One of our volunteers, Jessica Jeang recently sat down with Houy Chap, Senhoa’s accountant in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Houy is a vital asset to Senhoa’s team. She has a clear picture of how donor generosity is put to good use. She knows that donor gifts boost the local economy and transform the local community. Houy believes Senhoa nurtures its service users’ personal development. She dreams of spreading Senhoa’s holistic intervention model to other parts of the world. In fact, her work with Senhoa has inspired her to think globally about the world’s toughest problems.
JJ: Can you tell us about your background and how you found out about Senhoa?
HC: I am a Cambodian citizen. I was was born in Siem Reap. I graduated from high school in 2002 and earned a bachelor’s degree in finance and accounting in 2006. For six years, I worked as an accountant for a variety of five-star establishments, including international restaurants, hotels, and clothing stores. In spring 2012, while working in fashion, I met Linda Lam, who was [the Our Own Hands jewelry director] for Senhoa. Linda convinced me to come work for Senhoa.
JJ: What is it like to work for Senhoa?
HC: At first, I struggled to adapt my experience in the for-profit sector to fit Senhoa’s non-profit operations. Working for a non-profit was completely different to my previous work. Eventually, I developed a system for organizing Senhoa’s finances.
From the start, I felt Senhoa was a great foundation because the staff wanted to help the Cambodian people. Even when the work is challenging, Senhoa staff members are very adaptive and responsive to changes since everyone has a shared goal of serving the community. Local and expat staff are all very friendly. They help each other and share experiences, despite coming from different cultures. When I don’t understand something in English, I can ask the volunteers. Now my writing and speaking in English is much better than before.
JJ: Which Senhoa programs are especially important to the local community?
HC: Senhoa Jewelry Social Enterprise is very important. Many of the girls who come out of bad situations have a very low level of education. Some are illiterate because they have spent much of their lives in exploitative conditions. Senhoa’s jewelry program provides crucial education and includes classes in Khmer, English, math and life skills. The life skills classes are important since they teach the artisans skills like budgeting and goal setting. When artisans leave Senhoa, they can use these skills in their personal lives. Finally, Our Own Hands, the jewelry program, gives the artisans a marketable skill. They learn to design jewelry, and all the money goes back to support the program. The artisans also designed an affordable line of jewelry (called OOH), which sells in the local Cambodian market. The [profits] from the affordable jewelry line’s local sales goes directly back to the artisans (the artisan who created the sold item receives a payment for it and the rest of the proceeds go into a social fund for the artisans to use as they choose).
The Lotus Kids Club is also important. The preschool program encourages the community to keep its kids in school instead of sending them to work. The preschool is the hub of several programs including education, nutrition, community building, hygiene and healthcare. Basic schooling is provided, along with study supplies, uniforms, backpack, nutritious food and hygiene supplies. Hygiene supplies such as toothpaste and soap are provided for use at school and at home every two months. The children are taught to wash their hands before eating and brush their teeth after eating.
When preschoolers graduate, Senhoa provides the kids with tuition and support to attend public school. The sponsorship includes a backpack, shoes, uniforms and a bicycle for transportation. The students also continue to receive nutrition and hygiene supplies.
The nutrition program was designed to give parents motivation to send their kids to school. In poor communities, some parents prefer their children to work to support the family. In Cambodia, children are sent out to collect trash, or worse, left vulnerable to trafficking. The preschool has a parents’ meeting once a month during which a supply of rice, cooking oil and sauces for the entire family are distributed on the basis of the student’s attendance.
Healthcare is also provided to the kids at the Lotus Kids Club. All the kids receive vaccination for Hepatitis B and complete annual checkups. We also take the kids for dental checkups and cleanings once a year.
Community programs are offered at LKC in the afternoons and on weekends. After school, community children who don’t attend LKC regularly visit for sports, cooking classes, sewing classes and music classes. Every Saturday, the kids learn to play guitar. We always provide healthy snacks for the community programs. In addition, Lotus Kids Club kids can also partake in a variety of activities. They enjoy when we take them swimming or on other short trips.
JJ: What are some line items that show how a little money can go a long way for our programs?
HC: When kids graduate from LKC, we provide bicycles so that they can get to school. About 30 children get bikes each year. In 2015, we spent $980 on bicycles, which cost $30-$35 each. We also spent $168 on helmets.
In addition, we provide hygiene supplies year-round to almost 70 public school kids. We buy in bulk every year and package the supplies into plastic bags to distribute every two months. In 2015, we spent a total of $720 on hygiene supplies.
In case you’re wondering what food supplies cost in Cambodia, $8,420 provides nutrition every day for 54 kids for a full year. An additional $9,537 provides rice for 102 local families annually.
JJ: What would you like to say to Senhoa’s supporters?
HC: I’d like to say thank you very much to the donors who support Senhoa. Your support is critical to a community of people. Thank you for wanting to help people who have been through trauma, domestic violence and human trafficking. Thank you for wanting to help end these problems.
As for my role as accountant, I try to do my best to organize my work and always use your money in the most effective ways possible. If you wish to discuss a budget proposal or a report with me, please don’t hesitate to ask. I feel 100% responsible for using donors’ money to help people, and I take the non-profit’s mission very seriously. Prior to working at Senhoa, I did not know much about the non-profit landscape or the issues that non-profits aim to address. Working with Senhoa, I’ve developed a humanized view of suffering that has expanded my compassion and sensitivity. Since I’ve been with Senhoa, I have met so many people and learned about these girls. I grieve for them, even though I work with the money. I have learned how to talk to them and try to understand how they feel.
JJ: What are your plans for the future? What are your hopes for Senhoa’s future?
HC: I want to move to the US to learn more about accounting for large international organizations. I want to open my own accounting business and use the money to help Senhoa’s mission in Cambodia and spread Senhoa’s practices to other countries. Right now, I can only give my ideas, but in the future, if I have money, I can do more. I want to see Senhoa become more independent and increase its marketing in Asia and abroad in order to support its social enterprise. Someday, I hope to see Senhoa expand into other countries, because other communities have the same problems. We are all the same all over the world.
Huoy with her beloved Senhoa team.