Transmitting Waves of Hope on World Radio Day
Though they may be separated by nearly 20 years and 9,000 miles, Gina Reiss-Wilchins and Sreypich Loch have dedicated their lives to the empowerment of other women and girls. Gina is the Executive Director of the Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF), a nonprofit organization that works to eradicate trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and girls in Cambodia. Sreypich Loch is one of those brave women. Trafficked as a young girl and forced to endure years of abuse and exploitation, Sreypich managed to survive, and today, she is a advocate and leader with SMF’s Voices For Change (VFC) program, an initiative of the Somaly Mam Foundation that helps to empower survivors of trafficking with the opportunity to help themselves by helping others—to have their voices heard in courts of law, in their communities, and worldwide, in order to create lasting change.
In her role as a survivor-advocate, Sreypich lends her voice and experience to the recovery, support, and reintegration of other survivors. With space donated from the Women’s Media Center in Cambodia, she also runs an hour-long radio talk show that seeks to educate the broader Cambodian community on issues of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Aptly named Somaly’s Family, the purpose of the show is to educate listeners on how to recognize, address, and stop trafficking in their communities. Radio may seem like an antiquated form of communication, but it remains the medium that reaches the widest audience worldwide—especially in developing countries where electricity and Internet access is sparse battery-powered radio are common. That said, radio can be a useful tool in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.
In honor of today being World Radio Day, Gina and Sreypich sat down to discuss the radio show, what it means to Sreypich, and its impact on both on local and global communities.
GRW: What is “Somaly's Family Radio show” and why is it important to you?
SL: Somaly’s Family is a daily radio talk show program broadcast in Cambodia that talks about issues of human trafficking, rape, sexual abuse, immigration, and violence against women and children. Somaly’s Family is the first program of its kind, started in order to represent survivor voices from around Cambodia. It is currently broadcast in 10 provinces within Cambodia.
On Mondays we invite survivors and members of our anti-trafficking activism networks to join the program and share first hand examples of trafficking and abuse in the community.
On Wednesdays we invite lawyers to talk about the legal side of the issue, and on Fridays we discuss the news from the week in relation to the issue, including cases that have been reported in the media. On Tuesdays and Thursdays the station replays the program from the day before.
GRW: With so many ways that you can contribute to helping others, why did you want to get involved in the radio show?
SL: I wanted to get involved because I am a survivor and now I am standing up for other survivors. I want to bring the voices of survivors to the general public to show how difficult it is for those who have been victims of trafficking and sexual abuse. It is important because as survivors, through SMF’s Voices for Change program, we share our real stories to the audience and help them to understand the message that there are real victims of trafficking out there in their community – we are the victims and we are the survivors. They need to know. When you know the reality, it’s hard to look away. It’s hard to pretend you cannot hear.
GRW: Talk to me more about storytelling. Do you think it is important for survivors to share their stories? If so, why?
Before, I never shared my true story to others. Even when I was in a shelter for trafficking victims, I rarely told the truth, because it’s so hard to trust. Even though the other girls in the shelter were maybe like me, I did not want people to know my past. And I know other survivors did the same. It was too hard, to hard to re-live. You don’t feel safe always to share.
But overtime, I began to feel that I must speak the truth. It releases my pain. It helps me let go of the difficulty. And when I go share my story on the radio and in the community, I see the power of giving first hand examples - when I share my story people believe me and they understand clearly about the issue of trafficking and sexual abuse. If I just tell them a story about someone else or use a case study, it is not as powerful.
GRW: Having grown up in Cambodia, how do you think radio help to combat trafficking in Cambodia? Trafficking is a huge problem, run by an underground network. Can something as simple as radio really make an impact?
I think radio can help because it is the form of communication that reaches the most people in Cambodia. Many people in Cambodia, particularly in the countryside, do not have easy access to mass media like television and internet. However, radio is there. We can make a larger impact with radio.
For example, if we raise awareness about these issues face-to-face in the community, only one community will get the message at one time. But if we provide information via radio it will cover a lot of the country, and people can then share this information with their community, especially about issues like unsafe migration. That is a very serious problem in the countryside.
GRW: In many ways, radio can be used to help educate and empower listeners to make more informed decisions. Would you agree?
My hope is that the show can send the message to the people that before they send their children to work in another location, they must think about the safety of the children and think about protecting them.
People need to ask for information before migrating to another country or province or sending a child to work. They need to remember that criminals and perpetrators don’t just exist far away; they might be in your own community. I know this all to well. So yes, I think it can help listeners to make better choices.
We also have a network of activists and informants working at the community level and we promote this on the radio talk show, and we provide a hotline number for people to call if they need help. You can also call in and ask your questions by SMS text message.
One recent case, for example, one of our network members was listening to our program and she called in to ask us about migrating safely to Malaysia and asked for the phone number and address of the Cambodian embassy in Malaysia.
The girl didn’t know the address of the immigration company she intended to go with, so I suggested that she should find out all the details of the company – if they are a legal company they should have an address and all information available to the public. She should find this before immigrating, as it might not be a safe situation.
GRW: What types of people call in or send SMS messages? Is it men or women? Around what age are the listeners?
SL: Most are under 25 years old but we don’t know exact ages. As you may know, the Cambodian society is very young. Because of the Khmer Rouge genocide, I think about 65% of the population is under 30.
Both men and women call in. Some people are from Phnom Penh and other cities but most of the callers are from the rural areas. It really feels so good to be able to provide information to people and to share my expertise. We can really help people through this program, and because the callers are young, we can engage this audience and make lasting change.
GRW: I heard that you recently received some accolades for your work. Can you tell us more about the recognition that you have recently received?
Oh yes, I was selected for a couple of different opportunities lately. I was offered a part time internship as a presenter on Wonderful FM radio, which is the station that broadcasts our show. The management of the radio station where I work is familiar with my show Somaly’s Family and thought I was good enough to present on other programs too. I am very excited about that.
I was also invited to participate in a Cambodian Young Women’s Empowerment Network workshop at Build Bright University on the topic of ending rape and other forms of violence against women. I shared information about my work and the radio show, and spread the message about ending trafficking.
GRW: Do you think you foresee yourself working in radio in the future?
SL: Yes, I do. If possible, I want to work in TV as well. On radio, the people cannot see us, but on TV they can see and hear, so it will be more powerful.
GRW: What is your dream for your life and for your career?
SL: My only dream for myself and the other survivors I work with, our dream is to help other victims by speaking out. We can also help others to obtain legal help, and be part of the solution to eradicate slavery.
GRW: What does it mean to you to be part of SMF's Voice For Change program?
SL: I am very proud and very happy to be a part of the Voices for Change program and to be leading the radio talk show. I enjoy my work. Our survivor voices can change the world. Survivors can be like regular people. Before, we had nothing but now we can learn, we can work.
This program should continue into the future – it is very good for survivors and not just in Cambodia – survivors all around the world could benefit from a program like this. The women in my team are very happy to work together with other NGOs that support victims too. We can stand up together for all victims, empowering survivors to find a job and create their own careers.
All people have faults and personal stories that may be hard to share, but as human beings we need to understand our faults and accept out past, and also forgive each other. I have learned from Somaly Mam and other Voices for Change on how to forgive and how to love from my heart.