Of the many places I have traveled over the years, none have quite the effect that Phnom Penh does…and that is of pure heartbreak. In light of a recent partnership that ZAOZAO entered with the PP-based NGO, Cambodian Center for Protection of Children’s Rights, I paid a visit to the site to do some due diligence. You hear stories about some awful charities that take advantage of rich foreigners, using donations to buy fancy cars instead of paying for a kid’s schooling, so I went down there to check things out for myself.
Phnom Penh in and of itself is a rapidly developing city; compared to 1.5 years ago during my last visit, new buildings have been erected and roads have been increasingly paved. Despite recent developments, to be very honest – PP is still a dump. Visiting as a tourist is depressing, its main attractions are the Killing Fields and Genocide Museum where you learn about how the Khmer Rouge basically ruined all that was good up until the 70’s. Visiting as a volunteer worker didn’t change things much, as the shiny new developments belie its history of torture and destruction. Pretty heavy stuff. Regardless, my mission for the week was to spend time with the organization we were to begin working with, whose goals are to improve conditions of society by fighting against human sex-trafficking, common in those parts because of a lack of education and extreme poverty.
While prostitution rings aren’t as ubiquitous in Cambodia as they are in say, Thailand or Vietnam, that’s because girls get exported (sometimes by their own families) across the border fetching a heftier sum. It is truly a horrible thing, unimaginable…but commonplace in the villages and sometimes even the poorer cities of Cambodia. So how can this be fixed?
Rather than just accept cash donations in to address the poverty issue (a temporary fix, but still necessary), the CCPCR focuses on more sustainable solutions, like teaching vocational skills – weaving, sewing, hairdressing, computer literacy – so that once equipped with skills, these children (all of whom have been rescued from sex slavery) can earn a livelihood on their own. Imagine that – so many of the things we in the developed world call “hobbies” – they are the ticket to independence and really, a chance at having a life.
While the Main house is primarily for girls that have been rescued by the NGO and their local partners, boys from a local shelter attend classes (reading, computers) when they’re not at public school.
We chose to partner with this group because they are one of the oldest running local NGOs on the ground in Cambodia. International humanitarian and nonsecular groups can be great, but often volunteers (like myself) will fly in and out, or have some other agenda to fulfill. Having a partner that is run by Cambodians for Cambodians ensures continuity and the purest alignment of interests which is why we are excited and proud to be working with the CCPCR.
In my downtime I was treated to a Cambodian delicacy… fried tarantula. Thanks, but no thanks! Until next time…