Learn how you can fight human trafficking while boosting education and economic independence in Cambodia with this month’s charity spotlight, Touch Sala Bai!
Many a mama from Singapore has visited Cambodia and come away determined to help the people there, particularly helping children access quality education and fighting the country’s terrible problem with human trafficking.
Touch Sala Bai is a Singapore-based organisation and United States non-profit that admirably addresses both of these areas, and has made great strides since its founding in 2002. We sat down with board member Jenny Soh to find out more. Read on to learn how you can get involved, mama, including an upcoming fundraiser event happening on 24 February!
When and why was Sala Baï founded?
Sala Baï Hotel & Restaurant School was founded in 2002. It is a program created by the French NGO Agir Pour le Cambodge (APLC), to fight poverty and human trafficking through social and professional training of young underprivileged Cambodians, with a priority given to girls (70%).
APLC started with significant activities in Banteay Mancheay and Oddar Mancheay provinces. These provinces had remained highly isolated for years, with conflicts carrying on until 1999. This zone, amongst the poorest in Cambodia, offers very little potential for economic development.
Research shows that poverty remains a major challenge in Cambodia, with 30% of Cambodians still living below the national poverty line. Access to education and employment – especially for women – is also compromised with 77% of the population living in rural areas. Migration, human and sexual trafficking are on the rise, with human trafficking syndicates not just growing in numbers, but also getting more organized. For these reasons, APLC sought to support the poorest families by setting up education and vocational training programs, with Sala Bai Hotel School being one of them.
Sala Baï fights poverty and human trafficking in Cambodia, can you explain its connection to Singapore?
Singapore as a global city where interests of both international businesses and local communities are moving beyond economic considerations towards social, philanthropic, environmental and humanitarian issues. As a wealth hub and financial hub, Singapore is therefore well-positioned for Sala Baï to access and cultivate its Asian donor base.
How old are Sala Baï’s students?
The students are between 17 and 23 years of age and they live off a family income of US$500/year.
What are some key achievements of Sala Baï Hotel School in Siem Reap?
- 100% of the students find a job within one month after their graduation and have an entry level salary that equals three times more than the family average income.
- After 14 years in operation, more than 1,300 students have been trained and found a job in the fastest growing economic sector of the country, enabling them to achieve economic independence and improving the living conditions of their families.
- Introduction of Beauty Therapy as the 5th training section in 2015. Survey and feedback gathered from hospitality partners have shown that there is a high demand for therapist,s but lack of formal training centers in the region.
- Official Opening of the new school building in February 2016
What role does sustainability play in Sala Baï’s operations?
A significant one. With the continual high demand for Sala Baï program we’re seeing, we have to turn down over 400 applicants each year during the intake cycle since its launch in 2002. On a broader scale, we are also seeing year-on-year growth on tourism arrivals to Cambodia. With that, there’s also a high demand for qualified and skilled workforce in this sector. Having observed these trends, Sala Baï put together a 5-year plan from 2013 – 2017 to achieve long-term sustainability. The four focus areas are as follows:
- Reduce risk associated with rental
- Increase student intake capacity by 50% by 2018
- Add Beauty Therapy as a training section: Therapists are in high demand but available training ground in the region is scarce.
- Increase self-financing revenue with expanded hotel and restaurant (from 35% to 50%)
You broke ground on a new school in 2016, which is amazing! Has the new school opened yet? What are some other key needs at this time?
The school officially opened on 27 February 2016. This completed Phase 1 & 2 of Sala Baï Extension. Phase 3, being the final stage of this extension, will be the construction of new dormitories for the students. In addition to our goal of accommodating 150 students per intake by 2018, the current location of girls’ accommodation, and the conditions of hygiene and comfort of existing buildings also made this project necessary and of high urgency.
The new dormitories are located a 20-minute walking distance from the school, or a 5-minute bicycle ride. The key need at this time is really to make sure we have sufficient funds to realise this goal. Hence, all the effort put in by us and other Sala Baï networks in Australia and France has been channelled towards achieving this objective.
What are some tangible benefits of where donated money goes?
Through our Touch Sala Bai website, you can either choose to donate $80, which will cover a full year of a student’s healthcare fee, or $60, which will supply a student with an essential mode of transport – a bicycle! If you select the $100 donation option, 100% of the donation (after reduction from Paypal and credit card charges) will go directly to the students to help finance their training and daily expenses.
How can mamas in Singapore get involved with Touch Sala Bai?
There are a couple of ways you can get involved with us. As mentioned earlier, we’re still in the midst of raising funds to build the student dormitories. With this objective in mind, we’re putting together a Dinner and Auction event on 24 February at Sofitel Sentosa Resort & Spa in Singapore, and we would love for you to join us!
It will be an inspirational evening that combines uplifting stories of Sala Baï graduates, the Cambodian cuisine of Joannès Rivière’s top rated restaurant Cuisine Wat Damnak, soulful grooves courtesy of DJ Alexis Rawkin, and an extraordinary venue overlooking the South China Sea. All proceeds from this event will be donated to to building the new home for future generations of young Cambodians attending the Sala Baï Hotel School in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Touch Sala Bai (TSB)’s role in Singapore is to exclusively support the Sala Baï Hotel School with funding, partnerships and expertise. Our door is always open to anyone who’s keen to volunteer their time and expertise to help sustain this program which has proven to be a model solution that alleviates poverty and its consequences.
Feel free to reach out to us at [email protected] if you have any questions!
Thanks, Jenny! Be sure to visit Touch Sala Bai’s website for more info, mamas!