Thida is a 17-year-old girl in Cambodia´s Siem Reap province. She has seven siblings and lives with her parents. The family lives on farming however, the father has an extra job as a private school gardener and the mother is also a Khmer noodle seller. Despite the efforts of Thida´s parents, the family still has debts. Four of Thida siblings dropped out of school and became farmers.
She was pressured by her mother, older brother, and sister to drop out of school so that she can support her parents to earn more income by farming. She cried and felt upset because she did not want to quit her studies.
Thida was quiet and did not have the confidence to talk to a big group but she was still a clever student in class.
Thida never heard about Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism (SECTT) before joining Terre des Hommes Netherlands’ WATCH (Working Actively Together for Children) project as a student volunteer. She frequently helped her mother sell products in tourist areas. While she did not realise that foreigners may not harm her and other children, she did not know how to protect herself and others. Thida was not aware of the grooming techniques used by offenders and how children who want to make money are particularly at risk.
“I felt shy and did not want to talk much to friends. I was concerned only about my family's livelihood and my parents wanted me to drop out of school”. Thida added “I thought the tourists who came to visit Cambodia for good reasons and there was no sexual exploitation of children”.
TDH selected Thida’s school to receive awareness raising events regarding sexual exploitation. Her school is located in a hotspot area where children are vulnerable to sexual exploitation. The aim of the WATCH project is to spread awareness about this issue by using children and youth volunteers to inform their community on how to protect themselves.
At the end of July 2019, Thida and three other students were selected by their teacher to join the project. The teacher proposed to them to join because they have been brave, have high commitment, and a good reputation in school.
Thida started with the project orientation in the following month. During the training, and awareness events at school, Thida has been an outstanding student (amongst a total of 24 WATCH’s school volunteers students).
Throughout the project, Thida was involved in many trainings and workshops organized by TDH such as Training of Trainers on SECTT, communications for development, facilitation skills, and basic financing which played a key role in co-facilitating awareness raising events in school.
Thida even represented TDH at the event celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Child Rights Convention organized by the Joining Forces Network in November 2019.
Thida learned very quickly how to positively influence her friends, family members, and other children in her community. Thida was offered the opportunity to do an activity and budget plan, and also lead pre-meeting with the team before the event happened. After every session, she and other volunteers reflected with the TDH team about their strengths, weaknesses, and shared how they could improve future events. Throughout the programme, Thida also learned how to make a video, write a story related to child rights, and develop posters for social media.
Thida has led her team to replicate awareness raising activities in her school with various groups of students. The girl is a fast learner and the most standout volunteer among the schools in the province. Before the event, she always organized a pre-meeting with peers to divide roles and calculated budget for the events. After each event, she did a minute report to TDH project staff.
When TDH´s field staff visited Thida’s home, they had a conversation with her parents. Her mother was pleased about her new found role in the community, “I am really happy to see my daughter become more courageous. I saw her and other children go to the training centers in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and saw them help children in the village after being trained”. Her mother was proud that she became a volunteer for a community project and she seemed positive to see her daughter become stronger, confident, and courageous.
Recently, Thida became a member of the child council in her school and will continue the work she is doing through the WATCH project. She leads other students to organize school gardening, and gathers resources for helping poor students.
Thida said, “I am braver than before and I have helped my classmates learn about sexual exploitation while building good relationships with them. I am now capable of writing stories, developing messages through posters and photos, and making videos for social media to promote self-protection among children and their friends”.
She added, “I am very pleased to join the WATCH project and I have learned a lot about SECTT. The WATCH project is helpful for children in school and community members because they gain knowledge and information on how to report to parents, teachers, local authorities and police about sexual exploitation in the community. It also gives the opportunity to teenagers to involve, build confidence and be a model for other kids in school and community as a whole.”
Thida looks forward to her future. She said, “My personal goal is to be a doctor to support myself and my family. Moreover, I want to continue helping other children and people in my community.” She added, “I feel optimistic about the future to see my environment safe where children have a better understanding of issues in their communities and how to protect themselves from it. I hope that the WATCH project will continue. I am committed to replicate the knowledge and experiences that I have gained in other schools and communities”.