Ricky Martin Visits IOM Cambodia Counter-Trafficking Project

International pop star Ricky Martin travelled to Cambodia in March 2008 to learn first hand about IOM's activities in the fight against child trafficking and sexual exploitation.  "This is a fact-finding mission for us," said Angel Saltos, executive director of the Ricky Martin Foundation. "He wanted to see for himself."

During his week-long visit, Ricky met with IOM Chief of Mission Iuliana Stefan and later travelled to the remote Cambodia–Vietnam border district of Kompong Ro with Project Coordinator John McGeoghan and Minister of Women's Affairs Dr. Ing Kantha Phavi to find out about IOM's holistic counter-trafficking prevention activities, and to meet victims and local villagers.

The project, which is funded by Finland and implemented in close cooperation with the Cambodian Ministry of Women's Affairs (MoWA), addresses the trafficking of child beggars to Vietnam.

It provides awareness-raising to vulnerable villagers, basic legal training to the local authorities, agricultural training and technical support to poor farmers and has implemented a village banking system and an emergency fund.

In partnership with the Provincial Department of Education Youth and Sport, it has also established a vocational training centre to train victims and vulnerable young women in garment factory sewing skills linked to real jobs in the province and in Phnom Penh.

Having traveled the 200 km from Phnom Penh to Kampong Ro, Ricky visited the IOM-sponsored public-private linked sewing skills vocational training centre, where he met with the director and centre staff and chatted with the trainees.

"Exchanging stories with the girls and boys that attend the vocational training was enlightening. In their smiles, the Foundation witnessed true hope and felt reassured that they are receiving skills in order to have a better future. It also prevents them from falling prey to exploitation," said Ricky.

In the past two years, nearly 500 trainees have passed through the centre and most are now in full-time employment.

The Goodwill Ambassador to UNICEF later joined villagers in community awareness raising activities focusing on the dangers of irregular migration and the illegality of child trafficking for begging in Vietnam.

Ricky enjoyed meeting the villagers and spent an hour distributing T-shirts and hats to local children. He also spent time with destitute villagers receiving emergency assistance and social services from IOM-UNICEF trained social workers.

"Creating awareness campaigns is essential to win the fight against child trafficking. With this visit, we reaffirmed that educational campaigns between different sectors of society and with a call to action component are powerful. I am convinced that solutions organically flourish if we work in alliances," added Ricky.

At midday he settled down with villagers for a local lunch and afterward worked up a sweat learning traditional Rom-Vong dancing from local villagers and the Minister of Women's Affairs.

"Dancing was amazing, lots of fun... Music and philanthropy reconnects humanity," concluded the Goodwill Ambassador to UNICEF.

The Ricky Martin Foundation advocates for the well-being of children around the globe in critical areas such as social justice, education and health. People for Children, their flagship programme, condemns child exploitation.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Ricky Martin Foundation (RMF) have signed a global cooperation agreement aimed at raising awareness and combating the sexual exploitation and trafficking of children. The global agreement will allow IOM and RMF to put in place joint projects to combat human trafficking all over the world, with special emphasis on children and minors.

For more information on the Ricky Martin Foundation, visit www.rickymartinfoundation.org