A direct report from GoPhil partner Free to Shine in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

While Cambodia has been largely unaffected by actual Covid cases until now, the ripple effects of the virus continue to be very much felt throughout the country. The government did a good job of containing the virus at the beginning of the pandemic, but this has been through keeping the country virtually closed to visitors, which has had a devastating effect on the tourism industry and the many jobs and family incomes that rely on it. Since July 2020, schools have partially re-opened, with most students currently studying part-time, and fully re-opened in January 2021. Our team of Education Officers has been able to continue in-person safety visits to the girls and to check on their family situations, which is absolutely crucial as families encounter increased economic difficulties and challenges at this time.

The assistance received from GoPhilanthropic donors has supported our key strategy pillar – creating safe families and communities for children – specifically in supporting Free To Shine Education Officers who are integral to the delivery of our entire program. During these last 6 months, this support has enabled Education Officers to deliver:

Safety Visits

Every single one of the girls on our program is visited by our team at least once a month, mostly in-person or via telephone during the early stages of the Covid-19 restrictions. The families on our program face challenging circumstances and it’s crucial we remain a trusted and regular presence in their life, even more so during a global pandemic. In these safety visits, our team works with the girls and their families to address complex factors such as poverty, unemployment, migration, illness, addiction, violence, family breakdown, and debt. The visits have also been crucial for our EOs to deliver emergency relief food packages, providing essential additional assistance to those families most in need.

“My job is to help girls who live in rural areas with poverty and complex family problems and to encourage them to attend school regularly. I know girls are most vulnerable to sex trafficking when they are uneducated and impoverished. Our safety visits are always important in helping the girls solve the problems they face but during Covid they are even more so because we want to make sure the girls keep up with their studies and don’t fall behind. We want them to stay committed to their education and give them the materials and encouragement they need.”
• Kunthea, Education Officer •

Continued Access to Education

Girls in the most marginalized communities with the lowest levels of education are the easiest targets for traffickers to manipulate because they are more likely to accept false promises of work. Being in school means a girl is regularly accounted for, and the likelihood of being approached by a trafficker is massively reduced. The skills she learns in school decrease the risk that she, or her future children, will ever be trafficked. Our core project provides all the materials a girl needs to attend school full-time; where schools have been partially closed due to Covid-19 restrictions, our EOs have delivered a mobile phone and credit so girls can continue their studies at home. This ensures that her access to education remains constant and uninterrupted, providing as smooth a transition as possible during the closures and subsequent return to the classroom.

Essential Community Safety Trainings

Creating safer communities for children starts with our monthly safety visits to the girls on our program – but it doesn’t end there. We work in partnership with local authorities and village leaders to build capacity and strengthen systems for all, not just the families on our program. Our EO’s deliver Free To Shine’s Community Training, which is open to all and covers topics such as child protection, sex trafficking, child development, drugs and alcohol, and more.

During the pandemic, we have also been able to deliver advice around hygiene measures, in line with WHO regulations to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Each workshop is designed to give everyone in the community the knowledge and skills they need to keep themselves and their loved ones safe and healthy.

“These workshops help us in the village to understand more about these issues and how we can protect and prevent our children and family. Every time we have more participants than we expected, sometimes even double. We like to work with Free To Shine because they always collaborate with us in helping children and our community.”
• Village Leader •

From all of us at Free To Shine, THANK YOU, to GoPhilanthropic Foundation’s generous donors for supporting our program and helping to keep girls safe, in school, and free from abuse in Cambodia.