JUMPING BACK ON THE BIKE with Yvette Crouch

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JUMPING BACK ON THE BIKE with Yvette Crouch

Yvette Crouch participated in the school cycle challenge in 2016. Now a high school graduate, Yvette has started an internship at Project Futures and is jumping back on the bike to undertake this amazing journey once again in April. Here is her story…

‘I embarked on my first PROJECT FUTURES Cambodia Cycle in 2016 as a fifteen year old high school student, eager to partake in what I hoped would be an eye opening, life changing experience. Completing the aptly named cycle ‘challenge’ truly was a formidable feat in the way that myself and my fellow participants were not only physically challenged by the strenuous achievement of cycling 400km through a foreign country, but also challenged emotionally by the privilege of interacting with survivors of human trafficking at the AFESIP centre. It was here that we heard first hand the stories of girls, some my own age and younger, who had suffered through traumas I could hardly fathom, ultimately becoming the most memorable, life affirming aspect of the already amazing trip.

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Accompanying me on my journey was my older brother James, who similarly to me, lacked cycling athleticism and experience, but was keen to dive head first into the challenge. One of the greatest takeaways from the cycle was that by the end of it all, my brother and I, along with all of our fellow PROJECT FUTURES cyclists had formed an unbreakable bond, as we were each other’s support network during both the physical and emotional trials of our trip. These meaningful relationships that developed over such a short period of time made the experience even more rewarding, as at its conclusion, we were able to celebrate the massive accomplishment we had made through the combined challenges of fundraising, cycling, and raising awareness for such an awesome cause.

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For me, talking to the women at the AFESIP centre and seeing true evidence of the positive impact PROJECT FUTURES has made on the lives of trafficking survivors is something which has stuck with me ever since my first cycle, and has impassioned me to partake in my second cycle challenge, 3 years later. Now that I am older, and slightly wiser, I am extremely excited to re-immerse myself in such an incredible experience, with the opportunity to hear the stories of more brave trafficking survivors, forge new relationships with fellow participants, and to re-embark on what was the most challenging and rewarding journey of my life.

I am so grateful for PROJECT FUTURES giving me the opportunity to partake in such a unique and worthwhile experience for a second time, and cannot wait to start the adventure all over again.’

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For information on Cambodia Cycle Challenges, click HERE.

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Immersion Cycle Day 6

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Immersion Cycle Day 6

The morning sees us visit the brothels of Phnom Penh, we are today handing our precious baby formula. We note that mothers come far and wide to receive this offering, many of their babies starving hungry and screaming for something to fill their bellies.

We hear the story of one women, sold at the age of 6 or 7 years old and thereafter traded 9 times from trafficker to trafficker. Today, the shame so intoxicating that she can not return home to the region in which her family stem... she has lost connection with all but one of her 7 children. This women situation felt hopeless in so many ways... she was broken and she no longer has the health, energy or desire to make the change.

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We hear from a mother of 2 small boys. Due to sickness and the down pouring of rain, she was unable to service customers for the past three days... this means not a morsel of food had crossed the lips of hers or her boys for the same period. Their desperation for food obvious as we hand out cups of noodles... but we walk away knowing their this insufficient for tomorrow is likely to hold the same fate.

We met a mother, caring for a 2-month old baby.... she is breastfeeding. She shares with us that she is aware of her HIV status but as her baby screamed through the night in hunger, with her strapped to her chest as she worked and deterred potential clients, she had to feed her.... this mother weeps as she fears that she has transmitted the disease to her precious baby. We offer formula and refer her for medical assessment. 

It was a hard day emotionally. Confronted by one sad story of hopelessness and poverty after another. As we came face-to-face with the customers that were feeling this industry and observed the traffickers gaining.... it was a quiet and emotional return to the hotel.

That evening we visit the AFESIP safe house, this experience more hopefully, happy and healthy then that in the morning. Each of their girls have been rescued, they live safely and have access to the medical care they need, the emotional and psychological support to nurture their recovery and stable education sources to change their life course.

The girls share their talents of traditional dance and we too respond with an Irish jog (taught by our Irish participant Martin the night before). If nothing else, it was an outlet to laugh, connect and share. Re-enforcing that we are all human and we all deserve freedoms, rights and safety.

A truly amazing tour that has connected our group with each other but also the cause and culture of Cambodia. We are privileged to have gained this insight, an authentic and up close and personal understanding of what it means to be trafficked. Hidden in plain sight... chains no longer required or visible but the invisible cage that chocks the human spirit is deeply felt by us all.

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Threads of Hope

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Threads of Hope

Here’s a sneak peek into the launch of our new coffee table book Threads of Hope featuring so many inspiring women, men and children we have met along the way!!

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Immersion Cycle Day 3

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Immersion Cycle Day 3

In the morning we set off to the real villages of Siem Reap, visiting local farms to see their traditional farming, cooking and trade in action. No some of these were beautiful, the crafts and wares; some of these were interesting, such as the rice wines with rattle snakes or scorpions in the base of the wine to enhance flavour and ward off evil spirits; and some simply unpalatable.... that being the very famous and traditional fish paste. Used as a cooking ingredient all year round in traditional dishes. But the  stench of the farm was so powerful it made your eyes literally water... some of use dry heaving from the taste on the back of the throat... this was one stop that we did not stay long nor sample any of the produce.

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A traditional Monk blessing was shared to being good health, hope and luck for the future. It is always insightful to see the Monk in action... his lowered eyes, his refusal to make any skin to skin contact, the heavy tattoos across his body.... this combination could instil concern in certain situations, but instead the precise, rhythmic movements and hum of the monk reassure and brought a sense of peace.... with all 12 of us sitting in silence as we awaited our blessing, is was also a moment to be still, to reflect and take on board his sacred chanting.

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In the afternoon we visit some of the survivors that we have supported and are now working, financially independent and craving out a life for themselves. One of these women, Sur Kim, completed her training as a seamstress... she now has her own business creating western and traditional garments. The shop that she works from is her own and funded by PROJECT FUTURES. For $500, this woman can own her own business (including the building), receive stocks and resources for 6-months to get her started, and thereafter support her family. 

We could not resist and started ordering bespoke dresses and garments... mind you, for less then $20 we could have any dress in a wide range of fabrics. Most importantly, we got to celebrate and support her, not for her past hardships, but to celebrate her incredible skills and success.



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The lowdown: PROJECT FUTURES Immersion Cycle Tours

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The lowdown: PROJECT FUTURES Immersion Cycle Tours

What is involved in our Immersion Cycle Tours and why are they so impactful?

For 10 days, a group of 10 Australians from across Australia linked up with PROJECT FUTURES to learn about the issue of sex trafficking across Cambodia. Time was spent learning about the culture of the nation, the beauty and the traditions, but also about the history of these lands and the torment, damage and links between the Khmer Rouge and the sex trafficking, abuse and exploitation of women across the country.

As part of the experience, the group met with survivors. Here are some of the stories we experienced. 

Outreach

HIV is a growing issue of concern across Cambodia; its prevalence is rapidly rising among poverty-stricken, isolated communities where there is a lack of education. 

With breastfeeding one of the main culprits in transferring the disease from mother to child, intensive support and education is required to help bring an end to transmission via this mode.

However, armed with the knowledge about the disease and transmission, mothers are finding themselves in increasingly difficult, uncertain situations. Do I withhold my breastmilk knowing I will likely infect my baby and share a death sentence? Do I withhold it and hope that food will be provided via some unknown channel, then potentially watch my baby starve to death? 

In order to address this issue – and offer appropriate nursing alternatives to infants across Phnom Penh – the group of 10 Australians joined PROJECT FUTURES and AFESIP in the distribution of hundreds and hundreds of bottles of baby formula. Women and their infants came in droves and from across the city in hope of securing the product in order to avoid the challenging dilemmas faced daily.

This was a heartbreaking opportunity to learn more and to connect, yet also to witness first-hand the dire circumstances these women are facing daily.

The AFESIP Centre

We shared in the joy experienced by 64 girls who are now safely in recovery. They are attending school regularly and have secured safety in stable, nurturing environments in which they can flourish. The PROJECT FUTURES tour led to greater insights about the process of recovery, the expertise required to experience a successful recovery, the things that brought joy to the survivors, and the challenges faced by the centre daily.

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Funding is always an issue; a daily challenge that is focused on by PROJECT FUTURES and other partners. There were important learnings here about the impact of stable and sustainable funds (i.e. a regular donation - big or small - as these stable contributions allow for stable programs and planned support and intervention). Ad hoc support has peaks and troughs that impact program delivery and capabilities. 

We learnt of the lack of expertise (such as doctors, psychologists and teachers) that were willing to associate and share their skills with the survivors, scared of connecting themselves with the issue of sex trafficking and exploitation, and therefore potentially bringing shame upon themselves.

This is part of the reason that the training and education is so important. Today, 80% of the survivors obtaining professional skills and tertiary education return to AFESIP to work, sharing their skills and talents, inspiring the girls currently in recovery.

There could be no greater leader or role model to confirm that the program works and that there is truly light at the end of the tunnel for victims.

Reintegration 

We visit women that have been reintegrated into the community, some of them sisters, and hear of the journeys in which they have shared to achieve their position and independence today. 

Many of these women have been sold and resold, traded like a commodity. Their stories are heartbreaking, but their achievements are inspiring.

Some were forced to work as prostitutes to support their families: isolated, abused and raped for the small change received.

Every story is harrowing. Every story is hard to believe as we meet the successful, happy, beautiful women that stand before us. But their truth is visible as they divulge the details of their past. 

Proudly we meet one survivor, Kimsour, a seamstress with her own business. In 2017, PROJECT FUTURES funded the building of her own shop. Today she independently runs a successful business, creating beautiful garments for people across Siem Reap. For $300, this was an easy investment that has inspired many and will support Kimsour and her family for decades to come. Not only her shop but her home... today she stands proud, independent and beautiful.

Overall, this journey saw these 10 brave and committed Australians raise more than $20,000 towards the cause. It saw them bond over the unique experiences shared and motivated to continue raising the flag about sex trafficking, because if we truly want to end trafficking, we need to maintain the conversation, educate people on the issue and work to change behaviours.

 

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