Starting all over again
Cambodian women are known to be one of the preferred choices of being a life partner for many foreigners. Their caring, selfless, gentle and hard working nature, make them desirable in this modern age when women are becoming more individualistic almost everywhere in this world. I’ve been told many times that Cambodian women takes the responsibility of feeding their family very seriously and this is perhaps one of the reasons why many of them are being sold as prostitutes.
As they often say, you can’t teach old dogs new tricks and this proverb applies to cultural upbringing too. Fortunately enough, as human beings, we are a lot more intelligent than dogs and are able to change our views of things and learn to differentiate what is right and wrong.
For now, this culture remains in Cambodia. With this in mind, AFESIP provides two training options for the women at the Tom Dy Centre; sewing and hairdressing. On top of that, they are given basic education in English, Khmer and Mathematics since most of them do not even have primary school education. Other essential knowledge such as hygiene, domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, labour law, human rights are also being taught.
All these courses are seen as important life skills which will facilitate the women to start their lives all over again. Somaly Mam applies very pragmatic methods to ensure that these women are not being sheltered permanently at the centre. After all, this is not the purpose she sets out to do.
She pushes the women to do something for themselves and believes that at the end, most of them have a choice. They can either stay in the centre to be rehabilitated and trained, or they can choose to be returned home. But for those who choose to stay, they must go through the programmes catered for them. Her view is that if the women are left there with nothing constructive to do, they will not leave but rather treat the centre as a permanent vacation home. One can easily understand why since the centre is much more comfortable than majority of the homes here.
AFESIP’s training programme is rather progressive in the sense that it doesn’t want to limit the women to only two options. At the moment, with the NGO that I am volunteering with, we are trying to carry out a market analysis to provide the women with more skills and training options that will give them more employment opportunities. This remains as a huge challenge.