Speak Your World

Esta es la historia de Chhun Roth, una de las miles de mujeres camboyanas que uno puede encontar en cada bar de Phnom Penh. La voz de Chhun se alza por los derechos de las mujeres en una sociedad extramadamente machista y prejuiciosa. La historia de Chhun tambien es la historia del arte como forma de redencion.

In Brighton, England, a lady was invited to make a speech to the hundreds of people who attended an the Frontiers Prevention Project Celebration in 2007. She walked slowly to the platform, smiling and wearing a beautiful dress, watched by the audience. This lady was Chhun Roth from Cambodia.

“I feel very happy and so excited,” Roth said. “How could I have imagined that a person like me would have a chance to come and meet everyone here in Brighton?”
She looked so excited and her eyes filled with tears. She ended her short speech and walked back with hope. It had been a long journey from Cambodia to England.

Chhun Roth was born into a very poor family in Sambok Chab in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. She was the eldest in the family and had five brothers and sisters. Ever since she was young, Roth never really knew what happiness was.

As her family was poor and homeless, Sambok Chab became the only residence for her family. Unfortunately, the area was considered as a squatter zone of Phnom Penh. However, she hoped that one day her family would be given land and that their housing rights would be respected, promoted, protected and fulfilled by the government.

Soon Roth grew up, several men fell in love with her. She decided to marry one of them and went on to have two children with him. Roth hoped that her life would be happy after marriage; unfortunately, she was later divorced from her husband. One day, she decided to leave her parents and moved to live alone in Battambang province.

When she arrived in Battambang she rented a room with the little money she had with her, hoping that she could find a job soon. Next to her room there was a building where many pretty young girls were living, however, Roth could not tell what they were doing. Well, they looked pretty and attractive and Roth started to wonder why men walked in and out off the building.
Several days later she found out that those young women worked in beer gardens. They always came home with boyfriends or sweethearts after work. One day a pretty young lady came to her and chatted with her. Roth told her that she was looking for a job but she could not find one as she did not know anyone.

The pretty young lady said, “Do you want a job as a beer girl? If you are interested, you can go with me.”

Roth was quite happy as she needed money to buy food and to pay for her room. Finally, Roth decided to work as a beer girl. Because her salary as a beer girl was small, she also began to have sex with customers in exchange for money, in order to support her family.

In 2002, Roth was chosen to be a peer educator of the Community Development Action (CDA), which was a former implementing partner of KHANA in Battambang province. In 2006, through the Frontiers Prevention Project, Roth was lucky to be invited to participate in the Photo-voice training organized by International HIV/AIDS Alliance in collaboration with KHANA. Then she became a Photo-voice member.

During the conference in 2006, Roth displayed her work as a photographer. There was one photo that Roth took. It was a photo of her friend. Why did she decide to take that photo of her friend? No one would know if Roth had not written the caption under it.

The caption read: This is a photo of my friend. She struggles to earn enough money to feed her family. Her father and mother are sick. She goes to work even when she is sick. Sometimes she must sleep with clients to earn money to live. I feel her life experiences are very similar to mine.
Roth’s own photo had a caption that read: I work as a sex worker to earn a living. I am often mistreated at work: my clients do not pay for my services or are violent towards me. The owner of my brothel deducted five months pay because I took one day off. I am hoping that one day I can find my way out, to seek good work. I don’t want to continue with my present career. I want to be a photographer because it is my favourite work.

Shortly after returning home from Cambodia, Chhun Roth passed away at the young age of 31. However, her name and activities as well as the photos and messages she left behind tell us to continue her advocacy to combat stigmatization, intolerance and discrimination against sex workers and other entertainment workers.

Roth also has a message to all women to stand up for their rights and to fight for their human rights. Roth has gone away, but she left a great message behind; that is, hope to everyone.