Bopha*, a young woman, is sitting in front of a computer in a tiny air-conditioned room. The room is noisy with the conversations of two girls sitting at two separated desks. Though, the conversations are not between the girls in the room.
“Hello, welcome to Child Helpline Cambodia, this is Bopha,” she says. Bopha`s voice is gentle as she talks with her clients, children and youth from all around Cambodia, on a wide range of issues, from homework pressures, family issues and teenage pregnancy, to poverty, trafficking and HIV and AIDS.
Child Helpline Cambodia (CHC) is a free national phone counselling service reaching children across the country. The first of its kind in Cambodia, it was established with the help of ChildFund in 2009 and began operating 13.5 hours, five days a week. Now CHC is an independent local non-government organisation that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Bopha has a degree in psychology and is one of eight full-time counsellors who work for CHC. She started working for the helpline two years ago because she wanted to help educate and empower children. “Most people in Cambodia don`t understand what counselling means, they think counselling is providing guidance and advising people what to do. While in reality it means to empower people to explore their options for themselves,” says Bopha.
The helpline now receives on average nearly 12,000 calls per month, one of those calls was one Bopha will never forget.
“One day last year, I received a call from a frantic mother who feared for her daughter`s safety after she had not returned home that day. I immediately called a partner organisation who could work with the police to help this mother. We found out that young 18-year-old Srey* had drunk a bottle of water which had been spiked. She had then been taken, unconscious, to a nearby banana plantation where she was raped by four men. The police found her at a karaoke bar, after she had been sold by the men for 500USD. Srey was extremely traumatised by the experience and had tried to take her own life. This is when her mother encouraged her to call me at the helpline,” recalls Bopha.
At first it was just Bopha who spoke while the young girl sat in silence and listened. Gradually Srey began to talk and tell her story. After this first phone call, they had regular phone counselling sessions for the next three months. Srey is now doing much better and is working with her mother at a garment factory.
“I could feel and understand her hurt. It was very sad. However, I am happy I was able to help her and make her life a little better, this is why I love my job,” smiled Bopha.
*The names of the women in this story have been changed to protect their identities.