Davin during a beautician training session
Phnom Penh, September 2017 — Davin* is a 22-year-old young woman training to be a beautician at Mith Samlanh, a UNICEF partner. Growing up in a notorious drug-infested slum in Phnom Penh, she lived with her parents and two sisters in a one-room, wooden shack with a metal roof. Her mother sold second-hand clothes at a nearby market, and her father worked in construction. Together, they earned approximately 15,000 Riel – 20,000 Riel (US$4 – US$5) a day, just enough to send their children to school and cope with their daily expenses.
Davin’s friends were a bad influence on her, and she began to skip classes more and more often. At age 15 she stopped going to school completely. Davin's mother fell ill and was no longer able to work. Her father’s construction job was not consistent, so he also worked as a motorbike taxi driver to supplement his income. With medical expensive piling up, and only one breadwinner in the family, the family was falling on hard times.
When Davin was 16 years old, she left home. Soon, she was arrested by the police for drug use and sent to jail for two years. She recalled how she felt: “I totally got stuck! I had never imagined that I would end up in prison. This experience suddenly reminded me of my family. I started to recall every single moment I had spent with my parents and what they used to tell me before I left home. If I had listened to them, I wouldn’t have been [in prison].” She felt sorry about what she had done and was convinced her life would never be good again.
However, when Davin’s family found out about her situation, they went to visit her. “It was then that I realized nowhere is better than home, and no one loves me more than my family,” Davin said. “I felt like I was living in hell. I had to sleep with at least 50 people in a very crowded, dark room with other young girls and women. We didn’t have enough space to sleep. I remembered a night when I woke up and went to the toilet, when I came back I found no space to lie down.” Slowly, she got used to life in prison. She followed the rules and was respectful towards the guards.
Six months before her release, the prison guards asked her if she wanted to join a beauty training course inside the prison. The training programme was run by Mith Samlanh to help inmates reintegrate back into society. At a meeting with Mith Samlanh staff, Davin quickly raised her hand to join the programme. “I was so excited that prisoners like me were given such an opportunity,” she said. She studied for four hours a day, from Monday through Friday. Eventually, Davin began sharing her hopes and dreams with her instructors, developing close relationships with them in the process. “They are more than teachers to me. They are just like my family. My teachers are always there to encourage me to move on and never lose hope. Without them, I have no idea where I would be now,” Davin said.
When she was released, Mith Samlanh staff gave Davin new clothes. As she walked out of the prison, she found her parents waiting for her. She dropped her backpack and ran towards them. Davin knelt down and asked her father for forgiveness. They all cried and hugged each other. “I don’t know how to describe that feeling. I just know that it was the happiest moment in life,” she said.
Davin learning about nail spa
Davin spent the following two months visiting her relatives in different provinces before returning to continue beauty training at Mith Samlanh. She is currently enrolled in lessons and has made a lot of new friends. Describing her time at Mith Samlanh, she says: “I like my days there. I love going there. I always have a lot of fun. I have a nice lunch and I can join sport activities. I especially like dancing class, it is something that I have never done before.”
Davin’s teacher, Sophorn, said that she is a quick learner and has been progressing faster than expected. “She is doing well in the training,” Sophorn said. “She rarely misses or comes late to class. She respects all the rules and everyone here.” Davin promised herself and her family that she would never go back to her previous life. She is looking forward to getting a job in a beauty salon, and eventually setting up her own salon. “I am thankful for what Mith Samlanh has done for me and my family. They gave me an opportunity and put their trust in me,” Davin said.
She has a message for other young people: “Think about your future and do not waste your life away. It is not too late! You can always come back and build your future. You will never get anything by leaving your family for drugs.”
Davin with her trainee friends
The vocational training is one of seven programmes run by Mith Samlanh, and is supported by UNICEF under the 3PC (Partnership Programme for the Protection of Children). The project helps train and educate young women in Phnom Penh, improving their employability
and ensuring their access to decent jobs and sustainable reintegration. With support from UNICEF, Mith Samlanh is changing the lives of dozens of young women, giving them hope for a better future.
*Names have been changed to protect identity