Friday, September 10, 2010

Bloom in Cambodia

Posted by lea at 7:46 PM
I mentioned in a previous post that I'd been away, and that I'd write 'more about it later'. Well later is here now, so I thought I'd do a quick post about my trip.

The majority of my time was spent in Cambodia, where I volunteer in the Communications dept for Bloom Asia. Bloom was set up to help victims of trafficking in Cambodia, and currently runs a vocational training centre in the heart of Phnom Penh. Girls who have been rescued from trafficking are taught a vocational skill to help them create a new life, because without an alternative source of income, a huge majority of them will end up being re-trafficked within months, or even weeks of being rescued.

Sex trafficking is a very troubling issue in Cambodia, and is the result of a number of factors, the greatest of which is the crushing poverty of the country after the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Today, it is fueled by a highly sexualised, male-dominated society and a massive international sex tourism market.

I'm not going to go into all the figures and case studies of the victims - there's a lot of material out there already and suffice to say, it is horrific, soul-destroying stuff.

Instead, I'm going to talk about Bloom, because it's a place of hope, a place where students are taught the skills they need to create a better future. Girls who enter the program unable to even meet their trainer in the eye end up graduating with their heads held high. And rightly so. Their work is simply amazing.

Bloom's Hospitality Course, taught by Director Ruth Larwill, teaches the girls all the basics of hospitality (hygiene, service, etc) at an Australian Cert II level, and provides hands-on training working in a cafe, dealing with customers, baking a large variety of different cake recipes, and creating staggeringly beautiful sugar art. There is a large market for celebration cakes in Phnom Penh, and Bloom has managed to create a niche for itself with a cult following in just a few short months.

Here are a few images that will leave your jaw on the ground:

What is more amazing is that the majority of the students are not literate in their own language. This means that all classes are taught verbally, using flash cards, games and role play. For girls who have had little to no education, they are able to recite and recreate recipes on demand, and create sugar art that Ruth herself says exceeds her own abilities - and she's had over 20 years experience.

It is a privilege for me to be part of the Bloom team - people who are truly passionate about seeing these girls freed from a life of captivity, and creating a future full of promise and hope. The centre has such a great vibe - every morning all the students (and graduates, who are now full-time employees of the Cafe and Cakes business) sit around to plan their day, hear a short life-affirming message and play a game... speaking of which, you would NOT want to get caught between the girls and their games! They LOVE to play (evidence of their missing childhood?) and the shrieking and laughter (and competitiveness!) are a total buzz.

The girls are loved, appreciated, cared for and looked after by the Bloom staff, and are supported through their trials (literal legal trials against their traffickers and the punishing trials of daily life) like no other place I've ever seen.

While I was there, we had the privilege of being part of Bloom's third graduation. When the girls appeared in their gowns and caps to receive their certificates, the pride and emotion in the room were palpable. Parents who had experienced the deepest agony of seeing their child sold into a brothel now witnessed them being honoured, and the way they presented them with flowers and huddled around to take photos at the end was just beautiful.

A previous graduate had said that she'd been shunned by her community after she had been rescued, because they knew she'd been sold to a brothel, but when she graduated from Bloom and showed them the cake art she'd created, 'they told me that I had my value back.'

And that's what Bloom is about. It's about restoring worth and dignity upon girls from whom they have been unrightfully stolen. It's about bringing God's daughters back to a safe place where they can be nurtured to flourish. It's about doing what we can to stop injustice, which I think is part of our moral duty as a human being, let alone as a Christian who believes in a just and loving God. As Nike puts it so succinctly, we just gotta do it.

There are heaps of places on the internet where you can get more information about trafficking,  but here's a good place to start:

For more about Bloom, go to

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