29 July 2015

Bridging the Gap

Chab Dai's long time staff member and co-founder of Chab Dai USA, Tania DoCarmo, is highlighted by University of California's School of Social Sciences as they report on her combination of experience in both academia and activism against human trafficking.

Reposted with permission from the UCI School of Social Sciences. See original post here.

Tania has worked for Chab Dai since 2006
For first year grad student Tania DoCarmo, the path to a Ph.D. has been anything but conventional. However, what her journey lacks in predictability, it makes up for in travels abroad, human rights work and practical, first-hand knowledge of human trafficking—her primary research interest. In fact, the sociology student’s proposed project on the subject recently secured her a fellowship through the National Science Foundation’s highly competitive Graduate Research Fellowship Program, which will fund her next three years at UCI.

Though her initial proposal to the NSF—involving a comparative study of humanitarian organizations in Cambodia and Ukraine—has been tweaked slightly, the focus of her current research remains rooted in the deeper understanding of counter-trafficking organizations. And after working for one such organization for more than nine years, she has some valuable insights.

DoCarmo’s interest in human trafficking is a direct result of her non-traditional route to academia. And though she has always loved learning, after her first year as an undergraduate at Biola University, she worried that she loved it a bit too much.

“I was sort of afraid that I was going to get stuck,” she explains. “I loved school, so I was afraid that I was just going to go to school and get married and never really go anywhere.”

So, the then teenager decided to drop everything and move to Brazil—much to the vexation of her parents—to participate in a humanitarian training program. It was in Brazil that she met her now-husband, and two years after she left the U.S., she set off on another life-changing adventure, this time to Cambodia. It was there that she met a woman who had recently started a group called Chab Dai, a non-governmental organization dedicated to uniting activist groups and ending sexual abuse and trafficking in Cambodia.

After volunteering with the organization for a short while, she eventually took on a full-time position, helping to research and implement effective training methods. It was during her time there that she noticed how distrustful activists were of researchers and journalists.

“Through that experience I just realized the gap that exists between what activists and organizations are doing and what academics are doing,” she says. “Historically, researchers from big universities would come over and want to interview victims and do their research and then you would never hear from them again. There was a lot of mistrust and a lot of feeling like they didn’t understand the context.”

Despite the skepticism, DoCarmo rediscovered her love of academia, took classes online to complete her bachelor’s degree and subsequently earned her master’s degree in anthropology while still working for Chab Dai. She felt that this bad blood between activists and researchers was doing damage to both sides of the cause, and she began to imagine combining her education with her passion and expertise for activism to bridge the gap.

“Getting my master’s degree reminded me how much I like academics and how much I believe in research. It really built my conviction that to do good work we need to understand what we’re addressing—and we need research to do that.”

So, after nearly nine years with Chab Dai and several moves back and forth from the U.S. to Cambodia, DoCarmo and her family made the trek back to California where she began UCI’s sociology graduate program in 2014.  

She is currently working on two research projects that have evolved from her research proposal to the NSF. The first, which she is working on in conjunction with Francesca Polletta, sociology professor, examines the use of storytelling and narratives within the activist community. As DoCarmo explains, there is sometimes a fine line between empowerment and exploitation, especially when the subject of a story may not be able to foresee all the potential ramifications of their participation.

“A lot of times, organizations will use a victim’s story to get donations or funding,” she says. “And while I see why people are doing that, my experience has been that stories can be very exploitative to the people whose stories you are telling.”

In addition to being manipulative, sharing a victim’s story can be damaging to their livelihood and reputation. DoCarmo explains that, in Cambodia, there is a very negative stigma associated with trafficking and prostitution. She has seen victims who are trying to move on with their lives be thrown back into a negative place when their community finds out that they had been sex workers. And there are even more sinister dangers—she notes that it is not uncommon for sex tourists to travel across the world in order to track down a woman that they saw in a documentary.

“Internally I’m still trying to wrestle with it, because I don’t think we should tell a victim what’s good or bad for them because they need to be empowered to tell their story if they want,” she says. “But we also need to be responsible for our part in it. So we’re interviewing organizations in the States and overseas and talking to them about how they’ve used stories—what’s been useful and what hasn’t been useful.”

In addition to this work, DoCarmo is also working on her own project that she hopes will help shed light on how human trafficking came to be a “new” social problem despite having been around for thousands of years. She believes that global interest in the issue became prominent after a 2000 U.N. convention that essentially coined “human trafficking” as a term.

She hopes to find out why, if trafficking has existed for centuries, was there a sudden explosion of concern about it. She’s seeking answers to her questions through archival research and hopes to, eventually, incorporate her work as a chapter in her dissertation, though that won’t be for several years. Her ultimate goal is to repair the bond between academics and activists in the counter-trafficking world, which she hopes will improve overall understanding of the topic.

“Sometimes when I read, there just seems to be a disconnect between how practitioners see a problem and how it’s written about in academia,” she says. “Through my research I want to reflect the practitioner’s view with the academic’s. I think together you have a better understanding.”

For now, DoCarmo is happy to be merging her two passions, academia and activism, while raising her two children with her husband. And with the NSF fellowship to help fund tuition and research expenses, she can spend the next three years focusing on how to make a difference.

—Bria Balliet, School of Social Sciences - See more at: http://www.socsci.uci.edu/newsevents/news/2015/2015-07-14-docarmo-trafficking.php#sthash.eBe2i3Mp.dpuf

21 July 2015

Training the next generation of Cambodian social workers

It’s been three years since the first Social Work majors in Cambodia graduated from university, fulfilling a very real need in providing human trafficking and abuse survivors with expert care and support. With this in mind, we thought it was time we checked in with our Jeut Nung Dai social work training team here at Chab Dai…

Prak Chantrea is the Assistant Project Manager for Jeut Nung Dai and a member of that ground-breaking class of 2012 himself, having earned his Social Work degree from Royal Phnom Penh University months before starting work at Chab Dai.

Building capacity in social work

So what does the JND team do day-to-day?

“We provide social workers with training related to direct social work and counselling practice such as basic and advanced counselling training, child development and parenting skills training, conflict resolution training, peaceful family training and more.

“This helps social workers to build their knowledge regarding strength-based and contextual approaches, and to improve their skills in listening, asking, responding and counselling.”

Chantrea told me that many of the social workers he helps to train are in fact survivors of abuse or human trafficking themselves, so having the support of the JND team is really valuable.
“This training also helps them to feel confident of doing their tasks with clients in the community. Some trainees have said they felt healed with their experiences because they had opportunity to express their feelings [to us] and reflect on their improvements.”

“The trauma-informed caregiver course was very important for me because I can now help my team and family. I also can share it to my community as well as I am able to help myself with trauma experiences.” 
Counsellor, ARM

Stories of hope

Although there are challenges still in the field of social work – “some organizations or managers do not give enough value to social workers, or do not know clearly what the practices are” – there is plenty to be hopeful about in Cambodia’s burgeoning social work sector.

“One organization which we worked with for a year runs a shelter for women survivors of human trafficking and sexual abuse.

“Most of their staff lacked knowledge and skills in their work field and they often did not have a social work degree or a relevant background. The supervisor requested our support in building capacity for her employees. JND provided them with training about case management and basic counselling, as well as a mentoring service for four months to support and encourage them to evaluate what they have learnt. We discussed the counselling process and cooperating between social worker, counsellor and house sister regarding cases.

"After we finished our support, the staff reported that they have improved their capacity and feel confident to deal with families and clients. They were also committed to continuing their learning.”

Chantrea explains that Jeut Nung Dai have also been responsible for organising a social work conference every year since 2013.

“The conference aims to strengthen networking and capacity-building of practitioners in Cambodia by sharing skills and expertise as well as discussing how to address certain challenges and difficulties encountered in their daily practices.”

Reducing vulnerability

Like many of Chab Dai’s projects, Jeut Nung Dai works to stop human trafficking and abuse through both direct and indirect means, as Chantrea affirms:

“We build the capacity of Chab Dai members and other staff, but we also go to the communities and sometimes provide direct counselling and group sessions. The main point is about reducing vulnerability.”

This seems an apt way to sum up not only the work of Jeut Nung Dai, but what Chab Dai is all about - empowering those working in counter human trafficking, and through this, reducing the vulnerability of Cambodian people.