Somaly had been back and forth looking for work numerous times. With seven kids, it was never easy. Sometimes they went with her, sometimes they stayed with relatives in the village about 10km from the Angkor temples in Siem Reap.
Somaly’s husband worked on construction sites. He was also a drunkard who often turned violent, taking out his frustrations on Somaly, who felt like she had nowhere to turn. Then, late last year, an unexpected visitor arrived in her village, asking to hear her story - something she had never experienced before. Fast forward twelve months and Somaly is happier than she’s ever been. Her kids are in school, she has learned about financial literacy, women’s rights, positive parenting and women’s health. She is independent, strong and confident in herself as a mother and an individual.
“This is our mission - to empower women to be independent, to not rely on their husbands, to not be burdened by outside expectations,” says Kong Vanthat, executive director of Women’s Resource Center, a grassroots organisation based in Siem Reap.
Since launching in 2008, the organisation has been conducting outreach visits, to some of the most neglected communities in Cambodia on the outskirts of Siem Reap town. Run by women, for women, the WRC builds relationships with mothers, sisters, daughters, grandmas and aunties who need a shoulder to lean on. The relationships develop into invitations to attend workshops in town, where some of the country’s most persistent - and most destructive - issues are discussed at regular workshops. “We give women a safe place and the confidence to discuss some of the issues that are usually taboo, issues that are usually difficult to speak about in the home, in the community,” Vanthat says.
Having put hundreds of women through its Siem Reap workshops, the Women’s Resource Center is looking to spread its influence around the country - a mission that Thalias is determined to be part of. “We can not reach every woman in Cambodia but if we can just have a few more centers in Cambodia - safe places for women to meet and talk - then that is the dream,” Vanthat says.