June 29, 2010

On field and beyond..

Let me tell you a bit about my work, because many of you don’t understand what am I doing here and why? Well, first of all I work for a French NGO who is present in 27 developing countries, usually in post conflict and post disaster areas, providing emergency humanitarian aid, but has also some development projects. In Cambodia ACTED took over another NGO, namely PSF (Pharmaciens Sans Frontieres), and continued it’s projects here. Thus for now its projects are focused on health issues, more specifically on HIV/AIDS. But it aims to expand into different areas of intervention in the future also. After working at the European Commission and hearing about all these projects from far away, and reading only policy papers and about aid effectiveness and all that, I was very curious to see what actually happens on field. And this is why I came and after my first week of work I can tell you that people here actually make an impact. It is hard to see from a desk in Brussels or wherever in the developed world, but project aid usually helps. If it is a sustainable way and how some organizations use it, well it is questionable sometimes, and I have yet to make an opinion on that, but so far, at least the organization I am working for has a clear impact, which can be quantified and which you can see immediately. And this is a great feeling. So, I started work by visiting the sites that our teams work on, and the activities of the projects, so that I can better understand what is going on. The focus of most projects is on ‘entertainment workers’ (girls who work in karaoke bars, in beer gardens, in restaurants, but to gain some extra money they also sell sex). Here, the culture of men having sex with other women than their wives is very common and accepted, hence there is a huge market for prostitution. Usually men do not go out with their wives, but with other male friends. But when they go out for a drink they like to be accompanied by a female. Girls who work as waitresses also work as “escorts”. However due to the high rate in HIV, in 1998 the government with all the international donors started to take measures against this. One of the laws they passed out was on trafficking. So since, they closed down many many brothels, many hotels and other places. Thus all sexual workers had to find new directions, and have mostly went into the entertainment business or in “freelancing”as they call it. So, from what I understood so far, it works in the following way: clients go to karaoke bars (very very common here) or to beer gardens/restaurants where they come into contact with entertainment workers, and then, they somehow arrange with them and take the girls to guesthouses, or hotels where they can indulge in their pleasures. A night is 10$. But I believe there is a commission girls pay to the owner..i am not sure about that 100% I am still trying to find out exactly how it works, but again the language barrier comes into play..
Before the law became so tough, well, they could pretty much do whatever they wanted (imagine orgies and whatever u think of). But even now, when you see these places that the girls work in, because I have visited two establishments…oh well, I cannot believe that it’s not still happening there..even if they ensured me that they don’t have sex on the premises, when you go in those karaoke vip and super vip rooms…I cannot believe they don’t do anything behind closed doors…
The girls sleep there overnight, and their work starts around 3 pm…they get around 80$/month for changing the CDs or pouring beer into the client’s glass…When a client come, they all go and the client chooses who he wants in the karaoke room…

Our mobile intervention teams go to these establishments where entertainment workers work and provide education on the risk of STI/HIV and reproductive health to them ( I will come back to that in another post), but also there is a medical team that does a basic gynecological consultation and refers the girls to hospitals to be tested for HIV, and they also provide free drugs ( such as multivitamins,paracetamol, anti STD drugs..)
Another activity is to take girls or men who have sex with men to hospitals and clinics where they can be tested..because most of the times they don’t go because they don’t have money for transportation… the consultations/tests, drugs and condoms are for free..
We are not allowed to distribute condoms in establishments because the owner thinks this is a sign that they have sex there and they are afraid of the police…can u believe that??? anyways…the girls take the risk to carry condoms in their purses because it happens the police arrests them if they found they have condoms on them…or maybe who knows, policemen use that as a bribing tool for some sexual favours…

oh well, it’s all f***ed up…to be continued …


  1. Hey Andra, this blog is fantastic. We can share your experience in this not so typical work destination. What the organisation is doing sounds helpful but I have the feeling that the situation is far from getting normal. How can carrying condoms be treated as something against the law!!! In most of the time we do not appreciate the privilege we have of being born in the developed world and take this for granted. Kisses and hugs!

  2. Thanks Eli! I feel the need to share and that is why I am writing this blog, however there are moments when I just don't find words to describe what I see or feel. There are soooo many things to be done here, and on so many levels. This is only one aspect tackled...and yes we take things for granted in the developed world, and unfortunately we do not appreciate what we have and also have a tendency to destroy what we have good...

  3. So if you have condoms on you in a bar you're taken as a prostitute and risk being arrested? Weird... So it actually seems that their not making any progress, it should start from the top down, meaning governmental programs for condom use and such... (sa-mi spui daca preferi in romana sau engleza...)

  4. they should enforce law in general here, but they do not really...this is the biggest problem. the police is the biggest part of the problem..

  5. So... girls, becareful not to be caught with condoms on you :-) in cambodja