Why does it happen?
The Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970’s and subsequent civil war into the 1990’s dismantled every part of Cambodian society. Civil war, genocide and the subsequent impact of post-traumatic stress have allowed the social fabric of society to unravel. Unresolved anger and pain felt by so many has resulted in extensive domestic violence and an environment where the weakest can be taken advantage of and abused. Substance abuse and gambling have led many Cambodians, already living in extreme poverty, into further debt. Families become desperate for income and, many become vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation.
Many young women are convinced by traffickers to travel to neighbouring countries with the promise of educational or employment opportunities only to discover that the opportunities are often fraudulent. Many of these women become trapped in exploitative labour situations or forced marriages which leave them traumatized, broken, and ashamed, and often without the proper documentation to return home.
Saddled with the heavy burden of providing for their family, the allure of higher wages in Thailand leads thousands of Cambodian men to migrate across the border each year. Many migrants soon find themselves in highly exploitative work situations in Thai fishing and construction industries. Sadly, many of these men return home shattered physically and emotionally after months or years of abuse and exploitation.
We believe that there is hope even in the midst of darkness. We work to empower Cambodians and confront exploitation through these 4 key areas.
RATANAK ACHIEVEMENT PROGRAM (RAP)
A reintegration program providing transitional services (either in a live-in or outpatient format) for young women who are survivors of domestic or international sexual and labour exploitation. Women have access to repatriation assistance as well as supplementary life skills training alongside their vocational training, or further academic pursuits.
MEN’S ACHIEVEMENT PROGRAM (MAP)
Development of a pilot project to provide services to exploited men. Particular focus is on men who are caught in labour trafficking situations across the Thai-Cambodia border. Men and their families will have access to counselors and social workers as well as opportunities to pursue job skills training.
CASE MANAGEMENT SUPPORT PROJECT
A repatriation program based on NGO collaboration designed to empower and assist Cambodian women and men who have been exploited and trafficked internationally. In-country assistance is provided to some of the trafficking survivors returning to Cambodia using the RAP home as either a residential or outpatient location. Assistance is also given to help clients reintegrate back into families as well as provide support in the search for permanent housing, education, and employment.
COMMUNITY HERO PREVENTION PROJECT
Prevention, intervention and awareness training programs in at-risk communities through equipping volunteer community trainers. Focuses include educating communities on issues of human trafficking, sexual abuse, illegal migration and ways to protect children and child rights.
LIEM MIGRANT ACCESS CENTRE PROJECT
Operation of a new non-residential Migration Access Centre located at the Liem Border Gate (along Thai-Cambodia border). The MAC focusses on migrants returning from Thailand and seeks to disrupt the trafficking cycle at the point of deportation by offering Cambodian migrants access to initial assistance, information on safe migration, referrals to other agencies, and help in returning to their homes.
EMPOWERMENT TRAINING PROJECT
This project addresses the vulnerable working conditions and lack of empowerment experienced by women working in the Karaoke Bars and Beer Gardens (KBB) in four neighbourhoods in Phnom Penh. It provides training of current KBB workers as Peer Leaders to lead life skills classes to other KBB workers. These classes help the women to develop strategies to prevent further exploitation and position them with the life skills to make different life choices for their future.
PREY ROMEAS OUTREACH PROJECT
Operation of an office skills training school in an at-risk community on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Training includes on-going English and computer literacy classes. Weekly activities are also provided to children in the village as well as various other community care initiatives.
CRISIS PREGNANCY SUPPORT PROJECT
Establishment of a crisis pregnancy outreach centre in Battambang – Cambodia’s second largest city. Vulnerable women are supported through improved access to essential social, emotional, and health services during their pregnancies. Providing these services to women who are vulnerable will help to reduce the discrimination and exploitation many of them face as a result of their circumstances.
Equip Cambodians to prevent exploitation
One way to confront human trafficking and exploitation is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Ratanak seeks to address the root causes of exploitation by teaching villagers what human trafficking is and how it works. The training is entirely community-based and indigenous, run by Cambodians who minister to their own people. It has grown into a respected institution where village chiefs, local police, pastors and government officials all study together for the protection and blessing of the families around them. We also believe that prevention requires both awareness and opportunities, and seek to equip the vulnerable with sustainable living opportunities.
This year, we’re helping three vulnerable communities near the Thai-Cambodia border build rice mills. These rice mills will provide an additional source of sustainable income to reduce the risk of unsafe migration and trafficking. By milling their own rice, families will be able to mill and sell not only the processed rice, but also the husks, broken bits, and bran that are by-products of milling. Greater income for families also means safer and more secure communities, less at risk of being tricked into human trafficking.
Work collaboratively to protect the vulnerable
Ratanak is passionate in our desire to assist in the rebuilding of social structures that will allow this beautiful country to once again care for and protect its own people. Our programs address the needs of those who are marginalized by society and left without support due to a lack of social or government structures.
Help the trafficked return home
As Cambodia emerges from decades of conflict and war that destabilized the nation’s economy and societal structure, rapid economic growth has increased the gap between the poor and the rich. This growth is largely evident in urban centres, and not in rural areas where 91% of the poor live. An inadequate education system and limited vocational opportunities, especially for youth, have led to a large number of unskilled workers unable to find employment to support their families. In search of more opportunities, workers leave their families for urban centres, or cross the border to nearby countries, where they are highly vulnerable to exploitation. Many of them are trafficked or forced into labour and sexual exploitation. Ratanak collaborates with embassies, government officials, and local authorities to bring Cambodians who have been trafficked overseas back home to their families. We provide counselling, care packages, medical check-ups and offer them the opportunity to develop skills that can equip them to safely support their families in the future.
We also seek to promote safe migration to decrease the risk of trafficking and re-trafficking. This year’s we’re starting a new initiative at a major border crossing. Thousands of Cambodians migrate illegally to Thailand every year in search of jobs. Deported workers sent back to Cambodia have limited access to food, water and transportation. Those exploited by employers, traffickers, and corrupt authorities are left with no money and are at greater risk of being re-exploited at the border. We’ll be helping to set up a centre to provide basic needs support for migrants, share the love of Christ, and also identify victims of exploitation to offer further help through other agencies.
Persevere in love to restore survivors
After survivors of exploitation have escaped or been rescued, they still face a long journey of healing to find freedom psychologically and emotionally. Often the transition out of that life is difficult and sometimes even life-threatening. The effects of repeated trauma are long-term, and last for years. They endure social stigma on a daily basis, and must still find ways to support their families despite few opportunities for jobs or an education. We empower survivors, once vulnerable, exploited and oppressed, to live with dignity and hope. With continued counselling, life skills training, education, and a supportive community environment, young women are provided the emotional and physical skills and self-reliance needed for a successful life away from exploitation.