Come and see what we got up to in day 4 & 5 of the Immersion Cycle!
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!!
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.
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.
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.
A sneak peak into the adventures whilst on our next Immersion Cycle tour.
There is a little information on how bikes play a huge role in breaking the cycle of the sex trafficking industry and how you can help by donating a bike to help change someone’s life.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We chat to Ingrid, one of the girls from our School Cycle about her experiences and learnings from her trip.
A final wrap up of the School Cycle. Here are the stories of two inspiring women we met whilst cycling.
Every story deserves to be heard.
We are off the bikes, but the journey continues – and it takes a slightly less physical, but increasingly emotional, detour.
Today we visit the brothels of Phnom Penh, where the women and children are trapped in a cycle of abuse, rape and disempowerment that is truly heartbreaking.
Most people, as I once did, imagine these women to be tucked away. Inaccessible. And for some this is true. For others, they are hidden in plain sight: Invisible, worthless, voiceless.
The brothels we visit are one street removed from the main drag. The women and children inside live in dire circumstances of filth, with no food and no access to health care, education or comfort.
The women service upwards of 30 men each day. Traffickers/pimps – whatever you might like to call them – hover close to swoop in and collect on their earnings as the job is done.
These men have no shame; we watch on as they linger to collect on their investment.
In stifling heat, many of these women are heavily pregnant or caring for multiple children. If lucky, they reside in a 2x1m squat. As they service their “clients” their children watch on, or their infants are strapped to their chest.
We hear the stories of long-term abuse, gang rapes, violence and the sale of children over and over again. As we hear the stories, there are few words to offer comfort. But as the women break down they also reach out, seeking connection with no expectation or judgement. Holding their hand, offering a hug… these are the only tools we can offer as we too hold back the tears.
It is a harsh reality, one that weights heavy on your heart and soul. The only relief is in witnessing the incredible work of the outreach program delivered by AFESIP and funded by PROJECT FUTURES Ltd.
This program sees a monthly visit to the brothels bearing food, soap, condoms, basic medical treatment and immunisations.
It also allows the women a connection with other human beings who do not expect anything in return. And, when they are ready, an opportunity to flee their circumstance.
To donate in support of the School Cycle Challenge please see information below:
For those interested in getting involved and organising their very own School Cycle, please contact Clare@projectfutures.com or head to our website www.projectfutures.com.