Dear anyone who may be reading this blog post,
Depending on how long you have been following this blog, you may or may not have read my post about last year’s Project Week. I would recommend reading that post before this one, as many of my reflections are based on comparisons with the Project Week last year.
As with last year’s post, there are many sensitive details about the girls and the centre that cannot be revealed or shown online (this includes names, stories, pictures etc.), so you will have to just bear with me and my vagueness.
Our trip to the AFESIP centre this year was very different from our trip last year. Last year we went to Siem Reap centre for a whole week, where the girls were all between 14 and 34 years old. This year, my group went to Tom Dy centre for four days, where the girls were between 4 and 20 years old. The rest of the week was spent visiting NGOs and cultural heritage sites in Phnom Penh.
One of the major differences that I think affected the quality of the trip, for me, was the composition of students that went on the trip. Last year, the group that went together on Project Week to Siem Reap was very close-knit, and we had no communication or cooperation troubles. This year I felt as though there were three or four very distinct groupings of students that had just been thrown together for Project Week, which led to us not being able to work as well together as I had been expecting.
While preparing for Project Week this year, I had been anticipating that the girls and women in the centre would be of all ages, so from children all the way up to mid-30s. When we arrived at the centre, we quickly realized that there were only younger girls left in the centre, and none of the girls that Josef, Fleur or I knew from last year remained in the centre. That was tough to think about for the first couple of days.
For the duration of the four days my group spent at the centre, we danced and sang a lot, as well as carrying out art activities and various games. We walked (read: carried) the younger girls to and from school every day, and I also spent a lot of my time with one of the very youngest girls after school. She was very entertaining; she would have me carry her around the centre as she reached out to test all of the light switches, after which she would point in the direction of the stairs and have me walk up and down the stairs for ages and ages while carrying her. On the way up the stairs, she would count in Khmer. On the way down, she counted in English.
Our group didn’t get to do any drama or art therapies in the group, due to a lack of time. I found this very disappointing on a couple of different levels; lots of us had prepared to run drama and art therapies (which led to a lot of our preparation being wasted), and there were several students in my group that I thought would have benefited from seeing the therapies and how different the girls become during the therapies, going in an instant from blissfully happy to hysterical crying. Perhaps it would have helped the message we try to convey in SAS sink in a little further.
Halfway through the week, we swapped over with the second group of students, who had spent the first half of the week visiting NGOs and cultural heritage sites, and were headed to the centre to spend the second half of the week there.
During our time in Phnom Penh, we visited two cultural heritage sites (Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and The Killing Fields) and a few NGOs/social enterprises (Liberty Asia, Chab Dai Coalition, Daughters of Cambodia). We also watched the movie The Killing Fields. I found it very interesting to learn more about Cambodia’s past and violent history.
The highlight of our time in Phnom Penh must have been when some of the members of our group walked past a café that we knew employed former victims of sex trafficking. We stopped by, originally thinking that we would ask them a couple of questions about which NGOs their employees were referred to them from. When we went in, we quickly realized that one of the baristas was a girl that Josef and I knew from Siem Reap from the year before. It was really nice to catch up with her both there and at a dinner later the same evening and to find out what the girls from the Siem Reap centre were up. It was really good to not wonder anymore about whether they were still under AFESIP’s protection.
In summary – I’d say this trip was very different to the trip last year, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I think that last year I was much more shocked by everything that happened at the centres, especially due to the therapies. This year I was not so shocked, and so I don’t feel that my time at the centre this year will have left as much of an impact as last year’s trip did. Nevertheless, I thought it was a very good use of our time in Phnom Penh to visit other NGOs and cultural heritage sites, to know more of Cambodia’s “background”.
Sorry about there not being many pictures! I am unable to post any from the centre or of the girls.