Monday, January 04, 2010

NGO told to leave town

I first noticed Senhoa on my way to our Vet. Senhoa Nail and Spa was set up by Voice (Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment) as a social enterprise for vulnerable women (I believe the focus is on ethnic Vietnamese women, as many of these women end up in the sex trade due to crushing poverty). The women were trained to provide manicures and pedicures. It was a lovely shop, nicely decorated and just a couple of doors away from the Vet.

I noticed it's been shut for more than a month now and this was what I found. Apparently they were given 24 hours to leave the country:

From the Phnom Penh Post NGO GETS THE BOOT:
"Siem Reap NGO, Voice (Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment) was given 24 hours to quit the Kingdom early this month. They got their departure notice on a Monday afternoon and were gone by Tuesday evening.

Voice’s dramatic exit has caused shockwaves among Siem Reaps’ NGOs, who feared this was part of a purge prompted by the prospective NGO law.

But Voice personnel told 7Days the official reason they had been ordered to leave was because they were not registered.

The Washington-based NGO recently opened the Senhoa Nail Spa Centre in Siem Reap to provide alternative employment for young woman who might otherwise enter the sex trade. The NGO was very active in the Viet-expat arena locally and certainly probed some delicate issues."
I had met a couple of the founders of the NGO, two young women from the US who were ethnic Vietnamese. They had popped in the shop and asked a lot of questions about setting up a social enterprise and I even told them to bring around the jewellery made by the women in their programme (they also taught jewellery making) as I can put them in the shop for them to test the market.

They seemed very sincere, very idealistic and like most Americans I meet, a little brash. I wonder what's the real story behind their sudden departure. I've heard rumours that they had a blog and were critical of the Cambodian government.

Since I also blog, I'd quite like to know what are the limits, or as we say in Singapore, the OB ("out-of-bound") markers. ("The term is adopted from golf, where an out of bounds marker denotes the area beyond which playing is not allowed. However, unlike golf, the OB markers of Singaporean political discourse are not visible. The term "OB markers" was first used in 1991 by the then-Minister for Information and the Arts George Yeo to describe the boundaries of acceptable political discourse." From wikipedia)

Not that I expect a clear answer from the Cambodian authorities. I am constantly amazed how similar the government in Cambodia is to that in Singapore - I suspect they've taken more than one leaf out of the Singapore government's management handbook.

Anyway, I sent Senhoa an email a few days ago, partly because I am still keen on carrying their jewellery especially since now I have a shop at the new night market, but also to find out the truth. Maybe now that they are out of the country, they'll be able to speak more openly. I hope they reply.

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