24 May 2015

Esther Pastores: ‘My motivation lies in supporting my Cambodian colleagues’

As part of our #10yearsofChabDai series, we asked Esther Pastores of World Hope International for her thoughts working in relief and development in Cambodia on and off for more than twenty years. One of our member NGOs from the very beginning, WHI Cambodia also celebrates a decade in the fight against human trafficking and exploitation this year…

Can you give us a summary of your work in Cambodia since the 1980s and how you came to the position of Country Director at World Hope International?

My initial experience working with Cambodians was in 1987- 89: coordinating mother, child health and community services in Site 2 South refugee camp, Thailand with Christian Outreach Relief and Development (CORD). Following this I had the opportunity to help establish primary health care programs in Kampot and Prey Veng from 1990-93, during the UNTAC era.

After a few adventures in other countries I returned to Cambodia in 1998 as Country Director with CORD and subsequently worked with Hagar Women’s Shelter as Operations Manager. I really came to work with WHI by default, having initially agreed to evaluate the assessment centre (AC) program, was then invited back to implement the 40 or so recommendations for improving the work. And I’ve remained with WHI ever since!

What is your motivation for working in the – often harrowing – field of human trafficking aftercare and prevention?

Speaking personally my motivation essentially lies in supporting my Cambodian colleagues, in whatever line of humanitarian work they are engaged. Over the years it has been a privilege and a joy to walk alongside and share in their learning.  At the AC my colleagues are the ones doing the real work of ministering to abused children – they are the frontline folk dealing with issues and restoring broken lives; I’m happy in the knowledge that by ensuring they are provided the best work environment possible, through strong team relationships, learning opportunities, adequate staff care, pastoral care (and benefits package), that this will ultimately contribute to an effective ministry.

What prompted WHI to join the Chab Dai coalition?

WHI and Chab Dai have very much ‘grown up’ together, both organisations this year celebrating our respective 10 year anniversaries. At one time our organisations shared a common office, as a result of which we developed close relationships between staff and shared knowledge of each other’s programs and priorities.

As Chab Dai, WHI believes strongly in the significance of partnership, shared learning, pooled resources and all the other benefits of working collaboratively – joining the Coalition was therefore a given for us.

How has Chab Dai membership made a difference to WHI?

The list really is quite extensive – from the different forums to the Charter project we wouldn’t have become the organisation we are today without Chab Dai’s input. Personally I have found the various research projects commissioned to be particularly helpful. One may often have hunches about certain aspects of the work, but research really provides the evidence needed for developing sound programs.

What changes have you seen – both on the ground and governmental – to do with the human trafficking issue in Cambodia since 2005?

Probably these are best summarised in the Journey of Change documented by Chab Dai in 2013 – I would say a growing maturity of organisational capacity, but also perhaps a waning emphasis on real engagement between partners.

And what changes do you hope to see in the next ten years?

Better education systems, especially for girls; more jobs and opportunities, particularly in rural Cambodia, to lessen the need for migration.

Thanks to Esther for talking to us. If you want to know more about World Hope International and its work, take a look at their website here.

Images provided by World Hope International.

18 May 2015

Rohingya crisis: migrant status does not alter human rights

The sad story of the Southeast Asian migration crisis has saturated media publications across the world this week. Yet the issue continues to be unresolved, meaning the people crammed on boats with no food supplies and in often abusive conditions continue to drift between the Indian Ocean and the Andaman Sea, and between countries who continue to turn them away.

Along with migrants from Bangladesh, the current crisis in a large part involves the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar, fleeing a harsh and violent life in a country which refuses to acknowledge their ethnic minority status.

Reportedly, the government of Malaysia has told the Rohingya to ‘go back to your country’. There have been similar reactions in the rest of the region. But how can this be the response, when Rohingyas effectively have no country to call their own?

Unrecognising the Rohingya

According to recent field research by Queen Mary University, London, conditions in the Rakhine State - home to the minority Muslim population of Myanmar – are tantamount to genocidal, and have been escalating since the 1970s.

The Rohingya face restrictions on education, movement, land rights – conditions which lead to extreme poverty, starvation and death. Outright persecution has reached a head in recent years such as the riots at Sittwe in 2012, 200 deaths there the result of clashes between Rohingya, the Myanmar army and police.

Despite the dangers of migration, for many Muslims who leave the predominantly Buddhist shores of Myanmar, it’s an escape, not a choice.

Refugees face ‘maritime ping-pong’

This past week has seen eight boatloads of migrants found in the waters off Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Myanmar and thousands of people displaced with nowhere left to turn. Almost half of those migrants are children aged 12 and under.

Described as ‘a game of maritime ping-pong with human life’ by the International Organisation for Migration in Bangkok, nation after nation has declined responsibility for people discovered in their territorial waters. UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon has called for Southeast Asian leaders to uphold international human rights and refugee laws to avoid these ‘pushbacks’ which are likely to lead to more deaths out at sea.

Human traffickers take advantage

Ban-Ki Moon
Brokers and people-smugglers who ferry migrants to places like Thailand and Malaysia have been taking full advantage of the stalemate out on open water. Crack-downs on immigrants at the Thai border have prompted some traffickers to simply abandon their human cargo. Others are holding refugees on board or in Thai camps until their families can pay for their onward journey or even pay to have them returned home again, so rendering their efforts futile.

This is likely to continue, as long as authorities consider migrants and trafficked people as criminals to be dealt with using blanket actions, rather than individuals, each with fundamental human rights.
So where does the answer to the crisis lie? In challenging Myanmar’s oppressive system, one that continues to break down Rohingya rights and communities to keep them disenfranchised and powerless? In deciding who is ‘to blame’ for the boatloads of people dying as they become trapped in oceanic limbo?

There remains no clear-cut solution, not at least until nations take responsibility for the fellow human beings involved and begin to co-operate with each other, instead of passing the burden. It was Martin Luther King that said ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’ and countries like Ecuador and the wider Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) reflected this as they offered support last week.

But in light of factors like Australia’s unapologetic ‘stop the boats’ policy influencing global attitudes towards displaced people, not to mention the similar crisis in Mediterranean Europe, it seems a small hope that someone will make the braver gesture, and welcome the boats in.

Images from the public domain and The Official CTBTO photostream, via Creative Commons.

12 May 2015

Celebrating 10 years of collaboration

It was Thursday May 7th 2015 and almost exactly 10 years since the very first Chab Dai member meeting took place in June 2005

Chab Dai staff were assembling, dressed in their finest traditional sampot, and attendees from many of our 53 member organisations were arriving at the ICF conference rooms in Phnom Penh.

Here at Chab Dai, we wanted our first Bi-Annual Member Meeting of 2015 to be as joyful an occasion as possible, so there was a photo booth on hand, ready with sequins and all manner of fun props to pose with.

The day’s sessions began with a warm welcome from founder and International Director, Helen, who also presented a 10-year timeline of Chab Dai’s history, staff and national/international events over the last decade (available to view here).

“It’s exciting to see the expansion of Chab Dai. At the beginning it was mainly expats but today’s meeting has many Khmer participants, which is great to see.” 

Sheila Reid, Advisor for EFC

Next, Sue Taylor from Hagar shared her take on collaboration - everything from building professionalism together to thinking about long-term, trauma-informed care - while Christa Sharpe of IJM counselled on the importance of stopping to celebrate our achievements, despite the ongoing struggles we may face in the anti-trafficking field.

Members were invited to add their thoughts to our hand-themed comments board, while those who made it upstairs promptly for the coffee break got first pick of the fantastic spread of Bloom cupcakes, complete with a Chab Dai twist. Of course, networking is what Chab Dai is all about so we couldn’t pass the opportunity for a session of speed-networking before lunch as well.

“I love the sense of community and working as part of a larger team,” Ruth Larwill, Bloom

The afternoon began with a strong performance from theatrical group EPIC Arts, delivering a powerful message for society to see ability, not disability.

The theme for this part of the day was looking to the future. Vutha Hing from Cambodia Development Resource Institute gave an update on the forthcoming ASEAN Economic Community, while Helen took the floor once more to talk about what economic integration will mean for the Greater Mekong Sub-Region – and the trafficking issue. Many of our partners and members also gave updates on a diverse range of subjects, from LGBT-Christian dialogues to new research on youth access to pornography.

Reconvening for Day 2 of the Member Meeting, participants were given a choice of workshops. I spent an informative few sessions learning about the great migration-prevention training schemes run by Samaritan’s Purse, insightful research on attitudes towards trafficking from within the church community by Sophorn Phong, Hannah Sworn and Love 146’s Glenn Miles, and a look at the nuanced level of care delivered to special needs survivors by ARM.

“The more we share education and resources, the more we are effective…there are so many unique gifts here that I don’t have to be an expert on everything,” Judy Norman, Mercy Medical Clinic

The two-day event managed to cover a good deal of lessons learned from the past, with equal weight placed on what we’re looking forward to and need to be ready for in the future – and a healthy dose of celebration. So a big thank you to everyone who attended and here’s to the next ten years…!

30 April 2015

Will Cambodia’s domestic workers be celebrating this Labor Day?

The Triumph of Labor
Not to be confused with the US Labor Day in September, International Labor Day stems from the 19th century labor movement against long hours and poor rates of pay, and the birth of trade unions in places like the United States and United Kingdom. Today, International Labor Day means celebrating and standing up for worker’s rights all over the world.

In Cambodia, working conditions are often unjust, badly paid and can be abusive, and one sector where this is particularly prevalent is domestic work. Those who work in housekeeping, cooking and cleaning claim they are not treated like ‘real’ workers under Cambodian law and have been struggling to have their rights heard in recent years.

Add to this ongoing issues with human trafficking for labor to other countries in Southeast Asia, notably for low-paid or near-slave-like domestic work and there can be little to celebrate this Labor Day.

Phnom Penh has seen big street campaigns for better working conditions in the last few years, with some of the strongest protests coming from garment workers, another sector notorious for poor conditions. But where does the Cambodian domestic worker stand this May 1st?

Domestic issues in Cambodia

Cambodia has yet to ratify Convention 189 from the ILO, which sets out minimum standards for the treatment of domestic workers and would ensure better protection for Cambodian staff working in Cambodia.

Since 2012, the Cambodian Domestic Network (CDWN) - the first union to protect the rights of domestic staff in the country – has been working specifically with the government towards getting these international standards met.

But stories continue to emerge of six or seven day weeks, wages as low as $75 or even $50 a month and no provision for things like maternity leave and childcare. Cambodia’s domestic workforce, the majority of which constitutes women, are not given a fair deal. Moreover, living in with their employers, many are left vulnerable to exploitation, isolation and sexual abuse.

woman cooking

Labor trafficking abroad

The lack of protection for domestic workers in neighbouring countries like Malaysia led the Cambodian government to ban the migration of Cambodian domestic workers there in 2011.

However, only this year, Chab Dai has dealt with a case of domestic labor trafficking to Malaysia. A woman was told she could find work as a hairdresser by an agency in Cambodia and that the company in Malaysia would cover all her transport, visa and food costs upfront in exchange for her first 3 months wages. When she arrived in Malaysia, she was actually sent to work as a domestic worker, toiling from morning until midnight and often with only one or two breaks for food.

Fortunately, the woman’s parents reported this case to the Chab Dai Case Support Team so that they could work with the Cambodian Embassy to repatriate her. She now works as a kitchen hand in a rural province in Cambodia.

This is just one case we have been able to intervene with and in this instance, we were able to secure a good resolution. Chab Dai retains a close relationship with the Embassy in Malaysia, as well as others in Thailand and China to deal with these illegal, cross-border migrations more effectively.

But as offices and businesses across the country – and the globe - close for the public holiday this Friday, it’s likely that not all domestic workers in Cambodia will be able to join with the celebrations, or get their voices heard.

‘The Triumph of Labor’ image by Rasnaboy, used under Creative Commons licence. Image of woman cooking owned by Chab Dai.

26 April 2015

Why collaboration works

We’ve been asking some of the members who have joined our coalition over the last decade to share their thoughts on collaborating with Chab Dai. This week, Dale Edmonds of Riverkids Foundation describes her journey and how Chab Dai has helped this once-small NGO to grow…

“When we started our small charity, Riverkids Foundation, in Cambodia nearly a decade ago,
we had a handful of staff, big ideas and dreams and a tiny budget for about fifty children. Now we reach over six hundred children directly each month, and we've worked with more than a thousand families at risk of abusing and trafficking their children, including families where children were sold to factories, forced marriages, paedophile rings by foreigners, gang rapes, incest, infant deaths and worse.

The families we work with are among the most difficult and heartbreaking, with complex multi-generational dysfunction and complications of addiction, deep poverty and discrimination. And yet we've managed to bring the rate of trafficking in our families to less than 1%. Next month we will formally graduate over twenty of our families as 'Jasmine Elephant' families with a community celebration - this means that they have become so stable and supportive of their children that they can now leave our programme and flourish on their own.

Chab Dai helped us do that. While Chab Dai doesn't work directly with families, they took a tiny new organisation and made us far stronger by introducing us to other partner organisations with a shared vision to protect children, providing free or very heavily subsidised training for our social workers and staff, giving our managers and team leaders support and encouragement that could only come from a trusted local partner, and even funding very technical and specific programme gaps that were too difficult for most donors to understand the need for.

Chab Dai has created a community that cares for children in Cambodia and supported us so
well - I think we would have closed at several points if it hadn't been for the advice and help
you gave us. Without Chab Dai, there is no way we would be capable of reaching so many

On a personal note, in my own journey to build a Cambodian child protection charity that truly helps the children and families first, some of the key lessons I've learned have been from Chab Dai. From the importance of building a team of staff who respect and value children's rights, to understanding how child safety and privacy matters when fundraising - it's easy to exploit the vulnerable children's stories for funding but we would lose their trust in us. I've also found the value of gauging the real needs of the community through first-hand research and using Chab Dai's wonderful in-house library of resources before rolling out a programme.

And even more personally: when we first met, I hadn't been to church since I was a child. Part
of my disillusionment was from the message that Christian organisations cared more about converting than helping, and children going hungry on the streets outside big brand-new church buildings in Cambodia didn't help. But Helen and two other missionaries I met in Cambodia - women who worked in the field building up communities and showing love and true charity to everyone, not just the people who went to their church - spoke to me more loudly than any sermon could.” 

Dale Edmonds

*Photographs used with the permission of Riverkids.