Employees at SGS Geneva Throw a Lifeline to Children 6,000 Miles Away
If you are an employee working at our headquarters in Geneva, chances are you will have heard of Aide Volontaire aux Enfants du Cambodge (AVEC), a long-standing charitable partner of SGS. This small, humanitarian non-governmental organization (NGO), based in northwest Cambodia, is dedicated to providing a safe haven and a hopeful future for hundreds of children exposed to neglect, violence and exploitation at the hands of strangers.
AVEC was the brainchild of Patrik Roux and his wife Theavy Bun, who in 2003 felt compelled to take action to help deprived, abused and abandoned children in the rural villages of Cambodia’s Battambang province. They discovered that the mechanization of agriculture in recent decades had eliminated many rural jobs, forcing the men to seek work in the towns of Cambodia and nearby Thailand. Many of the women were abandoned, with no money and with children to support, when their husbands found other women to marry while they were away. With no choice but to go out and work, the women were forced to either leave their children to fend for themselves at home, send them to orphanages, sell them into prostitution or leave them in the care of elderly or unscrupulous adults.
Founded in 2004 to prevent and fight against the trafficking and exploitation of children in Battambang, AVEC fights illiteracy and works to change local attitudes by establishing a local information network to locate children at risk. It collaborates with local schools to identify children who are out of school. So far, it has provided more than 600 children with an education.
Since 2009, AVEC has helped to restore the hope, respect and confidence of its shelter's most vulnerable children. Khmer women – often widows or abandoned wives with dependent children – become shelter mums to other children, sleeping alongside them and helping with cooking and care tasks within the shelter.
Most of the children introduced to AVEC have never been to school or are significantly behind in their education. At AVEC, they can make up for missed years of schooling, thanks to intensive literacy courses and to the provision of additional lessons outside of school hours. The children attend lessons in Khmer, mathematics, creativity and dance. Since then, many of them have also benefited from English and computer science courses.
Older girls can also participate in a vocational course in sewing and clothing design, taught by two Khmer seamstresses. Their garments can then be sold through AVEC. This course will help these girls to secure employment once they have left school.
All of the children have plenty of opportunity to play and develop emotionally outside of school.
In addition to working with children, AVEC works with the rural population to help villagers understand the dangers of entrusting their children to strangers and to emphasize the importance of education in securing their children hopeful futures.
For years, SGS has worked with the catering team in the cafeteria at our Geneva headquarters to organize a monthly charity lunch for AVEC. Employees are asked to donate an additional CHF 2 or more when purchasing their meals, with all proceeds donated to AVEC. These donations have helped AVEC to provide books, uniforms and food for the children while at school and have also been used to sponsor the educations of 15 academically gifted children from impoverished backgrounds, including two young women now attending university.
In addition, our support has enabled a security wall to be built around the children’s shelter, so the children can remain safe inside.
In 2019, we donated CHF 1,939 to AVEC so it can continue its inspiring work of transforming the lives of hundreds of children who would otherwise be denied security, happiness and fulfilment.