Integrated Support is Vital to the Safety of Cambodian Youth - Peace Boat visits Sihanoukville (2018)
Sihanoukville, Cambodia's primary seaport, is experiencing a rapid economic boom. Large amounts of investment capital are flowing its into construction, manufacturing, and tourism industries, and migrants from across the country have traveled to the port city in hope of benefiting from this financial growth. Unfortunately, they often lack the skills and formal education preferred by employers, and so find themselves unemployed and isolated from the familial support of their home communities. Many up living in Sihanoukville's slums, where both they and their children enter into a dangerous cycle of poverty and exploitation. During Peace Boat's visit to Sihanoukville, participants had the opportunity to learn about local efforts to improve and prevent such situations through the collaborative work of several NGOs (non-governmental organizations).
Participants began their day by visiting Sandan, a restaurant run by M'Lop Tapang (Khmer for "protective umbrella tree") and supported by Southeast Asian restaurant network Tree Alliance, which seeks to provide youth with employable skills. The event began with a presentation from M'Lop Tapang's Iv Sok, who explained how his organization works to protect children and youth from sexual or labour exploitation through a comprehensive system of support programming for at-risk youth and their families. "Since 2003, M'Lop Tapang's programming has supported all areas of youth development," said Mr Sok. "For example, we offer social programmes and family mediation, arrange for medical treatment, assist with housing repairs, and provide vocational programmes to help youth find employment. We also run addiction support services and an emergency safe haven for children in dangerous situations-and our half-day supplementary education programmes allow many of the children we work with to be the first in their families to attend school." Of an estimated 500 street children living in Sihanoukville, 350 of them are enrolled in M'Lop Tapang's programmes. The full reach of their 2017 efforts supported approximately 5000 local children and 2000 families.
Another key partner in child protection is the Childsafe Movement, an international organization with offices in 18 countries (including Japan) seeking to build global awareness of the importance of child safety. Childsafe Movement team leader Ratana Ouk explained that everyone has the capacity to engage in responsible tourism, advising Peace Boat participants to avoid tours which feature children as spectacle, to engage with youth only under the guidance of locals familiar with their unique cultural and social systems, and to refrain from purchasing goods sold by child street vendors. Such recommendations are taken from the Childsafe Movement's membership training programme, which teaches and certifies individuals and organizations to effectively employ the organization's extensively research best practices. "Many tourists who think that they're helping children can inadvertently cause them more harm than good," said Mr Ouk, "We're there to make sure their positive intentions equal positive outcomes."
After these important presentations, participants were ready to enjoy a meal from Sandan's menu of Cambodian specialties. Tree Alliance, who also operates restaurants in Laos, Thailand and Myanmar, supports the general operations of Sandan so that M'Lop Tapang can focus on helping its mentees develop the life skills necessary to finish their education and find secure employment. Youth earn safe income for themselves and their families, and Sandan's profits are reinvested into M'Lop Tapang's programming. Peace Boat participants were treated to a course of Cambodian favourites including fresh peppercorns and curried beef stew.
After finishing their meal, participants had the opportunity to purchase fair-trade goods and handicrafts by some of M'Lop Tapang's vocational trainees. In accordance with the principles of the Childsafe Movement, this allowed guests of the tour to shop responsibly while in Cambodia instead of supporting brokers of exploitative labour. Peace Boat participant Yoshimura Noriyuki was impressed by the partnership he witnessed between M'Lop Tapang, Tree Alliance, Childsafe Movement and Sadan restaurant. "I've volunteered in Japan for a long time and I wanted to see what methods were practiced abroad. I'm really impressed by the integrated support provided to Cambodian children." Hora Hiroko joined the tour to learn more about local support for Sihanoukville's youth. "I learned a lot about how to interact with children as a tourist. There was so much that I'd been unaware of." The valuable knowledge acquired in Sihanoukville will help participants to remain ethical tourists throughout all of their travels, long after the 97th Asian Voyage reaches its final destination.For a complete list of the Childsafe Movement's "7 Tips for Travelers," please visit www.thinkchildsafe.org.