Victims of human trafficking at a shelter on the outskirts of Phnom Penh had exalted company on February 20 when Queen Sofia of Spain spent the first day of her Cambodia visit with an old friend who was once a sex worker herself.
The queen visited AFESIP, a local Spanish aid funded NGO that rescues women and children from the sex trade and teaches them trades, such as sewing, to find jobs.
AFESIP is one of the largest recipients of Spanish aid to Cambodia. Spain has donated nearly $6 million to the NGO since 2004.
Queen Sofia has a special interest in anti human trafficking efforts and has developed a personal friendship dating back more than a decade with the organization’s cofounder, Mam Somaly, a former sex worker who was sold by her family to a brothel as a child. Somaly accompanied the queen for the length of her four-day visit.
Somaly said she visits the Queen in Spain every year and they confer on assistance. "She’s my example. I don’t know many people like her, she speaks from the heart,” she said.
The royal delegation also viewed a dance performance at the Cambodiana Hotel by members the Koch ethnic tribe from Ratanakkiri. The dancers offered the Queen a traditional woven basket, which she tried out, fastening it to her back, to the delight of the audience. Spain funds a vocational training program for indigenous youth in Ratanakkiri.
The Queen also placed flowers at Independence Monument and attended a gala dinner hosted by the King Sihamoni at the Royal Palace.
She flew by helicopter to Battambang on February 21 to view a Spanish-supported initiative to clear land mines, before going on to Angkor Wat.