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…!