THE Senhoa Nail Spa Centre, due to open in downtown Siem Reap early in September, is the front for a groovy all-female-run Washington-based NGO, Voice.
Voice’s cool New Age overtones are revealed in its full de-acronymised title, Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment, and its aim in Siem Reap is to give mostly Vietnamese sex industry workers a shot at a new life, with new skills and newly-raised consciousnesses.
Research shows that a significant portion of sex workers in Cambodia are Vietnamese, and this ethnic grouping is estimated to represent 30 percent of Cambodia’s total number of commercial sex providers.
The gals who run Voice, ethnic Vietnamese from California, Washington and Sydney, are hip, switched on operators who certainly establish an affinity with the girls they are hoping to empower.
Voice informally began in 1997 as a small legal aid office in Manila, having been spun out of what was formerly the Representative Office of the Vietnamese Community in Australia.
The mission in the Philippines was to help the 2,500 stateless Vietnamese refugees in that country.
Voice’s official statement says it strives to achieve its mission “through community empowerment programmes. We have full-time staff based in Washington, DC
and abroad to advocate and give voice to our mission. In the US capital and abroad, we knock on doors of elected representatives and follow up. On the field, our outreach projects and awareness campaigns provide legal and social assistance to those who cannot speak for themselves.”
In 2007, Voice expanded beyond refugee protection to aiding and advocating for vulnerable women and children in Cambodia, and in March-April this year conducted a pilot programme for the Senhoa Nail Spa operation in Siem Reap.
Most of the young Vietnamese women recruited for the pilot programme are now part of the Senhoa training course, but not all the girls in the programme are sex workers.
Senhoa in Vietnamese means lotus flower, and some girls who join the Voice initiative will be taught the nail and manicure business.
Voice also teaches girls how to make high-end jewellery and its first collection, Papillon, is on sale in mostly high-end boutiques, with the legendary Vietnamese singer, Nhu Quynh, having signed on to be the “face” of the collection.
But the girls who are taught how to make high-quality women’s accessories also have to partake in a life skills programme in which English and Khmer language courses are mandatory, as well as a good dose of consciousness raising.