Matt and I visited Cambodia early this year. We were there just a week, and we wish we had more time to get to know the people there a bit better. Visiting the ancient temples in Angkor was an amazing experience (hello, Angelina had been there!), but what impacted us the most on that part of our trip was the people there. Or, more accurately, the striking determination of people who were recovering from fresh wounds of the Khmer Rouge period and still dealing with getting their families and their country back on its feet… but still manage to smile and get on with it.
On one of the nights, we had dinner at the home of the guide took us through Phnom Penh’s infamous S 21 prison, which is now converted into the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. His wife cooked us the most amazing meal (plus we tried fried tarantulas), and he told us his family’s story. His parents died in the KR years. More shockingly — he’d been in the work camps himself.
This guy doesn’t have much, but we were amazed by what he gave back to his local community. He taught himself English while driving a tuk-tuk around the city, and now hires a local teacher to teach neighbourhood kids in the space underneath his humble stilt home. Before the meal, we had the chance to practice English conversation and play games with the kids, and it was a highlight of my entire trip.
Laine, a lovely lassie I know though Young Labor (WA), gave up lawyering and moved to Cambodia last year to work for an NGO called Healthcare Centre for Children. Yeah. I know. Inspiring.
The HCC’s current project is called stop.traffick — a campaign which aims to deal with the massive problem of human trafficking in Cambodia with a very proactive yet grass roots approach:
Essentially, the objective of the project is “to tangibly improve the lives of former-slaves in Cambodia by creating sustainable income generating opportunities, contemporaneously raising awareness of the human trafficking endemic globally”.
HCC will do this by empowering and skilling former-slaves to become economically self-sufficient and act as global change-makers advocating against human trafficking and fighting injustice by launching stop.traffick product range.
I did my Arts (Politics) honours on the impact that small income-generating programs can have on the lives of really poor communities in Sri Lanka. Trafficking isn’t as big a problem over there, so I didn’t deal with that aspect of the HCC’s campaign, but I know for sure that this project has lots of potential in terms of economic empowerment.
The high incidence of trafficking in Cambodia does nothing to support its people’s struggle to heal their country’s wounds, and I believe that the HCC’s innovative approach is a fantastic proposal aimed at reducing and preventing the abuse and exploitation that results from the horrible and selfish trade in humanity.
I saw some of the worst aspects of that trade on the streets of Phnom Penh and Siam Reap. Some people may only be trying to earn a living, but small children should not be selling trinkets (or themselves) to tourists — they should be in school. The training programs offered by this project are a valuable means of supporting survivors of trafficking to get their lives back on track in a country that is so heartbreakingly beautiful.
While Laine’s project focuses on the issue of trafficking on a more local scale, there’s a global campaign called STOP THE TRAFFIC that aims to unlock freedom and prevent fellow human beings from being treated as commodities to be bought, sold, and enslaved. There’s a Facebook app which I encourage all of you to join — or sign the declaration online. The STT blog includes news about the campaign, too.
It would be awesome to see the power of the interwebs make a real impact with this big project, and I hope some of you might even consider joining me in offering Laine whatever assistance we can provide for her’s.