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.
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.
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.