This year Lotus Outreach International is celebrating 25 years of service. Although I am supposedly its chair, I have to say at the start that all the achievements and successes of Lotus Outreach are entirely due to the outstanding work of our volunteers and donors. Still, I am moved on this 25th anniversary to tell you a bit of our history – where we started and where we’ve come.
What began as a small project aiding Tibetan refugees in 1993 has expanded to be an international organization with affiliates in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia dedicated to helping some of the most forgotten, neglected, and suffering groups on this earth. Lotus Outreach believes that real change starts in the hearts and minds of individuals. Through transforming individuals, Lotus Outreach programs transform communities in ways that will reverberate for generations.
Working with local partners means Lotus Outreach can reach the most remote areas of north and south India, and many provinces across Cambodia. Here’s a few examples:
In Haryana, India, we have seen real change in the education sector, and in the increased willingness of parents to send girls to school. Lotus Outreach is now recognized nationally and internationally for its work in the fight against gender discrimination. Girls who never had the opportunity are now going to school.
In Mewat, Haryana, and in Rajasthan, for example, Lotus Outreach provides daily, safe transportation to girls and women who could otherwise not go to school. Without this safe transport, these girls would face early marriages, and rigid social restrictions. After many years of riding our bus, many young women are at the university level, and even pursuing masters degrees.
In Rajasthan, Lotus Outreach also trains health workers and teaches good nutrition practices to prenatal and postnatal mothers who know too well the devastating fact that one third of all the world’s malnourished children live in India. In Tamil Nadu, Lotus Outreach tutors the lowest caste child laborers so that they can stay in school instead of being forced to work in dire conditions.
Two thirds of Cambodian children receive only an elementary school education. So, young, poorly educated girls of families living in poverty are highly vulnerable to trafficking and many forms of exploitation.
Keeping this in mind, it’s heartwarming to reflect that we have provided post abuse counseling to more than 1000 victims of trafficking and sexual abuse since 2005, especially as most of them were children.
We should rejoice that Lotus Outreach has protected literally thousands of girls from the poorest families through its education and professional skills training programs.
The education, counseling and rehabilitation Lotus Outreach provides across Cambodia, transforms the lives of young girls and women who otherwise face lives in brothels, beer gardens, massage parlours, or working their entire lives in the fields.
These bright young women return to their communities with a passion to improve them. Because 90% of these young women’s earnings go towards their families and communities, Lotus Outreach’s investment in their education, health, and wellbeing nourishes sustainable wellbeing in their communities. When you educate girls, communities thrive.
In both India and Cambodia, students served by Lotus Outreach projects are getting education they would never have dreamed possible. And at the most practical level, Lotus Outreach’s Wells Project in Cambodia provides access to clean drinking water so villagers no longer have to walk long distances to get murky, disease-bearing water. They now have clear water at their doorstep and can bathe, shower, and drink without concern. In all these ways, Lotus Outreach changes people’s lives and social conditions.
I have worked closely with our Lotus Outreach volunteers working in both India and Cambodia and visited Lotus Outreach programs there and plan to do so again soon. In this age of confusion and aggression, it is inspiring that that we can do at least something to relieve at least some of the world’s suffering.
Again, I especially want to thank Lotus Outreach’s volunteers whose dedication minimizes administration costs and enables donations to go fully towards the actual projects on the ground. And I particularly want to thank the donors for their ongoing support that has made 25 years of creative, strategic, and thoughtful work possible.
I want to take this 25th anniversary opportunity to aspire for Lotus Outreach’s continued success to serve the needs of present and future generations.
Today is the day we celebrate the story of women. A story about strength, love, and empowerment. Stories must start somewhere, and the beginning is the most important part. What do beginnings look like? For marginalized girls in Cambodia, beginnings look like our GATE program that delivers scholarships to girls who are at-risk or survivors of violence, or our Lotus Pedals program that supplies all-terrain bicycles to the poorest girls living far from school. In India, beginnings look like our LEARN program which fights for children’s rights to a free education, or the Blossom Bus program that provides daily transportation to and from school for adolescent minority girls.
Join us in celebrating women’s social, economic, cultural and political achievements and help us raise $10,000 so that we can be a part of the women of the future’s empowerment story.
For Canadian donors please make your donations on this website.
Gender-based violence is prevalent throughout Cambodia. Widespread rape is a reality that many Cambodian women must confront and often without emotional, psychological or legal support. Our program, Counseling and Reintegration, executed by our local partner CWCC, serves to counsel and reintegrate survivors in addition to raising social awareness regarding such gender-based violence in order prevent further assaults.
The following story demonstrates the beneficial work this program can accomplish with your further support!
Nai Lee* aged 14 from Banteay Meanchey, often had to stay with her mother’s cousin at the border area, because her mother worked as a laborer along the Cambodian-Thailand border. During one stay, a strange man Lee did not know sexually raped her. Although Lee did not tell her mother after the rape, Lee did tell a neighbor who soon after told her mother.
Hearing about the incident, Lee’s mother skipped work and immediately took Lee to the police station to file out a complaint to pursue the rapist. Lee’s case was then taken to Banteay Meanchey provincial police station for legal proceedings. Through interviews, the crime division was able to identify the suspect and later arrest the man.
Lee was referred by the crime division to stay at CWCC’s safe shelter and receive program services. Although Lee received good medical care by the shelter staff including accommodation, meals and clothing, she suffered deep mental fear. Lee still hated men. She could not relax. She spoke in a very loud voice when meeting with the counselors and the shelter staff. She had arguments with other clients in the shelter as well.
Our team supported Lee through this difficult period and provided her with individual and group counseling sessions. She also underwent art therapy techniques such as drawing and painting. Lee was excited about such art therapy and ultimately reduced arguments with other clients, while our staff witnessed significant improvements in her mental health.
After this period of counseling, the CWCC’s reintegration team met her to discuss her plan to return to her regular life based on her request to reunite with her family. Through family and community assessment, the CWCC’s reintegration team supported Lee with a life start-up grant including sleeping and kitchen materials, groceries, and a stipend from funding provided by Lotus Outreach.
In return, Lee’s mother stated: “I am happy for the quick actions by authorities and CWCC’s support… my daughter's case has gone through the legal process and the perpetrator was arrested and is being prosecuted for his crime.”
Since this statement, Lee’s perpetrator has been sentenced to 7 years in jail and Lee was awarded financial compensation. In addition, CWCC’s reintegration team has been conducting ongoing visits to see Lee’s progress and to provide ongoing counseling and support as needed. Although Lee has not fully healed up till this point and still faces significant distress, this program has allowed Lee to make huge strides in her healing process and also in reintegrating her back into her regular life.
Support Lotus Outreach and our partner, CWCC, to help so many other girls like Lee that are in profound need of such important aid!*Nai Lee’s name has been changed to protect her identity
The GATE and GATEways objective is to enhance the life options of at-risk girls and their families and to reduce their vulnerability to violence and trafficking. The GATE program currently provides primary and secondary educational scholarships and holistic support to 422 girls in Banteay Meanchey, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh provinces. This past year 87 GATEways scholars were supported by Lotus Outreach and Cambodian Women’s Crises Center (CWCC) which was made possible through the support of donors like you. The following is Sima's story, a driven scholar that has been supported by both the GATE and GATEways program.
Sima, who is currently twenty-three, joined the GATE program in tenth grade. Sima states, “My family situation was such that going from grade sixth to grade seventh my parents wanted me to drop school and I did not attend school in the 2nd semester. Being very young at that time I had to follow my parents, and although the CWCC were looking for scholarship girls, my parents did not hear about it.”
When Sima was in ninth grade her parents were again putting pressure on her to drop out of school due to family poverty. Once the school principle found out she immediately approached Sima’s parents and let them know that she Sima could receive a GATE scholarship if they kept her in school.
While Sima was receiving her GATE scholarship, she was determined to make a positive change for all of the GATE scholars. It is importantly noted that when Sima sees room for improvement, she lets people know! Sima was the first student to request rice support which inevitably became part of the GATE program. Sima also requested that stipends be distributed in the beginning of the month rather than middle, to make paying rent and purchasing food easier. Sima has shown signs of her forward thinking since high school!
Sima said, “I was the special case in 2010 and while two other girls didn’t get the funds until later, I got my stipend every month.” Sima reflects on her past, “In grade 11 I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. One of my friends told me she wanted to be a lawyer and we were one and two in the class. We were very competitive. We also ended up studying in the same university and we were always competing, she even did the French degree as well.”
Upon her graduation a few years later she received a scholarship at the Royal University of Law and Economics. After graduating from University with a double degree in Law and French with the support of GATEways, Sima received a scholarship to peruse her Masters degree in Law. Although this was a great opportunity, Sima’s family requested that she take a few years off of school because they needed her to work to help make ends meet.
In July 2014, Sima started at working for ADHOC(The Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association). Since then, her salary has increased impressively and she is now sending more than half of her salary home to her family. Some of the money that she is sending home is supporting one of her sisters in school.
Sima speaks about her recent job experience, “First I was working for enfant du Mekong as a social worker, not really the job I wanted. Then I saw there was a job available at ADHOC. The job is teaching Law to the community and I really love that. It was especially interesting to me as it is helpful to the community to teach them about rights. Sometimes I advise them on how to approach the court – domestic violence/gender/women’s rights/marriage – right age and not forced – marriage certificate – many of them don’t therefore have marriage certificate / rape.”
“70% of the rape cases I have put forward have been processed in the court and I do the follow-up to ensure case are being taken up or issue a legal position to push the process and ensure the case is going through the court toward a verdict,” Sima says proudly(rightfully so!).
Sima plans to go back to school to earn her Masters in Law after a few years of working. We are encouraging her because of the great work we know she will do and the many lives that she will impact.
Imagine, even the fact we are interviewing Mary at the RUPP in this college exclusive to 1% of the population. Mary comes from a family of illiterate parents to 10 children trying to live off earnings from a small plot of land that was further reduced in size and earning capacity in order to pay medical expensesfor their 2nd child, a boy. The family resources were further reduced when the oldest son left for Thailand, took a wife of his own and we assume, began fending for his own family. It is certain that only an external and multifaceted intervention of the GATE, GATEways and STREAM programs taking her from Grade 9 through HS graduation to complete her University degree.
22 year old Namthorng Thom from Banteay Meanchey Province entered LO’s GATE (Girls’ Access to Education program) as poorest of the poor high school girl before entering tertiary training, again under support from LO’s, STREAM (Skill -Training, Education Matching) program, and is now a highly sought after computer systems network administrator working in Phnom Penh.