the second season came around, he was instantly inspired when fellow Vietnamese-American Chloe Dao won the title. He then knew he could do what he thought was so out of reach. At first, he thought he wanted to be a fashion designer but he quickly found out he had no patience for sewing. So he ventured out to find another career in the vast creative industry. Sometime later he so happened to come by an amazing internship with renowned Vietnamese-American fashion designer Thai Nguyen who had just gotten off his stint on Bravo's Launch My Line as first runner-up and the rest was history. Andrew soon got his hands on all the behind-the-scenes action and was lucky enough to be involved in every aspect of a small fashion house. From assisting and directing multiple runway shows all across the United States, to styling photo shoots with top photographers, even assisting in line production, Andrew had the opportunity to be immersed in it all. He instantly fell in love with wardrobe styling while assisting Thai Nguyen and is now exploring a new outlet for his creativity.

Photographer: Mariel Lohninger, Model: Maggie Danielle, Hair & MUA: Roczane Enriquez, Stylists: Andrew Philip Nguyen & Thu Nguyen, Wardrobe: Lex & Mila, Jewelry: Senhoa

Photographer: Mariel Lohninger, Model: Maggie Danielle, Hair & MUA: Roczane Enriquez, Stylists: Andrew Philip Nguyen & Thu Nguyen, Wardrobe: Lex & Mila, Jewelry: Senhoa

November issue of Huf Magazine. Photographer: Christopher Santiago, Hair: Dakota Hunter & Jill Zegarski, Stylist: Andrew Philip Nguyen, Assistant Stylist: Hien Phan, Grooming: Sameerah Hoddison, Model: Aidan Anderson of Seattle Models Guild, Jewelry: Senhoa

This past fall, he and fashion writer Amanda Nguyen launched an Orange County based digital fashion book named Alpha Omega. The fashion book has a strong focus on high fashion and talent that is found in the Southern California area. He plays as Chief Creative Director and Head Fashion Editor to this magazine he helped co-found. The magazine can be found here. With 4+ years of styling under his belt he has worked some of the biggest models and photographers in the greater Los Angeles area. His work has been published in multiple major fashion magazines. Andrew has even styled top pageant queens that have gone on to compete nationally for the Miss USA title such as Cassandra Kunze Miss California USA 2014, Bianca Vierra Miss California Teen USA 2014 and Hoang-Kim Cung Miss Nebraska USA 2015. Check out Andrew's work at www.aphilipn.com.

Our newest collaboration: Kat & George for Senhoa -- the Enchanting Collection

We are excited to announce our latest collaboration: we have partnered with Kat & George, a UK based hair jewelry company, to create a beautiful collection of hair accessories. Kat & George is an alliance of jeweler Kat&Bee and hair stylist George Northwood. In October, Kat flew to Siem Reap to teach our artisans how to create the 7-piece collection she designed exclusively for Senhoa. The girls have never done anything like this so there was a learning curve but by day 3 they had picked up on the new skills that Kat had taught them.
 

"Everyone involved in the Kat&George for Senhoa collaboration has put in a lot of love and dedication into making it happen and now that is has I feel so proud to be part of the project.   The first hand experience of actually going to Cambodia to teach the artisans has been incredible, eye opening and life changing - one that I will always cherish.  I  feel that is has brought the project and pieces to life and am really excited to share it with everyone.  It was so lovely to see the artisans develop and adapt their skills and mindset over the course of the week and once this all clicked into place they were so overjoyed and had a great sense of satisfaction and personal achievement.  The Enchanting Knot, in particular, was a very difficult and complex piece to both teach and learn and so was challenging at times (for both!) but after serious dedication and concentration we got there in the end and I feel so proud that the artisans are now fully competent to make and produce the pieces" - Kat.



Kat&George for Senhoa brings together Kat&Bee's signature style with George Northwood's  innovative understanding of hair to create a collection that embodies beauty, love and togetherness.   The Enchanting Collection by Kat&George for Senhoa embodies beauty, sophistication and elegance.   Each piece has been carefully crafted by Senhoa artisans with an abundance of beautiful beads, Swarovski crystals that will sit in your hair and shine.  Using a strong mix of gothic colours - mauves, grey, black, gold and silver - these pieces are positively enchanting. The Kat & George for Senhoa collection will be available online at senhoa.org, senhoa.co.uk, katandgeorge.co.uk and katandbee.co.uk on Tuesday, December 1.

 

About George Northwood: Following a 12 year career as Creative Director at some of London’s most prestigious salons, George Northwood, the go-to-guy for the fashion and celebrity elite has recently launched his first London Salon. Situated on a quaint little street just off Oxford Street, W1 (24 Wells Street), with Alexa Chung and Rosie Huntington Whitely, (George’s long term clients) being firm favourite in the salon chair. http://www.georgenorthwood.com/ About Kat&Bee: Kat&Bee creates beautifully intricate and eclectic jewellery that is innovative, luxurious and personable. All pieces are hand-‐made in Kat’s London studio allowing the brand to maintain its high level of quality control and expertise. Kat&Bee is currently stocked in the likes of Opening Ceremony, HP France, Henri Bendel, ASOS.com, La Rinascente, YOOX.com, Wolf & Badger, Carnet de Mode, Coldlilies, Kat also teaches jewellery making workshops in her studio and at the Soho House Group to share her expertise and craftsmanship.

November 30, 2015 by Lisa T.D. Nguyen

The 3 C's of Life

Dr. Christine Dinh is a U.S.-educated physician with a focus on Women's Health. She has recently been accepted to work with Doctors Without Borders and has been an Event Ambassador for Senhoa for 4 years. She is currently helping us develop our Volunteer Management program stateside. Here she recounts her volunteer experience with Senhoa and her visit to our programs this year.

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All it took was saying “yes” to help volunteer at a Senhoa Fundraising event in 2011. I truly didn’t know much about Senhoa at the time, other than it being a organization focused on helping survivors of human trafficking and those vulnerable and the beautifully handcrafted jewelry that comes from it all.

But with each Senhoa event, I got to learn more and more beyond the surface of Senhoa, the jewelry, and the cause; I saw and felt the heart and passion that goes into Senhoa. The individuals, in the states and Southeast Asia, who are a part of making Senhoa what it is growing to be.

As a doctor applying for Doctors Without Borders (Medicin Sans Frontieres) deciding on where to do my assignment in Asia, what better way to know than to take a trip and visit the two countries I could potentially work for.

As a Senhoa Volunteer for more than three years, it is a complete blessing and gift to make the trip to Cambodia, to see the country but most importantly visit Senhoa’s three programs (Lotus Kids Club 1 & 2, Our Own Hands, Safe House) that I constantly speak of, promote and fundraise to support for the past 3-4yrs.

Playing with the happy and healthy children of LKC.

I got to see the results of our efforts of fundraising and promoting awareness of the organization throughout the years. The change and efforts, we (like myself) have put in towards Senhoa’s programs are transparently seen on every single girl/woman/child’s smiles and in their bright-eyed faces looking back at us. Not to mention the happiness and gratitude felt as we were fully embraced with sweet, warm hugs from small arms wrapped around us before getting off of our tuk tuks to be called “teacher” because it is a title they hold with love and respect and look up to for guidance.

Time spent interacting with the kids and Senhoa staff members at LKC 1 & 2 and talking to the girls at Senhoa’s Our Own Hands Jewelry program and to see them firsthand making the jewelry pieces, so skillful and talented, gave me the reaffirmation in my heart and mind that, “Yes, the time, funds, drive and effort I make for Senhoa is ALL WORTH IT.” I often get asked “Why are you involved?” I have tried to explain to many including my amazing boyfriend, who at first had a hard time understanding my growing passion and love for this organization but quickly understood why during our trip to Cambodia and visit to Senhoa’s programs and facilities. He’s a traveling professional photographer which means he has seen and captured an array of things, so to hear over his 10+ years of travel that our visit to Senhoa’s LKC and OOH programs was a highlight of his travels speaks volumes.

A great capture by my boyfriend John of the OOH artisans working hard at their craft in the studio.

 

For those whom we serve halfway across the globe, the LKC children and families and OOH artisans, should confidently know, believe and be able to participate in the 3 C’s of Life: You must make a Choice to take a Chance or your life will never Change.

So "why am I still making time to be involved?” Because if you get to know the organization, especially the individuals who are apart of it, you will get to see and feel the heart that goes into bringing change. I know Senhoa Foundation is helping survivors of human trafficking and those vulnerable get to live the “3 C’s of Life” through Empowerment. Employment. Emancipation.
October 08, 2015 by Lisa T.D. Nguyen

Reflections from the Alchemy Project



Sydney Scherr is a a jeweler and jewelry design professor at Raffles College in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. A few years ago she started a project (the Alchemy Project) to teach sustainable jewelry design to victims of sex trafficking. She leads groups of students to instruct and create designs through simple techniques so that they can earn a living. In 2012, Sydney and a group of her students came to Siem Reap and taught our artisans at Senhoa new techniques and donated tools that they sourced locally. She and her students loved the experience and returned to teach another workshop in September 2015. This is her reflections from the week with our artisans.

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Time has transformed Senhoa, and the young women associated with the program. In 2012 the emphasis was on working with women recently rescued from the bondage of human traffickers. This premise dovetailed perfectly with the intent of the Alchemy Project: to teach skills that create an economic alternative to what has been the hard reality of the young lives impacted at the hands of traffickers.

Returning to Senhoa in 2015 reignited the Alchemy Project. This was a joy and a gift. For Senhoa the new direction is one of looking at the future and not focusing on the past. The young women are thriving and clearly moving beyond their history. These women continue to be my heroes as they embody hope: it resonates from their warmth and their gracious laughter and wide open hearts. Without a doubt the young women we went to Cambodia to teach taught each of my students and myself more of what it means to be grateful in our lives than we were able to teach them about jewellery.

Alchemy Project students workshopping with Senhoa Artisans.


The women of Senhoa taught us about living with little and feeling abundance. My students and I found the Senhoa students eager to learn. And eager to laugh. The warmth that was expressed between all of us was genuine and full of acceptance. Through this we found we had common ground: there are few who come through life without a story that touches someone’s heart and we felt the thread that joined us in spirit.

Senhoa has made a remarkable difference in the lives that it touches. The women are paid employees, making beautiful beaded jewellery. They are appreciated and cared for. They are valued-the very sense of self-worth I hope the Alchemy Project can also bring to their experience, and to others who survive the unfathomable. It is the intent of the Alchemy Project to advance their jewellery making knowledge so that if they chose to venture out on their own, in their own business, they will be better able to realize that dream, with knowledge, tools and metal provided to them as a humble beginning.

The women of Senhoa, over the years, have taught me many lessons. That a bright future is rich and alive in the pulse of women and that being valued, and valuing ourselves, matters. That we can choose not to be victims of our history. Their young lives matter, and on a personal note: their lives have mattered to me unfailingly. I learned where hope lives. Hope lives in the eyes of the young women of Senhoa and The Alchemy Project.

An Artisan’s Story: Investing in Our Local Staff

Seang Lai joined Senhoa in 2012. She is one of our top artisans and is currently in training to become a Junior Production Coordinator. Seang Lai has elected to use her real name, and this is her story.

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Due to financial hardships, Seang Lai ceased going to school in the middle of 7th grade to work with her family selling Khmer cakes and later being a tailor. While she was working and honing her skills as a tailor, she saw that one of her friends was studying English at Khmer Help Khmer English School and wanted so badly to learn herself.

One day she tagged along with her friend to the school, and the school director offered her free lessons as long as she helped tidy up the facility. Seang Lai happily went to the school to clean and learn English, while still working as a tailor, for 2 years. One day she met Senhoa’s Outreach Coordinator Kimang, who was also studying English at KHKES. Kimang was looking for a cook and cleaner for Senhoa’s office and asked Seang Lai if she would like the position. Seang Lai didn’t know how to cook but Kimang taught her, and she became skilled at the craft and enjoyed cooking for the Senhoa girls.

While she was cleaning the office, Seang Lai would always peek inside the jewelry room, and she daydreamed about working in there with the artisans. One day Kimang asked if she would like to make jewelry in the OOH program. Seang Lai gratefully accepted and has now been with Senhoa for 3 years.

She started as a trainee, became an artisan after one year, became a supervisor the next year, and is now in training to become our Junior Production Coordinator. Seang Lai has grown immensely in the past few years. When once she barely spoke English, she now speaks nearly perfectly and her writing is excellent (she keeps a daily journal in English). Seang Lai is responsible, always eager to learn and always helpful. During her work with us, Seang Lai was able to go back to school, advancing into 9th grade when she re-entered.

Senhoa has provided her with a scholarship to attend New York School, a private high school. She will be graduating from 12th grade next year and wants to pursue university studies. Seang Lai is our most talented artisan and would love to become a jewelry designer one day.

Senhoa would be honored to help her achieve her dream of attending college and reach her career goals. While jewelry is not for everyone in our program (many go on to become teachers, beauticians or hospitality workers with the skills and confidence they’ve acquired in OOH), we are happy that it is something SL has grown in and wants to continue to practice.

In August, some children were playing around Seang Lai’s family home and accidentally set it on fire. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but her family lost everything: all of their belongings, their beds, food, and the entire house structure. The Senhoa team quickly mobilized (in Cambodia and in the US) and collected clothing and supplies and money to rebuild their home. Volunteer Building Cambodia, a non-profit organization that builds homes, toilets and wells for Cambodian families in need, reconstructed the house at a discount for us. It was heartwarming to see everyone galvanize to help one of our team members. Because of the help she received, Seang Lai was able to continue her studies and go forth with pursuing her dreams.

The awesome team at VBC rebuilding Seang Lai's house that was burned down

September 25, 2015 by Lisa T.D. Nguyen

Preparing For a New School Year

LKC preschool grads sing to thank their parents
LKC preschool graduates sing to thank their parents.


Steve Mojica is the Technical Advisor for Senhoa’s preschool programs, Lotus Kids’ Club.  As a social worker with 20 plus years of experience working with young children and families, he has been devoting his expertise for the past three years to our foundation. Here he shares with us LKC's summer plans.

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It is that time of year again at Lotus Kids Club: 28 of our 52 preschool students graduated! Our primary school students have ended their school year. And we close the school for recess in September. We use September to clean and organize our materials and space, conduct various staff trainings and to take time to relax and recharge. We are prepping for the return of our students and getting ready to welcome new families and participants in our many programs and activities.

Just before their annual summer break, our graduating preschool kids were measured for their primary school uniforms. Their school supplies have been purchased--backpacks, pencils, notebooks, as well as hygiene supplies. We provide these items throughout the year. We also provide for each graduating student a bicycle, helmet and lock. We do this as a graduation gift, but it is also a way to improve school attendance. A big cost for us but it is necessary.

September begins for the teachers with cleaning--deep cleaning. This means that all toys, games and materials get a thorough sanitization. Of course some of this happens throughout the school year but this assures that no item is missed including materials in stock. Deep cleaning also means walls, furniture and all surfaces get a thorough scrub-down. We find it is a good start for doing inventory and culling out what items are really not useful or are ready for the trash bin. Organizing materials is the next step followed by setting up the classrooms and assessing what will be needed for the school year. Again it will invariably be a time to spend money, perhaps replacing broken chairs, a new whiteboard or maybe new books. With 50+ preschool kids and a hundred or so older children using materials to have fun and learn for a year replacing items is inevitable. After a week or two of the aforementioned purge, the training will begin.

This year we have 2 new employees as we promoted a teacher to Assistant Program Manager and hired a nurse, since our beloved previous nurse went on to a new job to gain more experience. It gives us an opportunity to review with all staff our mission, goals and objectives and to see if we are adhering to them. We will also be discussing staff emotions in the workplace. Anger, sadness, frustration and other emotions will of course surface during our work with disadvantaged families. It’s important to know how to handle those emotions. We will have trainings on child development and other aspects of working with children and youth. The Social Workers will be reviewing information on how to engage with families effectively and find ways to strengthen our record keeping and case management files. We will visit a government-ran preschool/kindergarten and a private preschool/kindergarten. This should prove interesting and lead to important discussions about the differences and why we do what we do. We will end with several days of rest and relaxation, some together and some solitary. We will all come back on the first day of school recharged and ready to teach, learn and have fun.

I am looking forward to the new school year with high expectations. We have long-term staff who have over the years gained more knowledge, improved their teaching skills, and have become more creative and innovative. They have overall raised their quality of work. Good luck to them and to the senior staff as well as the new families and participants of the Lotus Kids’ Club.

September 16, 2015 by Lisa T.D. Nguyen

Moving on from the Past; Looking Toward the Future


Sylvia Dang started volunteering for Senhoa in 2011. In 2013 she started working as our Office Manager. She has since become our Director of Operations in 2014. Here she recounts her time in Cambodia last year and an important lesson she learned.

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Last year I was given the privilege to lead the jewelry program in Cambodia for 6 months. I eagerly accepted and am forever grateful for the experience. Beyond living in a new place, being immersed in a new culture daily and seeing our work as it is on the ground (and not just through daily emails and Skype calls to the field team), the intimate interactions with our field staff and service users and what I learned from them will always stay with me.

Acclimating to Third World conditions amidst a growing tourist town was a lesser challenge; cultural differences--how different from what you are used to in the Western world is not necessary worse or needs improvement--was slightly more difficult to grasp.

Even more intimidating was maintaining the delicate balance between catering to our artisans' needs, extending continual grace and being sensitive to their situations AND managing a productive and efficient business and teaching the girls to be good employees and not coddle or debilitate them by allowing irresponsibility or bad habits to develop.

Leading the girls was an amazing, fun and challenging experience and there were many lessons to be learned. Possibly the most important one was a reflection of the girls' own experiences: it is crucial to accept the past but to truly heal and one must focus on the future.

In our descriptions of what Senhoa does, we had always written that we support survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. We said that we are in a fight against modern slavery. We use bold and dramatic language that get our point across. We know that donors and supporters, particularly in the West, need to feel connected to a cause; they want to hear about the brutal stories. They want to feel like they are helping bring change to a harrowing cause. In short, we needed these strong words to sell and market our cause, to bring awareness to our mission. Being in Cambodia, I felt differently. Those strong, dramatic words, describing the "victims" that we worked with and their situations, however true, were not helping us move forward. They were holding us back, continually labeling and exploiting the girls (although not deliberately), reminding them that this is who they are and where they've been.

It is okay to acknowledge the past, but we must make efforts to move forward and look to the future. We need to focus on the girls' accomplishments, how far they've come, the dreams they want to pursue going forward. We need to empower them. More than that, the girls were beginning to be more involved in the business, helping with sales, talking to customers at a weekend market we started selling their jewelry at. Visitors were coming into the design studio to see their artwork, to see them working hard at their craft, watch these amazing jewelry pieces being created by these talented girls. How could we continue to use the language that we used in front of the girls, whom we were teaching English to?

Last July we had a launch event in Siem Reap for Senhoa Jewelry. Our artisans were all there, dressed to the nines and beautiful, so excited to watch the first-ever live fashion show they've ever seen. Better yet, this show showcased their work, their art. It was an incomparable experience watching the pride and sparkle in their eyes as 250 people gathered for an event to celebrate their work and their accomplishments. We needed to do a short presentation before the fashion show which included a speech on what the Senhoa jewelry program was all about. It sounds rather silly now, given all of the different challenges I've faced since being in Cambodia, but I remember thinking in that moment of preparing for the presentation, I felt that THIS was the hardest moment. Figuring out what to say about the girls and this program when they are right there in front of you. In the past we have many scripts prepared, all utilizing the descriptions that I've provided above. But now, what to say to describe what we do and who we work with, when the girls are watching and listening to you?

We decided to say the truth, we work with young women who have gone through many hardships and have had few opportunities growing up. We are here to provide them with the tools they need to move forward from their pasts and live independently and take care of themselves and their families. And more than that, to live out their dreams. Dreams are difficult to live out when you constantly hear these words about yourself. We cannot shield our artisans from the words we use to describe our programs.

Therefore, we are making efforts to change the language on our website and marketing channels. Going forward, this language will reflect change and moving forward and focus less on victimization and labeling. We are not perfect and are constantly learning, but we strive to make the girls in our programs feel comfortable, safe, happy and free.

September 11, 2015 by Lisa T.D. Nguyen

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