From little things, big things grow. Australian volunteer Ingrid Quinn sent a
single email at Christmas asking a few friends and family members to send tampons
to Siem Reap's Rose Center for Women. Since then the NGO has received 30-35,000 of
them, and they're still coming.
The influx began after a brothel workers self-help meeting when a sex worker complained
that tampons were impossible to come by. Tampons are largely unheard of among Cambodian
women; the worker told the group that she liked them but could not afford them.
"They were all very keen to try them, so I said you can have all mine and I'll
email friends and family to send over some more," Quinn said. "I was hoping
to get maybe 20 boxes, but I didn't really think I would. Then the email was sent
to friends of friends of friends of friends and now we just have boxes and boxes."
In an object lesson of the virus-like quality of email, the single message began
a chain of emails that resulted in magazine articles in Australia, New Zealand and
the Netherlands and attracted corporate sponsorship to the tampon drive. Social research
organizations have contacted the NGO with a view to studying the phenomenon.
"We got letters saying people really liked to send something tangible. We had
boxes from a 70-year-old man from Sydney and his Khmer wife and people sent things
like clothes as well," she said of the extraordinary response.
The Rose Center, which has worked with brothel-based sex workers since 1998, now
has a special storeroom for its newly established 'tampon bank'.
"We didn't just distribute them, we had to be responsible," Quinn said.
"We train the women in tampon use and hygiene and we advise them not to use
them when they're working."
Quinn admits she has received some criticism of the initiative as imposing 'Western
values' on the women, but maintains that it was their initiative and has become a
very positive experience for them.