Three planes, several security checks and twenty-four hours later, I landed in Cambodia. My senses were instantly stimulated. Cambodia, a country no bigger than the state of Missouri has a strong and seemingly impenetrable culture. Phnom Penh buzzes like a broken neon sign with Tuk Tuks and motorbikes zipping around, nary a traffic light, smoke pouring into the streets from food carts, inescapable heat and humidity, and the people of this flat city genuinely focused on whatever they are doing and wherever they are going. However, with all the noises and movement, it felt very much like there was a method to the madness. The Khmer way of life is like none other that I've experienced. But with a much needed night of sleep, I woke up eager to learn more about the Cambodian culture, hard facts in regards to exploitation and human trafficking and the growing community of NGOs coming together to find solutions.
On Sunday, without any formal plan, I connected with a few foreigners (non-Cambodians), all women currently in Cambodia either working with an organization or launching their own enterprise to bring solutions to further the anti-human trafficking movement. They gave me more insight to some of the history of human trafficking in Cambodia, as well as an in-depth view of the transformation happening in Phnom Penh specifically. I will explore this more as the trip unfolds. One major observation I have had is that back home in New York, we are receiving information about human trafficking abroad, but in reality, it is quite filtered. Being here for two days, in-field and meeting with just a handful of people so far has given me more clarity to the issue, the source, the major factors that add to the problem, the terminology, the research, what is being misunderstood and how to uphold the standards of the movement. All valuable information I am ardent to further discover.
Today, I felt more acquainted with the neighborhood to go exploring. I grabbed coffee at Vibe Asia. A charming and conscious-focused cafe that supports The Good Vibe Foundation by providing meals for School Children in Cambodia (more on that later!). I then tuk-tuk’d to Chab Dai Coalition to meet with a researcher from the Butterfly Project. A field-based research project, the Butterfly Team conduct interviews with both male and female participants who have received some form of assistance or care after experiences with sexual exploitation or trafficking. We also discussed the evolution of Freedom Businesses here in Cambodia, supply chains, garment factories, and how to yield long-term results when it comes to providing a future for a survivor. The rest of the week I’ll be meeting with more NGOs and Freedom Business Leaders to learn about the groundwork being laid to support exploited victims and survivors of human trafficking, as well as teaching at-risk women and survivors of human trafficking a foundations in entrepreneurship course at Nomi Network.
There is much more to learn, but I am passionate about bringing back knowledge, truth and the stories of hope to share with the growing community! And mixing in some fun in experiencing such and incredible and resilient city. If you want to keep up with the experience, follow the @WhoTheyAre or my personal Instagram feed, @ElenaMBaxter.
Founder, Who They Are