Organization Profile: AFESIP Cambodia

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‘Human trafficking’ is “the illegal trade in human beings for purposes of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor.” My friend Katy calls it a “dinner party term.” She says “It reveals nothing about imprisonment, abuse, physical pain, slavery, withdrawal of basic human rights like freedom, destruction of trust and of a person’s identity.” I couldn’t agree more.

Katy modeling clothing for trafficking awareness.

I first heard about AFESIP while reading Somaly Mam’s The Road of Lost Innocence. Somaly’s memoir documents of her sexual enslavement and escape. I was so moved by her story and already interested in anti-sex trafficking efforts that I contacted AFESIP while planning my trip to Cambodia. This ultimately led me to Katy’s blog and her volunteer work.

In Cambodia, the sex industry thrives. It’s an issue you witness in the streets. A brothel is never more than a 5-minute walk away. And while it may look like the girls “consent,” the truth is most feel like they have no other option and no way out. The rescued girls who come to AFESIP suffer from abuses difficult to imagine. Many experience torture and addiction to drugs  such as methamphetamines and heroine. (For more information on the sex industry in Cambodia visit my previous posts: The Issues, The Sex Industry of Cambodia, and Cambodia: Masculine Mentality, Sex Culture, and Gender Based Violence).

A photo taken by Katy demonstrating the self harm (cutting) many girls resort to, relieving the mental and physical pain of their daily lives.

So the question becomes: how do you combat an issue so broad and destructive? How do you access girls held hostage in this lifestyle? And if you can reach them and remove them from imprisonment, how do you attempt the recovery process? How do you rehabilitate a girl who’s grown up in an environment where she’s routinely raped, violently beaten, and force-fed drugs? Continue reading

Cambodia: Photos of Angkor, Siem Reap, and Phnom Penh

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I’ve been in Bangkok, Thailand for 36 hours. As my best friend Colin says, “It’s kind of funny when Thailand becomes your benchmark for modernity and you’ve grown up outside New York City.” But for the first time in 7 weeks I have hot water, air conditioning, and a washer and dryer. There are cars, highways, and skyscrapers. And I would be lying if I said my time in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia depleted my American, consumer-driven ways.

Today I wandered around Siam Square’s luxurious malls. I went into Jimmy Choo’s and held a pair of shoes that cost more than my budget for the last 2 months. I think it was obvious because the girl at the counter looked me up and down with snooty disapproval. I guess my grungy sweats weren’t up to par? But I shrugged it off, found an equally snooty French cafe and ate my weight in birthday cake. Then, I went back to my hostel, got in the shower, turned the knob to scalding lava hot, and stood there for 30 minutes until my skin was bright red. (To all you eco-conscious folk: Trust me, I’ve conserved enough water by not showering in the last 2 months to merit a frivolous 30 minute shower. And, it’s my birthday, so deal.) Continue reading

Cambodia: Khmer 101

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This video gives you an introduction to the Khmer language – thanks to my good friend Prosper! I don’t think I’ve focused enough on the positive aspects of Cambodian culture, and I really want you to know how beautiful and friendly the Cambodian people are. (If my voice seems a little raspy, it’s because I’m just getting over a cold. Prosper is making me drink this medicinal ginger, lime, and honey concoction every day. So no worries, I’m in good hands!) Enjoy the lesson! By the end you should have basic Khmer words down, and even a few curse words…

Gail, thanks for your videotaping expertise!

Cambodia: A Volunteer’s Frustrations

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I hunch over my laptop in a tiny room shared by 8 people. It’s 5pm. I’ve been in this position since 8am. I’m pretty sure scoliosis is setting in.

This is my daily routine in Phnom Penh, writing grant proposals for People Health Development Association (PHD). I only have 4 weeks so I want to accomplish as much as possible. The more grants I apply for, the more funding PHD can receive.

Socheat had this shirt on when he came to pick me up one morning. I, of course, freaked out and asked where he got it. Apparently the other PHD boys have been asking for one for the last 6 months. I turned on the smile and 1 day later had my very own!

With that goal in mind, I finish each assignment at a New York workaholic pace (about 4 hours quicker than anyone anticipates). Then I sit for 2 hours, waiting for my boss to find something else for me to speed through.

PHD’s 7 employees are male, Cambodian, and under 30 years old. Only my boss, Ratanak, and the project manager, Socheat, know enough English to communicate with me. I’m the first foreign volunteer to work in their office.

I can’t communicate. I’m the only female. I haven’t slept in days because I live in a furnace-like room with no air conditioning. Bottom line: I’m frustrated. I feel like I shouldn’t waste time in an office with nothing to do. I feel like I’m not making a large enough difference. And I’m not seeing the impact. Continue reading

Cambodia: Masculine Mentality, Sex Culture, and Gender-Based Violence

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Gender plays an important role in Cambodian social life. In Phnom Penh, clusters of men sit in restaurants and litter the street corners. I rarely see a group of girlfriends chatting around a table for lunch.

At night this division becomes more apparent. Men meet at restaurants and karaoke bars to indulge in a night of drinking and bonding. For men, many nights in Phnom Penh end with the purchase of sex. In 2007, a study of men who frequent entertainment venues, karaoke and bars, revealed 53% had paid for sex in the last 12 months with an average of 8 partners. (The unfortunate outcome of this statistic is every time I meet a Cambodian male I question whether or not they fall into that 53%.)

Cambodian masculinity centers on group inclusion and confirmation. When a group decision is made to end a night at a brothel, one member rarely refuses because of the Cambodian tendency to avoid conflict and high levels of peer pressure. Many men admit they pay for sex because they don’t want to feel excluded from their social groups. Some report waiting outside brothels while their friends have sex, but more admit to following the pack.

In Cambodia, masculinity implies an inability to control sexual desires and actions. Many men consider sexual self-restraint biologically impossible.

Continue reading