NPO gives exploited Asian kids fresh start

by Hikaru Hayashi

Kyodo

A Tokyo-based nonprofit group is providing job training to street children and victims of human trafficking or sexual exploitation in Asia and the Middle East to help them reintegrate into society and build their self-esteem.

The organization, called Kokkyo naki Kodomotachi (Children without Borders), started the vocational training for children in Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Palestinian territories in 2006.

At KnK’s facilities, children are taught skills ranging from needlework and textile design to computer use and motorcycle repair.

Among the participants is a 20-year-old Cambodian woman who was abandoned on the streets soon after she was born.

The woman has been studying sewing at KnK’s House for Youth facility in Cambodia’s Battambang Province for about a year, the group said.

After she was abandoned, KnK said the woman was picked up by a passerby and trafficked many times, eventually being sold in Thailand.

She was almost sold to a brothel at the age of 6 but managed to escape and return to Cambodia.

When she was 15, however, the woman experienced the horror of being raped by a member of the family who had taken custody of her. She narrowly escaped from the family and was found by KnK, which provided her shelter, the organization said.

“I’m deeply grateful (to KnK) as it has given me everything from training to money, shelter and food,” the woman was quoted as saying. “I’d like to continue making efforts to improve my skills.”

In another case, an 18-year-old girl living in a slum area near Manila who studied sewing at a KnK facility there is already skilled enough at making clothes that she is receiving orders and earning a living on her own.

With money she saved, the teen entered a Philippine college that she had almost given up on and is majoring in management.

The girl said she hopes to escape poverty and enter the business world, KnK said.

“I’d be so happy if these children who have gone through such terrible experiences can be proud of themselves and become independent as members of society,” said Kimie Moriya, a senior director at KnK.

The group said some of the products made by the children are also exported to Japan as fair-trade items.

Last year’s revenues from the sale of such products, including scarves and bags from Cambodia, accessories from the Philippines and bags from Bangladesh, totaled more than ¥3 million, KnK said.

The organization also recently began sending specialists from Japan to these countries in an effort to improve the quality of the training.

In August this year, it sent Yuko Sato, a 57-year-old women’s clothing designer, to Cambodia to teach sewing to children there.

“Their skills were quite good, but each product came out slightly different in size,” Sato said.

Still, Sato said that the youths soon learned to make higher-quality products once she showed them how important it is to more carefully and accurately use tools like scissors and scales.

KnK, founded in 1997, is operating in nine countries besides Japan. In addition to vocational training, it offers health care services and literacy education to not only impoverished children, but also victims of natural disasters and youths in rehabilitation facilities.