Sep 17, 2019

SHE has a future to look forward to...

Dear friends,

Our work in Cambodia to keep girls in school is set amongst a backdrop of so many complex and inter-connecting layers. The Cambodian education system is still recovering from being dismantled through the Khmer Rouge regime - even 35 years later. Most schools are over crowded with teachers on low salaries who are also struggling to make ends meet. This in turn creates a system where the only way students can try and stay on top of their lessons is to attend 'extra classes' by those teachers but at a cost. We receive regular reports that if these extra payments are not paid then students are unable to access the papers/workbooks they need to be able to complete their class lessons. Schools are poorly maintained and classroom environments are hot, dirty, dimly lit with limited resources.

Add to this, the girls we work with are from the poorest urban communities where there is a continuum of violence, alcohol and drug abuse, no infrastructure or access to vital servces and parents struggling to make ends meet. Many of our girls talk about their high levels of stress associated with just daily surviving, let alone trying to navigate school.

However, amongst all this gloom, emerges young girls with a fighting spirit and determination to create a new future for themselves. It sometimes is a rocky road for awhile, but with her own social worker by her side providing constant support and mentoring and as their relationship and bond strengthens, we often see drastic changes and a new found freedom to pursue a dream comes to fruition.

** Sothy was enrolled as a SHINE girl in 2015 when she was 14 years old. However, not long after we enrolled her on our program, it was clear that Sothy was being influenced by friends to skip school and her behaviour began changing and she became aloof and disinterested.

Sothy would constantly lie to her mum about coming to the AusCam office for workshops, instead she was going out with her friends. Sothy’s mother was very worried about her and expressied her concern to the AusCam social worker on home visits.

Through communication and encouragement in individual counselling sessions with Sothy, the social worker was able to get her to think about her future and the decisions she was making. By simply asking questions, it began to make Sothy think hard about things she had never considered before.

Suddenly, Sothy began to make new friends, her attitude changed and she was visibly happier. When her social worker asked her about this change she said, “I have chosen friends that can help me grow and make smart decisions that will make my dreams become reality.”

Sothy dreams of one day becoming a teacher when she finishes high school and hopes to continue her education into university. Now she teaches her 2 year old sister how to read and basic mathematics because she “wants her to know everything”.

Due to the families economic situation, Sothy has also been working part time teaching children to skateboard at a local NGO. This has been a great support to her family. However, this year Sothy will start her final year of school and has decided to stop working so she can focus on her education and prepare for her final exam next year. 

Sothy's story is just one of so many stories quite similar of the girls on our SHINE Girls program. We work with each girl individually, with her story and her world. Our social workers are all highly trained and receive ongoing support for personal development, clinical supervision and best practice methods for working in challenging contexts.  We are proud of the work we do but more importantly we are proud of the girls we work with climbing the ladder so SHE has a future to look forward to.

 

*Sothy is a name used for the purpose of this story to protect her identity. 

Links:

Jun 5, 2019

She believed she could so she did...

Dear friends,

It seems I just blinked and 3 months has passed. We have been so busy in the field recently with many new girls being referred to our program. Young girls reaching out in the hope that we can help them to stay in school.


Although access to education in Cambodia for both boys and girls has increased, there is still a large gender disparity in the enrolment rates of girls entering lower to upper secondary school. While there are various factors that influence these statistics, it typically comes back to poverty meshed with the underlying societal gender-based stigmas in Cambodian culture.

AusCam Freedom Project works to mitigate these factors at our five partner schools in Phnom Penh where our social workers hold a strong and respected presence, working to enrol girls into our program who are at risk of dropping out of school.

However, many of our scholarship girls have joined our program through reaching out to one of our social workers who regularly visit each partner school. Many of these girls come from poor families who each face a set of different challenges towards keeping their daughter in school.

For one girl, Chanvatey*, who was only 12 years old and in her first year of secondary school she found herself already working as a waitress at a local restaurant. Being the eldest child in her family there was pressure on her from her family to help financially contribute.

Fortunately, Chanvatey realised the importance education can have upon her life, providing her with a life beyond waitressing or other non-skilled forms of labour.

After approaching our social worker an initial assessment was conducted to see if Chanvatey and her family met our criteria. What our social worker discovered about this family is not untypical in Khmer culture, an alcoholic and physically abusive father who would often beat his wife and three children.

Although Chanvatey’s father is a tuk tuk driver, he was often drunk which stopped him from finding business. Chanvatey’s mother is a cleaner working in a Chinese apartment building where her responsibilities continue to increase yet her salary does not. Therefore, Chanvatey felt the pressure to find work especially as her younger brother suffers from scoliosis requiring regular medical treatment.

Once Chanvatey was accepted into our SHINE Scholarship Girls Program, her social worker connected Chanvatey’s father with First Step who provide counselling services for minor issues. Realising the severity of this case they referred the father to TPO and covered the cost of his counselling and medical treatment. They discovered the father was suffering from severe mental health issues and was prescribed antidepressants which he has continued to take.

AusCam Freedom Project has been providing this family with rice support monthly to reduce their daily costs, Chanvatey received a bicycle so she can get to school easier as well as fully funded English classes to further support her education. Chanvatey always attends AusCam’s Digital Literacy classes in addition to the different workshops and events we offer.

Since joining with AusCam Chanvatey has quit her job to focus on her studies and has gone from having poor grades to being ranked fourth in her class.

Chanvatey developed a goal setting plan with her social worker where she listed her career goals, her first choice is to go to university and study accounting to then go on and work in a bank. While her back up plan is to study and become a nurse. 

When we see such incredible change in our girls, like Chanvatey it is so encouraging and keeps us motivated to continue the fight for these girls. Of course though we couldnt do what we do without your ongoing support. Just as we are proud of Chanvatey and all that she has achieved, so should you because you have made an incredible difference in her life. Thank you!

Warmest regards

Julie

**Chanvatey is a Cambodian girls name meaning scholar

Family Visit
Family Visit

Links:

Mar 8, 2019

Girls Serving the Community

Dear friends & Partners,

I always love being able to share wonderful sories of empowerment, growth and determination of the girls we have the pleasure of working with at AusCam. I am always so proud of their achievements so it is wonderful to be able to share with you also as our friends and donors so you can also be excited about their achievements.

Our Girls Empowerment & Mentoring Clubs (GEM ) has been a part of AusCam since 2015 and were established in local Government schools as a platform to empower and equip adolescent girls to lead their own groups where they can learn, share and interact through peer to peer support so that they can be better developed to help themselves and contribute to society. The Clubs act as a support system for girls to come together and discuss various topics and challenges they face at school or home and also encourage the leaders to pursue a form of community service to develop their skills while helping others at the same time. The Clubs encourage skill development including leadership skills, time management and self-confidence while also focusing on topics that are typically void in society such as gender-related issues, menstrual health, general health and mental health.

Girl Club #4 is led by three of our senior girls who have been with AusCam for several years. Together they act as role models for the younger club members at their school demonstrating how they too can make a difference in society. 

The Club leader is 20 year old Sophea who aims to pursue social work as a future career. She is assisted by sub leader, Suyeng also 20 years old, who hopes to become a dentist and acting as finance manager is 20 year old Sokea, an aspiring accountant. Together they hold regular meetings and organise different group activities for the 13 members.

Upon organising a consultation in a slum area located nearby a local landfill, the Girl Club leadership team witnessed a high number of children suffering from avoidable illnesses and infections. Thereby realising a primary issue in this area was a lack of knowledge on basic hygiene practices.In order to understand why this is such a pressing issue in the area, the team conducted thorough research speaking with various members of the community to conclude that poverty and a lack of education to be the primary factors of poor hygiene. For instance, parents are working long days trying to earn enough money to support their families therefore, sacrificing the time to take proper care of their children and teach them basic life skills.

Once the Club leaders had completed their research they began to think about how to address this issue which required further research in their spare time which was made more challenging with limited access to computers and the internet. However, the girls managed to produce a detailed proposal with a problem statement and budget submitting it to the AusCam Girls Club Mentor for approval of funding and general support. The leaders also took it upon themselves to meet with district authorities to gain permission in running this type of seminar in the selected community.

Although Sophea, Suyeng and Sokea were nervous before the seminar they managed to engage the group of 34 children throughout the entire session. Suyeng said, “Before this, I had no experience of public speaking but I found it came naturally to me even though I was originally afraid to lead a group discussion.” The girls spoke about hand washing before eating, regularly bathing, cutting their nails and brushing their teeth.

Half way through the session, the girls club leaders found parents of the children were also joining the seminar and listening intently to the information being shared by them. Following the seminar, the girls received strong positive feedback from everyone in attendance especially from AusCam staff members who came prepared to assist the girls but ended up only observing.

After the success of implementing this project organised entirely by the Girl Club, the leader Sophea stated, “We have many more ideas we would like to carry out in the future but for now we must focus on our studies with our final year 12 exams approaching shortly”.

How proud we are of them. They are the future women leaders of Cambodia.

 
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