Speech by Renay Farrell, Business Project Coordinator, Friends-International. Presented to WiTR members during TFWA Asia Pacific, May 2019.
Firstly, I would like to thank Colleen and Gerry for the opportunity to be here this evening for the Women in Travel Retail networking event, it’s truly an honour.
For those of you I haven’t met, my name is Renay Farrell and I have the privilege of working for Friends-International, based at our headquarters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
On behalf of Friends-International, it gives me great pleasure to thank you all so much for kindly and generously choosing our Beauty Vocational Training and Education Support in Siem Reap as your program to support in 2019.
As a brief introduction, Friends is an award-winning international social enterprise that has been operating since 1994. 25 years ago, our founder and executive director, Sebastien Marot, landed in Phnom Penh, an unplanned visit with his friends while traveling throughout Southeast Asia. Sebastien was overwhelmed and shocked by the sheer volume of children living on the streets. He quickly learned that these children wanted to go to school and get an education – and changed his plans to stay in Phnom Penh and focus his efforts on these children and youth to give them a better chance at life. Fast forward to the present day and we are now in 23 countries through our partner operations and have physical offices in six. Sebastien’s vision has created an organisation focused on ‘Saving Lives and Building Futures’ of the most marginalised children, youth and their families through a number of programs which provide outreach and social services, drug & alcohol rehabilitation, support groups, remedial education, the reintegration of children back to school, as well as training and jobs to their caretakers to ensure they stay in school. And these are just a few examples! Vocational training is one of our key programs to help break the cycle of poverty and improve the lives of the most marginalised children and youth. And the most at risk is always female youth.
Marginalised female youth in Cambodia continually face many barriers to access employment including lack of education and the ability to pay for training. Often living on the streets, they are forced to work in hazardous occupations such as construction, scavenging, sex work or begging – leaving them vulnerable to health risks and abuse.
And by supporting our beauty vocational training program, you will be actively taking a part in breaking this cycle.
Our vocation training programs – offered to youth aged between 15-24 years of age – lead to stable and quality employment. Personally, I’ve seen the behind the scenes work of our social workers in encouraging youth to have a better chance at life. When I first joined Friends I had the opportunity to experience our Mobile Night Bus which visits various locations in Phnom Penh where sex workers operate, every night. Our Mobile Night Bus is amazing – it provides services to these sex workers including those from the LGBTQI community, such as free HIV testing, counseling and support from our social workers, and even an area in the bus where they can ‘freshen’ up with the make-up and hair products provided by our teams. On my Mobile Night Bus experience, a 22 year old female was getting advice from our social services team as she was hoping to get out of the sex industry and stop being a sex worker on the street, but she couldn’t find a way out as she had to support her brother and sick mum. On average, she would earn up to $15 a night – as little as $5 a ‘job’. Our social workers spent a long time listening to her, counseling and offering alternatives – via our vocational training programs where she could learn a trade, graduate and get our support with employment. It was reassuring to know that our social workers would continue meeting with her to support her to join our vocation training programs.
Our beauty vocational training is one of seven programs offered by Friends, including hospitality, barber, motor mechanic, electrical, welding and sewing.
Our beauty vocational training program runs for eight months with a curriculum which provides market-aligned quality technical skills within a classroom environment and importantly within our beauty and nail training salons. Equally important, our programs also offer psycho-social counseling, basic literacy and numeracy, Khmer and English lessons, as well as a significant focus on soft skills: personal development via confidence-building, emotion and stress management, along with collaborative working skills designed to truly empower the youth in our programs.
In addition, the program links students to a full range of basic social services such as medical referrals to hospitals, support to obtain legal documents (as many Khmer children and youth born after the Khmer Rouge ruling do not own birth certificates for example), a meal each day, transport to and from training, as well as short-term housing if required.
After graduating, the students then progress to our Futures Office where our employment experts help the students secure employment or assist them in starting a micro-enterprise. Friends has a growing network of hundreds of local businesses who accept graduates as interns, apprentices or full-time employees. For self-employment, Friends can sponsor the equipment and material needed for start-ups until they become self-sustainable (six to 12 months on average).
Last year, 43 girls studied in our beauty vocational training program:
- 30 were newly enrolled
- 27 were placed in employment and 16 rolled over to continue their training in 2019
We have experiences where students have graduated, are placed in full-time employment thanks to the Futures team, progress in their new roles and then return to be a vocational training teacher in our programs.
I’d now like to share a story from one of our graduates – her name has been changed for privacy reasons, so we will refer to her as Theary:
“My mother was a karaoke girl (entertainment worker) and I have two other sisters with different fathers. My mother placed me and my sisters into many orphanages in Phnom Penh. In the orphanage I went to school until Level 5, but when I eventually moved back in with my mother I wasn’t able to continue my education because she kept moving house. I never felt safe, so I decided to move in with my grandparents in a rural area. But I could never go to school because it was more than an hour away on foot on a quiet road. My grandmother soon got sick and passed away. I was left with only my grandpa in that old cottage, very isolated. I was always scared and insecure. I was going to move back to the orphanage, but I met an old lady who told me about Friends-International where a new chapter of my life began. I felt relieved when I walked into the center. A few staff happily introduced themselves, and I was shown around the center before I decided to join the Beauty training. It was then that I regained all my hope to become someone better. I was offered a safe place to stay in the group home where I get to live with 3 other girls. I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity: everything is free for me, I can access all the necessary facilities and it feels like home. I have lots of new friends and they are very nice to me, and we are all from similar backgrounds. I’m now in the second level of Beauty training, and I take other classes like Khmer literacy, English, and computers. My life has changed a lot. I never thought of getting skills or trying be anyone better, but Friends has changed my perspective on life. I enjoy my training here, getting to learn new things every day. In the future, I believe that I will be able to use my skills to support myself with a good job. I have big dreams to get a house where I can live happily with my mother and sisters. I hope I can get everything I want and make up for what I missed when I was young. I also have a message to other young people: study hard to get the skills you need for a good job and a better future. And I want Friends to keep helping the young people like me to achieve their goals.”
Looking at the future for students like Theary, is where the Women In Travel Retail comes in! Your support will allow many girls in Siem Reap find employment and get out of the slums, the drug dens, off the streets and out of the sex industry. The cycle will be broken and they will have a new chance at life!
We have already seen the huge impact of Women in Travel Retail with introductions to various companies in your network to partner with us through program support and capacity development, or n buying our products. We would love to discuss partnership opportunities with more of you, and really believe this is the start of a fantastic relationship.
Once again, from everyone at Friends, thank you for your kind and generous support which will allow us to continue our work in supporting marginalised youth and children. We look forward to continuing a positive and long-lasting relationship with Women in Travel Retail and to keeping in touch along the way.
Enjoy the rest of your evening!