Team Nomi Network in Action in Cambodia

Three decades after the Khmer Rouge set its destructive course of mass torture and genocide, there stands a new generation that will lead Cambodia out of its dark past. Currently, 80% of Cambodia’s population is under 30 years old. After visiting shelters and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), dining at local eateries and conversing with local tuk tuk drivers, we found a people and culture ready and willing to learn from the past and build a better future.

One of our favorite moments was spending time with Nomi, the little girl who inspired our organization’s creation. Hearing Nomi’s familiar voice say, “I love you, sister,” as she embraced us again was a treasured experience. Nomi converses in English and attends special education classes during the day for her other course work. During our visit we saw her helping two younger girls learn the English alphabet by tracing letters in a workbook. Seeing how Nomi has continued to be transformed by the love of those around her fuels our desire to continue our work in Cambodia.

After conducting art classes and spending time at the shelter where Nomi lives, we realized how adept these young girls are in learning new skills. While working on different art projects several of the girls brought their own aesthetics and creative ideas to the table, creating variations of the project and allowing each of their final products to be unique. Throughout our visit the girls warmed to our presence, and invited us to participate in their games and activities. They also took a particular interest in the gadgets we carried with us, particularly our cell phones which we were using primarily to tell time. We were all amazed when we caught one of the youngest girls at the shelter, approximately 3 year old, effortlessly scrolling and dragging items on the screen of a Droid X belonging to one of our teammates. No matter where one is growing up these days, exposure to the information age is clearly having an impact, and we were excited to note that many of the girls at this particular shelter are taking computer classes to round out their education.

Over the two weeks we were in Cambodia, our team had the privilege of going deeper with 15 survivors and women at-risk of trafficking. These beautiful young women shared about their daily lives, their current endeavors, and their hopes and dreams for the future. By understanding their stories and their aspirations, we are re-shaping our career development and training programs so that we can help them attain their goals. These stories of hope will ultimately lay the foundation for our next phase of development inspiring our 2011 Cocktail and Awards Ceremony on October 12.

Our trip also shed light on how we can strengthen our existing efforts to provide sustainable income and help channel more resources directly into local communities. A few years ago, the Cambodian markets were monotonous - with vendors selling the same trinkets or purses to scrounge for a living. Their markets are slowly improving and diversifying. Local shelters and artisans are elevating the quality and design of products by incorporating other techniques like silk-screening prints directly on recycled materials and quilting fabrics to create sturdier and more appealing products. Though the skill level of survivors and women at-risk is increasing, there is still a gap between their current abilities and the job-skills required to qualify them for sustainable employment in larger facilities.

At the end of this year, Nomi Network will launch a training program and design competition that will showcase a winning designer affiliate with a local NGO. The driving force behind this Cambodian “fashion meets social media” campaign will be the training program that will teach participants various techniques, fashion trends and give them greater access to the global marketplace. Approximately 20 NGOs sent representatives to Phnom Penh to attend Nomi Network’s information session and have expressed interest in participating in the program. We are excited to work with this talented pool of participants and help connect a global audience to their designs and products.

Nomi Network bridges the gap between the local NGOs and the marketplace, and endeavors to prepare vulnerable women for the job-market. After meeting with the owners and managers of several larger sustainable businesses in Cambodia, these potential employers have asked us to help assess and train up a workforce. In addition, our current partner organizations are trying to build agricultural and other local industries and they need buyers and distribution channels for these goods. In the following years, Nomi Network hopes to help our partners establish a consistent consumer base, modeling the power of investing these funds into education initiatives and further training for the women and children we all aim to support. Our team was collectively energized by the connections that we made, the relationships that we strengthened, and the individual stories that we heard. Our commitment to Cambodia, and our beautiful friends and colleagues there, permeates our work and spurs us forward.

- Lisa Kim


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