Zoe de Melo is the Project Manager and the Country Representative for Terre des Hommes Netherlands in Cambodia. Eager in helping children to have a better understanding of their own rights and freedoms, she supports all programmes in the country to achieve just that.
Zoe became part of Terre des Hommes, about a year ago. In Cambodia, TDH has three projects that respectively focus on stopping early child marriages, online exploitation, and commercial exploitation through tourism. Located in various areas in the country, these projects change Zoe’s tasks frequently.
“I have very diverse roles and responsibilities. On a daily basis, I do my best to support our field staff and partners to implement the projects. I also represent TDH in meetings with government partners and other non-government organizations to achieve good coordination and advocacy. More broadly, I am in charge of developing strategies for the country office and preparing for the future”.
The projects in Cambodia have been operating since 2018. With just a few years of supporting children in the country, there has been massive progress in advocacy work at both national and provincial levels.
With country wide projects, challenges are also present. Zoe explains, “The biggest challenge is being able to adapt to an environment which is always changing. We constantly need to assess where and how abuse and exploitation are happening”.
Slowly but surely, changes in the country regarding child protection are becoming present according to Zoe. “I was so happy when I heard that, after being involved in only a few of our awareness raising activities, a girl volunteer was able to reach out to our staff and local authorities and raised her voice to refuse getting married as a child”, she said.
She hopes to continue seeing these types of changes in Cambodia, where children feel that they are empowered.
“I believe that with our strong participatory approach in the communities that we work with, we help youth become confident and empowered adults who will know their rights and decide for themselves”.
Despite COVID-19 cases being low and remaining controlled in Cambodia, Zoe and her team continue to follow health and hygiene guidelines. Due to the importance of protecting children from abuse and exploitation, work had to continue. She added, “we have prioritized the online engagement of our youth volunteers and encouraged them to support their peers to cope with the effects of school closure”.