May 14, 2020

Our news from Cambodia

Dear friends,

I hope this update from Cambodia finds you well. What an incredibly challenging time the past few months has been for us all. Although there has been such immense sadness with the loss of so many lives worldwide, loss of employment and people enduring long lockdowns and isolation, I personally have also witnessed incredible acts of kindness and humanity and in a strange way the world seems more connected than ever.

Covid-19 has impacted everyone. However, for the vulnerable and poor it has added further layers of hardship. We have seen this with the families of the girls we work with. Their income mostly is derived from informal work sources; taxi driving (motorbikes), rubbish collection and market sellers. Very quickly their means of survival was gone. With the closure of schools to prevent transmission of the disease, this now places extra pressure on our girls and heightens their risks to exploitation as demand falls on them to contribute to the families’ economic situation. At present, we have been advised that schools may remain closed until November.

Our response to our girls and their families was prompt. We quickly and strategically put into place relief efforts for our families and developed some other creative ways of being able to engage with our girls to ensure they were safe. We packaged together 165 food packages, health kits, phone top ups and COVID-19 education materials within a couple of days. Our Centre became a new distribution centre responding to an immediate crisis.

Our team of social workers remain in contact with our girls and their families weekly to monitor their wellbeing as well as setting up a community facebook group enabling us to continue engaging with our girls through mentoring, conducting video life skills training and generally allowing a safe space for the girls to remain connected.

Further to this, we have established a new service; a 24 hour hotline specifically for young women and girls all over Cambodia ensuring that we can reach and support as many girls as possible. The team have already been quite busy taking calls, going into the community to do assessments and delivering extra support packages to those girls and their families.

Just this week 2 very brave young girls, one 12 years and another 14 years called into the hotline saying they were hungry and feeling very anxious about their family not having any income and not being able to buy food for their families. Our team were able to respond immediately by visiting both girls and their families and delivering a food package. We have also had some distressing phone calls about young women who have experienced some quite traumatic situations. Our emergency response involved police, legal support and medical care. Although this hotline was initially established to support girls and their families during COVID-19, the calls we have received so far have indicated that this is going to be a continued need. Several of the girls who have called have also been enrolled onto our SHINE Girls Program meaning they will now receive ongoing support to attend school, mentoring and access to all our programs.

Although our work at the moment looks very different, our mission is still the same. To prevent the exploitation and trafficking of girls in Cambodia. We continue to be able to do this because of the generosity of all our supporters.  Thank you for allowing us to be first responders.

Let’s hope when I send our next GlobalGiving update in 3 months’ time the world is looking a little brighter.

Until then, stay safe and well,

Julie Dowse

Founder & International Programs Director


Dec 31, 2019

SHINE Girls Project

Dear Friends,

Our girls in Cambodia have recently completed another year of school and because of your support and belief in them, they are another year closer to fulfilling their dreams. While I would love to report to you that every one of our girls did exceptionally well and all passed their exams ~ it is important that we are transparent not only about their successes, but also their challenges. Regardless of their year-end academic results, we are incredibly proud of them - for their determination in creating a better world for themselves and their families.

Their grades in school are not inclusive of the incredible progress they have made. Given the environment where the girls live, keeping them in school is fraught with complexities.  Most of our girls come from homes where parents are struggling to earn enough money to put food on the table every day; they live in the urban slum communities with violence, alcohol and drug abuse, gambling and little to no access to important health and support services. The schools they attend are also under resourced with hot, dirty and overcrowded classrooms. Teachers are underpaid and often times hold back vital information in lessons and then require that students pay for their (illegal) 'extra classes'. When you combine this with their own family circumstances, you can see why we have to be proud of how far the girls have come.

Our vision is for every girl to graduate school, go onto university and have a future filled with endless possibilities. But we also need to reimagine what success looks like for each girl in her own context. Our team of social workers are passionate and persistent about supporting both our girls and their families as they navigate their own individual challenges; and our leadership team, both in Cambodia and Australia, are continually looking at innovative approaches to help our girls reach their full potential. For some, it may not be completing grade 12, but rather moving from school to vocational training or employment in a safe, empowering environment.

We will remain hand-in-hand with the girls -- placing their individual expectations and dreams at the forefront, not ours. Our primary goal has always been to keep girls safe, free from exploitation and illegal activities. Every girl at AusCam is just that -- safe and free. I want to assure you that we are continually reviewing, evaluating and seeking ways to improve our programming and that we are determined to help girls create a future free of exploitation and to ensure they have every available opportunity for a fulfilling future.

The Numbers:
o 174 girls enrolled on our SHINE Girls project 2018-2019 Academic year
o 149 girls sat final year exams (all grades)
o 138 girls passed exams 92.62%
o 14 cases closed throughout the year
o 10 girls did not attend their exam
o 11 girls failed their exam
o 1 girl passed away from a traffic accident

Individual Completion results:
o Grade 7 - 26 girls; 26 sat for exams; 26 passed - 100%
o Grade 8 - 27 girls; 1 didn't attend exams; 26 sat for exams; 25 passed - 96.5%
o Grade 9 - 17 girls; 3 didn't attend exams; 14 sat for exams; 14 passed - 100%
o Grade 10 -33 girls; 4 didn't attend exams; 29 sat for exams; 29 passed - 100%
o Grade 11 - 32 girls; 32 sat for exams; 32 passed - 100%
o Grade 12 -24 girls; 2 didn't attend exams; 22 sat for exams; 12 passed - 54.55%
Thank you for taking this journey with the girls and for your belief in the ability to end the exploitation of girls in Cambodia and we are excited to see what remarkable achievements our girls will have in 2020.

Happy New Year!

Yours warmly,
Julie Dowse
Founder & International Program Director

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. 


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