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Local NGO mixes media and activism to fix society

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Chan Rothana lent his talents to the production of a short video which denounced violence against women by men. Photo supplied

Local NGO mixes media and activism to fix society

Chan Rothana, the well-known Khmer boxer and MMA fighter, enters a gym and starts preparing for a fight, jumping rope, kicking heavy bags and sparring with a partner.

When its fight time, he makes his way to the ring accompanied by raucous cheers from an adoring crowd. But when the announcer reveals a female name as his opponent, the crowd goes silent and the camera pans to a frightened woman trembling in the opposite corner of the ring.

Rothana refuses to fight, takes off his gloves and helps the woman up from the ground.

The objective of the video produced by Siem Reap-based NGO This Life Cambodia (TLC) is to shine a light on domestic violence in the Kingdom, where a third of men have admitted to physically abusing their partners.

The video, entitled Honourable Warriors, recently won the Best Campaign Driven by a Low Budget category at the 2020 Media and Marketing Global Awards hosted by Festival of Media.

TLC spent $4,500 on the video, although the contest allowed for each entrant to spend up to $322,140 on its campaign.

It was first released during last year’s international campaign 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. In 2019, TLC also won the Best Social Media Campaign of the Year award at the Not-For-Profit Technology Awards in Australia for its End Violence Together campaign.

TLC’s Vision

But ending domestic violence is just one campaign TLC has been working on. For more than a decade, the group has been supporting the most vulnerable members of the community in Siem Reap and Banteay Meanchey provinces and Phnom Penh.

The NGO believes that building knowledge and skills at the community level is the path to a poverty-free world.

TLC founder and executive director Billy Gorter says that “local communities are the experts when it comes to identifying practical ways to achieve improvements in their daily lives. And many hold an abundance of ideas for a better world.

Working side-by-side with community residents, listening to their insights and acting on their input, we have developed a sustainable, empowering and replicable approach to development that works.”

Gorter founded TLC in 2007 to deliver high-impact programmes and over the past 13 years, the NGO has offered support to thousands of individuals and families. It now has a staff of around 90 people working in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.

Gorter says: “Back in 2007, I was working for an NGO in Siem Reap. I was already in love with Cambodia and its extraordinary people, and I tried to think of a way to meaningfully help as my neighbours and friends strive towards a better future.

“I wasn’t sure what that would be yet . . . and I certainly could never have imagined the extraordinary organisation that is TLC.”

He says he wanted to differ from organisations which provided quick-fix solutions to highly visible problems in communities without enabling them to succeed in the long term. TLC focuses on empowering communities to thrive without being dependent on any specific NGO.

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A family in Siem Reap which receives aid from TLC. Photo supplied

TLC communications manager Claire Backhouse says: “From our very beginning as an NGO, we have been determined to break this cycle of dependence and to work with communities to develop their own sustainable solutions to the problems they recognise as most important.”

Women, children, families and communities are supported through programmes targeting juvenile justice, substance abuse, domestic violence, lower secondary school development, building family resilience, preventing family separation and providing pathways home for children in residential care.

Gorter says: “We team up with communities who are battling serious social challenges. We listen to them and work to overcome the problems they identify, putting into place the solutions they design, and making progress in the direction they choose.

“The communities lead the way, with us by their side, and then – when they are firmly on the right path – we step aside and watch them move onwards on their own two feet. This is ‘Our Future, Together’ approach,” he says.

Empowering the youth

According to a 2019 TLC report, the NGO supported the development of 11 lower secondary schools to reduce drop-out rates and increase community participation.

It provided case management support for 156 young prisoners including vocational training, personal development and family visits.

Backhouse says: “Our programme ‘This Life Beyond Bars’ has reduced juvenile recidivism or reoffending rates in the first six months following a custodial sentence from 60 per cent to below two per cent.”

TLC has offered training to 289 local community leaders to develop their knowledge and awareness of child protection measures. It also provided training for 280 local authority members, 245 teachers and student council members and 115 social workers.

The group says its community-based training and events have reached over 5,000 people. According to its report, TLC’s social media campaign reached two million Cambodians, bringing attention to the problem of domestic violence.

Backhouse says: “Broadly speaking over the past 13 years, TLC has reached hundreds of communities, thousands of families, tens of thousands of community members, and millions of Cambodians through its social media campaigning.

“Our messaging and approach has been recognised as best practice regionally, and have been acknowledged internationally,” she says.

Honourable Warriors, which has garnered 1.3 million views on Facebook, has two objectives – to engage and inspire Cambodians, especially men, and to persuade people to confront men who use violence.

TLC’s report says: “Hundreds of Cambodians participated in online discussions on ending violence and the majority of viewers were men 18-34.”

Creating a brighter future

In a broader sense, Gorter says he’s noticed more hope in young Cambodians as a result of TLC’s work.

“Cambodia has changed a lot in the 13 years since [TLC was founded], making progress in mostly wonderful ways, and I’m extremely happy that these days when I speak to young people about their hopes for the next five years, they usually can come up with an answer.

“I am proud that we have played a role in this progress, largely through our amazing staff personally transforming tens of thousands of lives,” Gorter tells The Post.

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TLC organises events and workshops at lower secondary schools in Siem Reap. Photo supplied

In Siem Reap, where the NGO is headquartered, it has worked to help families impacted by the loss of tourism due to Covid-19 by raising funds to distribute emergency packages consisting mainly of food.

“With the impact of Covid-19, many more Cambodian people are in need of support. At TLC, we have a great team of highly qualified and dedicated people who are working hard to help as many people as possible,” he says.

Supporting schools and community education has been another priority at TLC, and the NGO has worked with schools to improve their facilities.

“We have set up learning clubs so that students do not fall behind when it comes time to returning to formal schooling,” says Blackhouse.

She says TLC’s funding comes from large global philanthropic foundations with a handful of small businesses and individuals supporting the cause as well.

TLC employs a “Four S” approach to its community service – study, scope, scrutinise and scale. They start by listening to communities describing their situation before researching the problems and choosing solutions.

Gorter says: “Over 13 years, we’ve seen enough lives and communities transformed to know that as long as we don’t stop listening or learning, our approach can continue to create extraordinary results.

“We are a very ambitious organisation and have big plans for the future. TLC has identified five strategic objectives for the 2020-2025 period.

“They focus on building our capacity and expanding our operations in order to increase our impact and contribute to achieving its vision.”

To donate to TLC, visit https://thislife.ngo/donate or support Buy 1 Give 1: https://www.b1g1.com/wcu_partner/136.

For more information, please visit its website: https://thislife.ngo.

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