28 October 2011

What the Chab Dai Member Meeting means to me

I have been working for Chab Dai for almost a year. Along my journey of working here, I found the most exciting event of my working life to be our bi-annual Member Meeting, which we host in May and November of every year.

So far I have attended this event two times. My first time was in Nov 2010. It was really a surprise for me to see so many Christian Cambodians and foreigners come together to share and learn from each other as a coalition. It was huge to me! There were nearly 200 participants who came from various NGOs, some were local and some were international. At that time, I was not very involved in the meeting preparation. I wondered how we were able to do it, how we could prepare it and also why we did it? I was really impressed about how members were networking with each other. It was a great time to see everyone talk and laugh together.

In May 2011, I attended a member meeting for the second time. It was a great event, especially as a facilitator of the paperless training. This was the first time I had ever done anything like this. This time, I realised that it is not easy to make this event happen, we put a lot of energy into preparing and organizing it.

What do we do at the member meetings? All of our members have the same purpose and vision to end sexual abuse and human trafficking in Cambodia and around the globe. At the meeting members strengthen and build up each other through collaborative training, forums, meetings and sharing standards of practices.

The next Member Meeting is coming soon (next week)! As I write this, our team is putting their hearts and energies to make the meeting successful!

18 October 2011

It's not up to me... Someone else will do it

Have you ever been watching an ad by a charity on TV that asks you to donate money to starving people in Africa and thought to yourself, that is truly terrible situation they are in, but I am too busy to give money and in any case someone else will give money.

I know it sounds horrible and I’m not saying that we all assume this, however most people do. The term for this social part of human behaviour is commonly called the Bystander Effect. This theory is the phenomenon in which a large group of people are less likely to help a person in need than an individual. In my opinion this is people that are afraid to stand out fromthe everyday crowd to help someone or to aid many people. There are two major factors that come into play with the occurrence of the bystander effect: the lack of responsibility, and the need to behave in a socially correct way.

The first factor has to do with being taking responsibility as an onlooker of the situation, usually in a group. When an accident happens a lot of people usually gather round and just look at it. Instead of helping, the observer just watches and talks about what has just happened with people among the group, not feeling any sense of responsibility towards the emergency. Another factor that comes into play is that you socially behave in a correct and acceptable ways. Most people frown upon a person doing something different that does not fit in everyday society. So when people fail to attend and help the situation it influences the whole group... so in theory none of them will help. Humans are naturally like that. We are worried that if we do something different we are going to be judged -even if it’s an act of kindness.

This is where charities come in, and the people who work for them. They are not afraid to stand out and give a helping hand to those who need helping. Most people are scared of getting judged and doing something different. It just takes one person to make an improvement in this world. We cannot sit around doing nothing to help and assume that people are going to help those in poverty, sickness, and hunger. No matter how many charities there are, they cannot help everyone. We can help people have the benefits and necessities that we have in developed countries. So next time you see a person in need, don’t be afraid to reach out and give them a helping hand. You will feel fantastic.

Guest Blogger: Dan Ashworth
Guest Blogger: My name is Dan Ashworth and I have a physical challenge called Cerebral Palsy. This does not stop me from doing anything! I am from the U.K., however, I moved to Australia, then the U.S., and I'm currently living in Canada. At the age of seventeen I'm interested in subjects such as economics, business, philosophy, writing, and psychology. I find that all of these topics help me understand humans all together and how our native instincts come into play in everyday life. I feel like we are so caught up in the wave of life we forget who we are, and lose the questioning of our actions and thoughts. That's why I'm writing blogs to properly research our psyche, what we are thinking about, and the hidden secrets of our weird and wonderful minds.

15 October 2011

Reflections From My Flight {Malaysia to Cambodia}

Most of you have probably been on a plane sometime in your life, be it across an ocean or only a quick hop closer to home. Likely your plane adventures at one time also included turbulence or your were forced to taxi for longer than desired. And maybe a few of you have even been on such a long flight that when the wheels hit the ground there was some mild cheering or clapping?

Last week my flight from Malaysia back to Cambodia was such a flight. Only this time the cheering & clapping wasn't because we survived the turbulence. It was the genuine excitement of 40+ women arriving back in their country after working two long years in a factory or as a domestic worker.

I can honestly say it was one of the best flights I have ever been on, and it was definitely not the service or in-flight meals which made it so great. So why then? Because I could actually feel the excitement, the joy, and the relief of workers who at some point had risked everything to earn money for their families. They missed their parents, their kids, they missed Khmer food, and also speaking Khmer. As the plane's wheels hit the runway, squeals, cheers, smiles, and excited clapping broke out spontaneously throughout the plane.

I too joined in with their clapping and cheering. For me, though, it wasn't about missing the country or food, per say (although I do love both), it was the JOY of seeing women & men returning home safely. 'They survived!' I thought to myself.

Survived what?
The stories my coworkers & I heard from women & girls during last week's visit in Kuala Lumpur, as well as the reports & research shared between partnering organizations over the last two years, have made me believe it's hard to survive. Beyond the problems of recruitment, debt bondage, and slave-like conditions migrant workers face in Cambodia, bound for Malaysia there is another set of problems awaiting them there. All power is completely in the hands of the company, and more specifically the employer himself. He or she dictates the working hours, holds the worker's passport, controls telephone privledges, locks the doors, pays the salary, and also renews the worker's work permit.

But what about her, the domestic worker? The one who like every other person in the world- holds basic human rights, including dignity, freedom, and access to food, water, and decent living? Nope, sorry, the system isn't worker-center. She is trained to listen & obey the employer, and try her best to please them at whatever the cost.

Example: I saw this list posted throughout the training center of one Cambodian recruitment company:
  • I must be a good maid.
  • I must work hard.
  • I must not be lazy.
  • I must make my employers happy.
  • I must follow instructions my employer gives.
  • I must finish my contract for two years.
  • I must help my family earn money.

For me this simple list of 'rules' says a lot about the heart of this 'recruitment-work-system':
  1. Clearly workers are NOT educated about their rights. Instead taught everyday for three months that anything the employer says they must do; therefore 'making the employer happy' is supposed to be more important than the workers' own well-being;
  2. And it's manipulating to have 'I must help my family earn money' on the list. It adds to the already-felt pressure in Cambodian society for older daughters to provide for the welfare of the whole family. Whispering this subtly in her ear every day, may also add a level of shame that later prevents her from asserting her own rights and reporting harsh conditions or physical/ sexual abuse.

My HOPE is for more women to return safely home to Cambodia with the salaries they were promised and no scars. And for women to be educated about their right to hold their own passport while working, their right to a day off of work, and their right to access social services if needed. If you agree please join me with cheers and clapping!


Want to know more about the recruitment process in Cambodia or the harsh conditions in Malaysia? Read an in-depth interview between Equitas and myself in June 2011 on their blog. Or do a Google search for even more recent news & updates.

On Twitter? Follow me (@aimee_chabdai) and use #Camlabor to spread awareness news & stories about this form of trafficking.

Planning on migrating? Do you know someone who is? Please migrate safely, here are some tips:
  • Copy your passport or write down your passport number and give it to your family.
  • Read your contract before signing, and ask to keep a copy.
  • Memorize Tenaganita's hotline number in Malaysia in case you need help: 012 335 0512
  • Ask lots of question! Know the name and phone number of the recruiter, and the company you are working with.

11 October 2011

The Paradox of the Leadership Lens

Chab Dai Cambodia Leadership Team
(Left to Right: Dara, Muylen, Sithy, Helen, Yeng)
One of the greatest privileges of my life has been to lead the amazing team and work of Chab Dai.

It has been a source of some of my life's greatest highs and most extreme lows, it has inspired me with the many amazing people I have come to know and admire, and broken my heart by showing me the impact of those who perpetrate horrendous crimes against the vulnerable.

I have to admit that reflection has never been one of my strengths - it is something that, for me, requires discipline and space; neither of which i have a lot of! My leadership preference has always been in the vision, future possibilities and strategies of the organisation, but I have had to learn how to balance the extremes of many other aspects within the leadership experience.

I remember when I first entered a leadership role and was told that 'it is lonely at the top'. At the time it seemed strange when I was surrounded by so many people for much of the time. However, I soon realised that it was apparent that decision-making and holding ultimate responsibility for the organisation can in fact be - well - lonely.

Another interesting extreme is the tension and partnership of being focused on the strategy and vision of the organisation and at the same time, keeping myself informed of its activities, challenges and successes, the new ideas being discussed, and how the team are doing.

Perhaps some of the greatest extremes exist in my mind - the need to look at a situation or issue through three mindsets simultaneously. The first is looking and assessing the facts of the present situation. The second, to reflect on past experiences to see if there are any lessons I have learned to apply to the present situation, and finally to look at the implications and inspirations from the present, on the future.

I see leadership as a journey rather than as a destination which means I still have a lot to learn even after many miles of travelling!

A fellow traveller,


03 October 2011

How long will we "let boys be boys"?

At the beginning of September, I attended the Human Development and Capabilities Association conference in The Hague, The Netherlands. Martha Nussbaum, one of the founding presidents of the association and one of the foremost philosophers on the capability approach, gave an engaging and thought-provoking keynote address on “Women and the Internet: Objectification and Human Capabilities.”
Much of the harassment and objectification occuring online is by men and boys. Nussbaum argues that the anonymity of posting degrading comments, pictures, and defaming stories of women is a way for many men to turn the fantasy of violence against women into reality because they are not just observing it but actually inflicting it. Boys and men who feel shame and out of control turn that shame outward because they do not learn a language to name their emotions and fears. It is easy to dismiss the aggression against women on the Internet as pathological, or call the perpetrators of such aggression "nuts;" but in reality, it is a reflection of a cultural phenomenon of violence against women.

We often talk about redefining feminity; taking control of our own sex and gender and not letting men define us as women. What I really appreciated about Nussbaum's discourse is that, if we are ever to achieve gender harmony, and really end the violence and exploitation of women, we need to redefine masculinity. Although it is difficult - some would say near impossible - for parents to counteract the pervasive culture of male aggression, it is time to take an intentional stand against the laissez-faire attitude of "boys will be boys." Nussbaum suggests, as a starting point, that we change the connotation of "strength" (a trait often associated with men); instead of equating strength with dominance, we need to teach our sons that strength is, in fact, respect and compassion.

As a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, teacher, mentor, or friend, how can we change our expectations of and attitudes toward the boys around us, so they grow up to show this new strength? I invite you to reflect on this and contribute to the conversation!

My husband Charlie and me in
The Hague for the HDCA Conf