My team and I left for Cambodia on a Wednesday evening – we flew out together on the Red-eye – to maximise the time we spent on the ground.
Our first stop was Phnom Penh – the capital.
Here, we had a few days to complete our curriculum prep – before we headed up to rural remote Stung Trong – three and a half hours north of the Capital by bus.
This is not an area where tourists would naturally flock to – in fact, for the country with the most NGO’s in the world, I only saw a few international English schools based there.
Travellers of another kind, however, are not so shy to travel to rural remote areas such as this one. I am talking about men who are seeking to buy women and children for sex, into marriage or to traffic and exploit.
On the trip, I had a qualified and experienced midwife, who was eager to provide birthing classes and share the birth kits and days for girls packs her nurse colleagues had donated to our human rights education field trip.
We also had a team member who was experienced in running children’s programs, and had prepared various activities around the teaching of their rights.
As we ran three to four programs a day, with a legal human rights training seminar day smack bang in the middle of the week for community leaders and elders, we realised how many little western visitors these rural remote villagers actually came across.
Armed with our interpreter, we were able to engage with the local women and children in a rich, cultural exchange, providing them resources and education that went to the heart of prevention and diversion of gender based violence and human trafficking.
The aim, of course, was empowerment and education.
Education is empowerment itself.
Couple that with resources or a practical ‘how-to’, this can be powerful for women who were not aware that they had particular rights in the first place.
This, in itself was a sensitive topic to discuss, for how do you speak about justice in a Nation, and to a generation who lived through the Khmer Rouge Regime, and how do you talk of rights to a people who experience unlawful detention for merely speaking out about their rights.
I spoke to various locals I met in Phnom Penh, and asked them why, if the people were disgruntled with their leader, do they not simply use the power of the vote to un-elect him?
Aside from the obvious challenge of corruption and stacking durning ‘democratic’ elections in Cambodia, the people expressed fear and trepidation over the thought of ever expressing how they truly felt publicly.
They just did not see voting honestly as an option.
This goes to the heart of how dictatorships are kept in power – rule by fear, rigged elections, imprisonments of anyone who disagrees with the regime, and an encouragement of corruption of the minority elite and oppression of the majority poor.
Within such an economic climate, where welfare simply does not exist, there is no middle class – how can there be, if there are no options for education, career advancement, free thinking and enterprise, and the freedom to speak out and stand up for your rights.
It is in the context of this suppressive regime that the most vulnerable – women and children living in poverty – are victimised by western and eastern tourists.
The western tourists come for cheap sex with women and children.
The eastern tourists come looking to buy little girls as their wives.
As an unintended consequence of not only the one child policy in China, but also the practice of infanticide, there are many Chinese grown men who cannot find wives for themselves in their home country.
Those who can, come to countries such as Cambodia and Laos, to purchase an underaged girl to be his wife.
We worked with families who had sold their thirteen year old little girl to marriage with a Chinese man, for the girl only to be rejected once she had his child.
This left the young 15 year old girl rejected, abandoned and ashamed in both communities, uneducated and with no opportunities.
This is a prime example of the kind of girls who are subsequently targeted for sexual enslavement in local brothels – and then trafficked abroad.
This is the reason that we have such a strong emphasis on the education and empowerment of women and children of their rights, to understand the criminality behind human trafficking and to know how to spot it’s dangers.
Although the universal and inalienable rights of women and children to dignity, worth and value, to subsist, to education, to safety cut across all social and cultural context should prevail, it is also important to provide community leaders and elders with specific training and empowerment.
We began our one day training seminar to leaders and elders on legal human rights and human trafficking training by confronting the obvious.
What does justice look like, where does justice come from, and how can we realise justice for our own communities, if we have personally experienced such grave injustice.
We had these conversations in traditional hut homes, eating traditional Cambodian dishes with local leaders and elders, open to learning about their culture, and sharing – with open arms with them resources and knowledge they could use to impart into their communities in a sustainable way.
For a country that has historically experienced subjugation, slavery and exploitation, it is generations of thinking and behaviour that need to be addressed.
For example, the Angkor Wat Temples that were built in the ‘Golden Age’ of Cambodia were built with the blood of slaves – for our tourism pleasure – as one researcher puts it.
Our approach was to combine therapeutic jurisprudential thinking to human rights, providing legal and advocacy training – which is imperative for personal growth, personal ownership of concepts such as the rule of law, and the training of community leaders to realise a more just and more free community in their tomorrows.
It is for these reasons that Fighting for Justice Foundation will continue our annual field trips to various countries across Asia – partnering with key strategic community leaders, elders and NGO’s who have the capacity and influence to be trained so that they can empower their own communities in the prevention and diversion of not only human trafficking but also gender based violence social norms.
If you would like to partner with Fighting or Justice Foundation on our next Field Trip, donate your skills or time, or if you would like to contribute to our travel expenses, resource expenses or directly to the communities on the ground whom we partner with, please contact us here.