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.