Along the riverside in the quiet town of Kampot, Cambodia, lies a sanctuary for women. Banteay Srey Project operates as a vocational training center for Cambodian women, providing them with well-paid jobs and many ongoing training opportunities.
The Project runs three social enterprises including a women’s spa, yoga studio, and a vegan café. The spa and cafe offer an ideal opportunity for Khmer girls coming from difficult circumstances to work and develop themselves in a peaceful, restorative environment.
At the project, trainees are given step-by-step instruction to develop skills continuously. Through providing high quality services to predominantely foreign guests and communicating in English, they develop confidence, cultivate a new sense of self-esteem and learn useful skills for future employment. They are given excellent working conditions, medical benefits, maternity care, and a fair salary.
Kampot is a growing tourist destination and the Banteay Srey enterprises have proved to be incredibly popular. Banteay Srey works hard towards the realistic goal of financial sustainability – at this time of writing each of the Banteay Srey Social Enterprises are self-sustaining and also contribute the bulk of expenses needed to operate the overall project. We do, however, gratefully receive outside donations which are used for major costs such as extending our training program, operating a small village school and maintaining a residence for trainees in need.
TO PROVIDE VULNERABLE CAMBODIAN WOMEN WITH COMMUNITY LEADERSHIP OPPORTUNITIES AND A HOPEFUL FUTURE
To provide vulnerable Cambodian women with community leadership opportunities and a hopeful future.
Recent genocide, poverty, lack of education, restrictive choices, and low status of women.
Transgenerational trauma, disempowerment, violence, exploitation, and lifelong poverty.
Work in a supportive and safe environment, marketable skills and education, comfort, choices, empowerment, enjoyment, fair wages.
At the Banteay Srey Project, the trainees receive classes and instruction in:
> Spa skills (eg: massage, waxing, manicure, body care and product development
> Health and Anatomy
> Cafe food preparation and menu development
> Customer service
> English language
> Basic computer and internet use
> Marketing and Social Media
> Yoga and meditation
> Life skills
> Leadership and business management
One of the core purposes of the Banteay Srey Project is to offer continuous and ongoing training to all trainees and staff. Teaching and mentorship are given at all levels in order to facilitate constant development. The trainees’ progress is closely monitored and they are supported in further developing any special talents or aptitudes that are identified. Through our training our aim is to give all of our trainees and staff the chance to flourish.
Bodywork and spa skills workshops are taught by Freya as well as qualified volunteers. Senior trainees are supported in gaining leadership skills as they begin to specialize and then provide spa skills training to new trainees using Banteay Srey’s own video supported curriculum.
Learning English is a very important part of the trainees’ development. A good standard of English means that they can communicate with their clients, develop a rapport and offer a better spa experience. Fluency in English is a valuable, marketable skill that will change a Khmer woman’s life and open up a multitude of career choices. English is taught by senior trainees under the mentorship of volunteers using Banteay Srey’s own spa and cafe specific curriculum. Trainees are taught English that will be immediately useful to them. Opportunites for daily practice with foreign guests quickly develops confidence.
Senior trainees are mentored into taking on leadership roles within the daily life of the project. Through supervision and training of new trainees they gain valuable skills and self confidence. Management, administration, and accountancy skills are taught to those who show an interest so that they may then be supported in taking on management roles at any of the social enterprises or the project.
WOMEN IN CAMBODIA
Family is critically important in Cambodia and women are often under crippling lifelong pressure to provide financial support. Daughters grow up with crippling guilt for their parents’ unspoken trauma as survivors of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. When their parents become ill or accrue debts girls are expected to find a way to cover the costs as well as assuming the parental duties within the family home.
Cambodian culture teaches children to obey their parents for a life time. Daughters are told that when their family sees fit they will marry a man of their parent’s choosing. Girls dream of fetching a high bride price for their financially desperate family. Severely traumatized by genocide, many parents fear separation from their children and in an effort to keep their girls dependent do not educate or teach them skills. Daughters are told that they will be taken care of always. Unfortunately such is rarely the case.
For many Khmer women life offers a path from one exploitative situation to the next. Arranged marriages often fail leaving women abandoned by a disinterested husband or trapped in an abusive relationship with children and with no means of support.
Striving to support their families, factory workers are paid about $120 per month, work long hours in toxic and overheated environments.
Many young factory workers turn to employment in the vast “entertainment sector” as a more hopeful opportunity. Although jobs as hostesses, beer girls, and sex workers may offer more money there is also sexual harassment, societal stigmatization, and great risk of violence. None of these choices for women offer any respite, skills development or likelihood of a better future.
Many Cambodian employers do not respect the country’s labour laws and both factory and entertainment sector workers have been subject to violent and deadly attacks when they have organized protests to demand workers’ rights. The Banteay Srey Project offers greatly expanded choices for vulnerable rural Cambodian girls facing otherwise hopeless futures.
In Khmer, Banteay Srey means “Women’s Temple” or “Citadel of Women”. The Banteay Srey temple, located near Angkor Wat in Cambodia, was built in honor of female deities. The temple, covered with ornate carvings, is extremely beautiful. Today, for Cambodian women, the temple represents strength, unity, safety and empowerment.
The experience of trauma undermines one’s expectations of safety and security in the world.
Like many young Cambodians born after the Khmer Rouge era, many of our trainees suffer from transgenerational trauma. Their parents endured one of the bloodiest conflicts in our history. Growing up in the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime they suffered tremendous loss at a young age, witnessed extreme violence, experienced interrupted bonding with parents, and endured other severely traumatizing events. Resulting issues such as violence, poverty, unemployment, alcoholism, addiction, mental illness and parenting issues plague families. This trauma is then inherited by their children.
The physical effects of trauma on the body cannot be overstated: terrifying body memories, dissociation and numbness are all common. Numbing is not selective and also cancels out joy resulting in a greatly diminished capacity to experience life. The body remains on high alert while the brain continues in a fight-or-flight state. People who have been traumatized are no longer at home in their bodies. Over time, the body cannot operate on this level of hyper-arousal. Chronic illnesses start rolling in. Talking therapy alone cannot adequately address the fear and mistrust that has been encoded into the body.
Embodied therapy model
At Banteay Srey Project, we focus on a body-centred approach to recovery. Grounded in the current findings of trauma research, a deep body-mind connection builds resiliency and holds the potential for healing. While having victims talk about their trauma and helping them consolidate the memories is important, it doesn’t do much good if their body is trapped in trauma responses. Through yoga and massage practice we guide trainees to calm the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and bolster the parasympathetic nervous system (rest, digest, connect). Our approach is to equip our trainees with a toolkit to enable them to live a happy, successful and rewarding life. We provide specially designed training that crosses cultural and language barriers to help them emotionally and professionally – both of equal importance.
Yoga and meditation
Yoga and meditation lower baseline levels of stress and provide a restorative connection to the present moment, building greater self-regulation and internal resources. Yoga classes provide a time and space for trainees to begin to use their bodies, to move more, feel more and to access healing where thinking and words fall short. Ultimately this leads to an increased sense of safety, curiosity and joy.
Even for someone who has not experienced trauma, kind human touch stimulates positive hormones in the body and starts the relaxation response. For a trainee who suffers with trauma, massage can begin to dissolve long-held stress patterns, and help them to regain a sense of pleasure and safety in their bodies. We ask trainees to stay very present and give feedback during massage practice. We want them to experience their body and all the feelings, emotions and sensations that come with that. Difficult feelings can come up but the supportive environment that is created provides the trainees a safe, nurturing space in which to experience and explore these. As trauma and numbness begin to leave the body, pleasure and aliveness begin to take their place.
In the safe space of massage classes trainees are empowered to take charge of how they want their body to be touched. They have the power to stop, change, or modify what is happening at any time. By having choice over how she wants her body to be touched, a trainee suffering from trauma discovers the trauma is in the past and that here, in the present, she is in charge. Having their boundaries honored is a profoundly empowering experience that can have positive far reaching effects into the trainees’ lives.