Written by: Sylvia Dang
I hope you are all having a lovely Friday. We have some awesome news! Our Lotus Kids’ Club got a brand new playground–the first the kids have ever seen! Steve, our project consultant, talks about the amazing gift below:
LKC Wins the Lottery: Ok, the Lotus Kids Club has not actually won a lotter,y but that’s what it felt like after Lisa and I met with Solera. Solera is a company based in Dallas, Texas who has taken an interest in Senhoa’s community program the Lotus Kids Club and wants to help in a big way. They have already provided the funding for a playground that we desperately needed for the children we serve. And the playground is built! It has truly enriched our program and provided hours of fun for all ages of the community of kids we serve. I should mention the proposal was submitted by Daniel, owner of Tangram Garden restaurant in Siem Reap, through Trails of Indochina, a unique tour company.
The playground came out of a proposal written explaining our need for a space so our young children could develop their gross motor skills and the older children could participate in active play promoting cooperation. Without seeing the LKC program Solera decided to fund the playground construction. We were thrilled because it was a dream come true for us. We had to start the ball rolling quickly because we were told they wanted to come and help with the construction, @ 20 folks. Of course I thought “sure they’re going to help in 99F/37C heat”?! No way. How wrong I was because when they arrived it was indeed HOT and HUMID but they got to work digging, hauling bricks, and doing whatever was needed. I was duly impressed.
And Tony the founder/CEO was right in the thick of it, though I think he enjoyed more his time playing with some of the kids. His assistant Katie was clearly having fun with the kids. After a few hours we met with Tony and Katie before they left and they expressed interest in continuing to help LKC. The meeting was short but it seemed a strong connection was made. They are very honest and down to earth folks. They said they would return in a couple of months and I put them in contact with Lisa.
The playground (sorry the picture is from a bad angle)
Fortunately they were returning when Lisa was planning a site visit to Senhoa in Siem Reap. I was thrilled that would be the case as I thought they really needed to meet Lisa. So in April we all got together and when Tony and Katie began talking about what they hoped to accomplish for LKC I felt like they were reading our minds. Much of their vision of how to best help us was in line with what we have always hoped to accomplish if we had the resources to do so. They want to provide us with those resources.
So now the work has begun. We are drafting and submitting plans for professional staff development, a focus on the children’s health and continuing education, a family development approach, vocational training, micro loans and finding ways to involve the community as a whole in helping themselves escape the cycle of poverty. We are realistic and realize the challenges we face yet optimistic because we have seen change and know it can happen. It will be a group effort from Senhoa HQ, the LKC staff, the youth, the families and the community we serve. I believe we are on a path to bring significant change that will continue to grow through generations. Wish us luck.
On April 16, Senhoa supported TOMS Shoes’ One Day Without Shoes campaign by forgoing our zapatos. If you are unfamiliar with the amazing brand, they are an organization that gives away one pair of shoes to a person in need for every pair of shoes they sell. They have also extended this one-for-one concept to eyeglasses for the disadvantaged. For more information, please go to http://www.toms.com/.
Lisa, ED, Kep-Cambodia.
Deb, board member, Melbourne-Aus
Sylvia, office manager, & Victoria, sales director, of Senhoa with our partners at Swarovski Singapore Trading– Jeffrey, business development manager, & Emma, business development consultant; Saigon, Vietnam
Here is the first in our “7 Days, 7 Ways with 1 Piece” project, where we explore different ways in which we can wear Senhoa jewelry. This is a Coco Rocha sample necklace and one of my favorite pieces! Please excuse the amateur photography, as some of my photographers were children and my grandmom .
This week, our sales director, Vicky, will leave us to pursue other professional endeavors. Vicky has been with the Senhoa team for two years (she’s actually the person who introduced me to Senhoa!). We will miss her dearly and wish her the best in her future pursuits. Luckily, I am a good friend of hers so I will likely see her fairly often (depending on her future pursuits…), but I am sad to see her no longer with the team, as it is always a fun time to work alongside her and seeing her in her lets-do-this mode. Below is her farewell message and her recount of her journey at Senhoa, including her recent trip to Cambodia:
Growing up in Orange County, I was raised in comfortable lifestyle with my family and circle of friends. Living in the bubble, we were accustomed to champagne brunches, weekend Vegas trips, and our biggest worries was what outfit to wear for the night. It wasn’t until my junior year at UC Irvine where I asked myself, do I want to continue doing what everyone else is doing? I have always been the type to not find need in a large group of friends. I always did what I wanted at the end of the day. I decided, rather than using my savings to buy a Lexus, I will travel across the world and study abroad in Cambridge, UK. It was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. I was finally on my own in a different country. I didn’t want to hang out with the group that was partying, but I found myself hanging out with like-minded individuals. Upon my return to the states, to prevent myself from getting sucked back into the bubble, I hid from the world as if I never returned home. I stopped going to the same spots, seeing the same people, and lived in complete solitude for the time being. Change meant I had to start on a clean slate, from the bottom. It meant I had to volunteer, intern and work for free.
One day, my mother forwarded to me Senhoa’s website and said they had an internship posting for their head office in Huntington Beach. Upon visiting the website, I read the mission statement and was amazed. I fell in love with the idea that fashion and a good cause can go hand in hand. I emailed my resume expressing interest, but never heard back. A few months later, I emailed again asking if any help was needed. Finally, I received a response from Lisa, the founder of Senhoa. She asked me to meet her for an interview. When we met, I was nervous. I didn’t know what I could bring to Senhoa, I just knew I wanted something different. Lisa told me about the team of amazing people and I thought to myself, do I even qualify to be around them? At the end of our meeting she gave me a hug and said “Welcome to the team!”. I remember after the meeting, I felt motivated, I even tweeted “Be part of something much larger than yourself”.
With Chi Jenny and Anh at my first Senhoa event
I began interning for Senhoa during Anh’s term as operations director. I came in twice a week and did mindless work, like folding origami lotuses, but extremely motivated to do it because Anh was so passionate with her work. Upon graduation at UC Irvine, I was hired on as Senhoa’s Logistics and Sales Manager. Finally, when Lisa came back from her hiatus as Executive Director, we both set off to Cambodia. I was excited. I could finally put a face to the field team I had only had communication with via Skype. I could finally see the work that is done on the field and make the connection.
My first day in Cambodia, I met Miriam (Country Director), Coco (Compliance Analyst) and Sinoun (Khmer teacher for the jewelry/life skills program). Miriam took us to the Lotus Kids Club. Although Sinoun is the local staff and Coco had been volunteering for three months in Cambodia at the field’s head office, neither of them had ever visited the LKC.
With Sinoun and Coco in the tuktuk!
We met Steve (project consultant), Mr Sophy (program director), and the teachers who were former residents of the Lotus House. The children were so welcoming, giving hugs and inviting us to play. I remember a specific child named Phuong. We spent some time together and he made some arts and crafts for me. He was the class clown, making the other children laugh and dancing Gangnam Style. I saw him again my last day in Cambodia, before the Khmer New Year. Mr Sophy had set up games and activities for the children. There was a game where the children had to fill their mouths with water, run across the room and fill their water bottle to the brim. Whoever filled their bottle to the top first would be announced the winner. Mr Sophy had timed the students, and we counted down the last ten seconds. After we all yelled “STOP!”, Phuong was still running back and forth with determination on his face to win, even though time ran out. I thought to myself, this kid has so much heart and dedication, he has such a drive to succeed. I am happy that the Lotus Kids Club is available for the community for kids like Phuong. I pray that they will continue to have the same support as they progress into public schooling.
With Phuong and Manh
Lisa and Jeffrey Tan from Swarovski handing out rice packages to the LKC families. thank you Jeffrey for joining us and supporting LKC!
The excitement of throwing baby powder at one another during Khmer New Year.
Teachers of LKC
With Steve in front of New Hope
The second day, I visited the Lotus House with Sinoun. I had positive thoughts of this Senhoa program from reading reports prior to coming. At the time of my visit, most of the girls were out of the house and either in school or at work. I spent my time with Dara, the program director for LH. The Lotus House is in partnership with CCPCR (Cambodian Center of the Protection of Children’s Rights), where Dara received her training and resources to support LH. The following week, the residence of the Lotus House cooked a meal for the girls from the previous cycle who have reintegrated. Although the girls have left the Lotus House, they rent a nearby residence so they will still have the support from Dara. Hearing that the girls wanted to stay close to Dara was very heartwarming, which I think is attributed to the success of LH. She is someone whom the girls can rely on during and after their time at LH. The dinner was delicious and after, Lisa, Miriam and I danced the night away with the girls. Unfortunately, I am unable to post any pictures for the protection of our service users.
Dinner at Lotus House
A majority of my time was spent with the jewelry program, since my work in the states is jewelry based. Linda, the program director for the jewelry program, is the main person who I have worked with from the field, mainly via Skype conferences. It was interesting to finally see the “other side” of the jewelry. We brought the girls a few magazines to keep in the Senhoa Design Studio for inspiration. The girls are definitely talented and creative. If you’ve been to one of our events, we sometimes sell the “girls’ original” pieces made with material Linda purchased in Bangkok. The money raised from those sales go back to funding the small projects where the girls can express their creativity. Upon my last day in Cambodia, I had set up a presentation for the girls. I explained to them the “states” side of things. From creating a series of samples for the pieces they make for a Senhoa collection, to the glamorous events and magazine publications. They were shocked that a pair of earrings are over $100, which is a full time salary in Siem Reap. We instill so much trust in them working with Swarovski Elements and to make these pieces. I had explained to them that all of the money raised from a Senhoa collection piece goes back to funding the programs. My favorite part was when I showed the girls a map of the world. I pointed out Cambodia, and then showed them the United States. Their eyes lit up when they saw the size comparison between the two countries and even giggled at how small Cambodia was.
Artisans working on the upcoming Senhoa collection.
Presentation to the Artisans
It was an informative and inspiring 18 days that I spent in Siem Reap, not only visiting the Senhoa projects, but also learning about the developing community. The journey was of personal growth for myself as an individual and professionally in my role with Senhoa. I hope that after reading about my experiences, it will motivate others to join Senhoa’s cause. If you have the opportunity, visit Siem Reap. It’s a small town, filled with expats and NGOs similar to Senhoa. The local Khmer staff was so sweet, and I definitely will always have a place in my heart for Senhoa Cambodia. It was really inspiring being able to work with everyone on the field. The passion and dedication each person committed to their role with Senhoa has truly touched my heart. I will say again what I have said my first week upon arriving: I wish that I were able to work on the field on a daily basis! Senhoa Cambodia is such an amazing team! Or Kun!
Last team lunch with Linda, Sinoun, Kimang, and Houy. My favorite local spot
Every journey has an end, and my journey with Senhoa has now come to a close. It really is heart breaking that I am leaving Senhoa after having fallen in love with the extraordinary work that was shown to me by the team on the field. I am sad that I am closing another chapter in my life. But I know that the future holds infinite possibilities, and I am excited to continue on my next adventure in life. I hope to run into some of the amazing people I’ve met during my time at Senhoa again one day. Until then, thanks for the memories and the opportunities for me to grow as a person and enjoy giving back.
Coco in Cambodia
Mimi’s first event, miss her!
A crazy hectic event with Tracy from NAAAP, Sylvia, Mimi, Board President Dr. Sophia and founder Lisa
Anh’s secret visitation <3
With Lisa at the Julie Ragolia Launch event in NYC… a crazy trip indeed
In the Swarovski office with Misa, Libby from Swarovski, Lisa and Sylvia
Love my team!
A common sight and how most people remember me.
Awww, these pictures make me cry. It has been a lovely ride with her <3. Good luck, Victorious.