Senhoa Foundation Harnesses The Power Of Fashion To Combat Human Trafficking
What if females in Cambodia no longer had to live in fear of being trafficked into forced labor, domestic work, or the sex trade? What if the beautiful people of the magnificent country, so rich in history, were no longer exploited by family members, friends, and strangers? What if it erected barriers to diminish itself as a trafficking transit country between bordering Southeast Asia countries like Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos? Artesia-based Senhoa Foundation begged these crucial questions, and in March 2010 began proclaiming, "Employ. Empower. Emancipate." The local nonprofit executes its three-fold mission via handcrafted jewelry, giving 100 percent of sales back to the makers.
Senhoa's founder and executive director Lisa Nguyen may reside in Huntington Beach, but her reach stems from her Vietnamese descent and has blossomed into numerous travels and volunteer projects abroad. In 2008 she traveled to the Philippines as the executive director of VOICE to help Vietnamese refugees repatriate to Canada. During this time she learned two harrowing facts: Cambodia is a major hub for human trafficking, and the country's largest ethnic minority—undocumented Vietnamese—struggle considerably due to ethnic discrimination and employment challenges. From her determination to help the highly vulnerable Vietnamese and Khmer people, Senhoa was born. Their motto? "Accessorize your conscience."
Initially headquartered in Huntington Beach, Senhoa opened its Cambodia office in northwestern Siem Reap and harnessed the ever-popular jewelry industry as its way to empower, employ, emancipate, and raise awareness of women and children vulnerable to human trafficking, as well as survivors of the horrific trade. Owner of Huntington Beach bead shop JJ Bead Jenny Van came aboard as Senhoa's creative director and designs almost every jewelry collection, aside from those dreamed up by established guest designers. The designs are laid out, step by step, for the makers abroad to piece together using materials from the United States. Makers are between 16 and 25 years of age and work at Senhoa's Siem Reap office, jewelry showroom, and artisan studio, located inside The 1961 Coworking and Art Space.
Literally translated to "lotus flower," the company's name aptly embodies the women and children it supports. A resilient, enduring flower untouched by impurity, the lotus shines as Senhoa's signature symbol. The foundation's Our Own Hands program pays vulnerable women fair wages to handcraft Senhoa jewelry, and also offers health services and education. To be vulnerable means to fit certain criteria, such as women who have family members who have been trafficked, and women who live in extreme poverty, who are orphaned or neglected, who have experienced domestic or honor-based violence, or who have been raped or gang-raped.
Collections range from everyday to high-fashion, from delicate sterling silver lotus flower pendants to chunky Swarovski crystal statement pieces turning up the glam. One look at the Chantrea necklace designed by Canadian model Coca Rocha for Senhoa will have the viewer daydreaming about it for weeks to come.
"Our makers take turns in selling the jewelry out of this 'mini boutique' throughout the week," says Senhoa Operations Director Sylvia Dang in reference to the Siem Reap showroom. Their training under Senhoa extends far beyond just strung beads and sparkling gemstones. When the women aren't making Senhoa designs or selling at The 1961, they're learning new techniques of their craft, tracking inventory and materials, drawing and creating their own designs, taking classes on various subjects for two hours daily, attending educational workshops, performing charity work, participating in quarterly social events, being schooled in business and sales, and selling at local markets and events.
Nearing its five-year anniversary, Senhoa works with roughly 50/50 Vietnamese and Khmer participants in its programs, which have expanded to three total—Lotus Kids' Club, Lotus House, and Our Own Hands. Dang breaks down the success of the programs as follows:
"We currently serve 54 preschool students, 81 public school students, and a total of 125 families (including men) with our preschool/community development program Lotus Kids' Club. We serve 13 at-risk young women in our jewelry program (total of 105 women since our start). 33 at-risk young women have gone through our new vocational training program with Ziba Beauty in 2014. And we served 15 at-risk young women per year at our former Lotus House shelter program (total of 57 women since our start)."
Senhoa has grown considerably over the last half-decade, with roughly 10 team members manning both the Artesia and Cambodia offices—not including volunteers. They've also rubbed elbows with countless celebrities and partnered up with notable co-designers, including aforementioned Coca Rocha and Fashion Editor/Stylist Julie Ragolia. The end of 2014 saw them featured at our Main & PCH Holiday Pop-Up Gift Shop, and they just joined our online marketplace. To kick off February 2015, they launched their first-ever rings collection, Faith, and fall 2015 will set the stage for a new full line. Dang tells us that Senhoa became an LLC in January 2014, and as of January 2015, they were able to pay for the cost of the jewelry program solely from revenue.
How are they able to donate 100 percent of sales back to the makers and supporting projects? All of Senhoa's overheads are covered by corporate donors. Eventually, they hope to raise enough revenue to cover the costs of all of their programs and expand their reach within Cambodia and throughout Southeast Asia.
"We are practicing what we preach," says Dang. "We teach our makers the same ideology. We are first given an opportunity to start on the path toward our dreams. At some point it is up to us to learn to take care of ourselves to sustain our livelihood."
Preach and teach on, Senhoa. The world needs more compassionate pioneers like you.
Senhoa Foundation is a featured maker in the Main & PCH Marketplace. Shop their collection.