Happy 7th birthday!

Written by Nicky Mih

Today is International Children’s Day, dedicated to raising awareness of issues affecting children. As you know, our work focuses on preventing girls being trafficked by helping them achieve their human rights to be free from slavery, access education, safe drinking water, enough food to not be hungry and
 adequate shelter. Today is also our 7th birthday, an opportunity to reflect on our impact and thank each of you for your support.

As usual our girls and their families have faced all sorts of difficulties and challenges from hunger and lack of nutrition, to contracting TB, to being struck by lightning. And still, despite massive hardships, new leaders are emerging every day, with girls as young as 11 holding small tuition classes and running community libraries.On February 15th we reached the $1 million dollars raised mark and with this we have: partnered with 45 schools, across 44 Villages, conducted over 24,000 family visits, provided 100s of bikes, delivered 1000s of school uniforms, books and pens, provided 5,000 library books, issued 432 water filters, given 10 types of seeds to each family, built 15 houses, conducted 80 community trainings and kept 718 girls safe. None of this would have been possible without each and every one of our donors, sponsors and team members. Thank you for trusting in us and working with us.We work closely with local networks including police, community leaders, councils, village response groups and schools to strengthen community systems to ensure the safety of girls. We follow a family based service model meaning we are committed to keeping families together. To strengthen the service we can provide, in addition to our Cambodian Education Officers, we have employed 3 Cambodian Social Workers this year.As our program has developed and expanded, the relationships we build through our family visits remain central to the success of our work.This year we employed our first former beneficiary. Chanda was one of the very first girls enrolled onto our program five years ago, after dropping out of school at the end of grade 9. With our help and support, she graduated high school and now studies Law at University. Her Education Officers had always spoken highly of her intelligence and warm personality so when we were recruiting we invited Chanda to come in for an interview. Chanda is such an asset to our team and a fabulous role model to our girls. She is thriving in her new role, using her own experiences to relate to our girls and their families.In August, grade 12 students from all over Cambodia sat national exams. Ten Free To Shine girls joined them, sitting the seven exams over three consecutive days. While the national pass rate is only 56% of our ten girls, nine passed! And the tenth was accepted into a well-respected vocational training program run by local NGO, EGBOK.One of our biggest challenges this year has been supporting two girls after they were raped by a neighbour, helping them navigate their way through a very unclear legal system which seemed to give power to their relatives to have the charges and sentences reduced in return for a cash payout. We are so proud of these 2 young girls, who have remained strong throughout. However, the system, the lack of transparency, the lack of care and focus for the girls themselves has been infuriating.Despite massive challenges, our program and our team, have gone from strength to strength. While we are strong in International Development, Child Protection, Psychology, Social Work, Education and Finance, we realised we’d like additional business knowledge and experience, and so this year we welcomed some successful business leaders onto our Advisory Board and I embarked on a 40 week business accelerator program called Key Person of Influence which has taught me how to pitch, given me access to incredible mentors, helps us form partnerships and has me writing and publishing a book, (called Do What Matters, due for release in November). All of this makes this upcoming year a very exciting one. A special thank you to Daniel Priestley and RJS Accounting Services for providing my place on KPI.Thank you to our Board and our Advisory Board.Thank you to the amazing business leaders who support us;

  • Paul Dunn and Masami Sato from B1G1, and the dozens of giving businesses who make contributing to worthy causes part of their every day business transactions.
  • Natures Organics, who to date have provided 34,000 days of safety and education.
  • Amber Hawken, who coaches people to find what it is they stand for, provides four days of safety and education every time she sells a copy of her book,The Unfu*kwithable Life.
  • Kobomo, a women’s fashion retailer, who provide an extra tuition class with each item they sell.
  • Chris Della, the property agent who builds a house every time he sells a house. 5 of our families have benefitted this year.
  • Amplify, who leverage the power of conversation, provide seven days of safety and education with every copy of their book sold.
  • Australian Ethical Super, who to date have provided 39,333 days of safety and education.
  • And Synergy Fitness who have contributed enormously to staff salaries to make all of this possible.

Thank you to each person and family who sponsors a girl.Thank you to our incredible team, both in Cambodia and in Australia, with a special thank you to the dedication and courage shown by Biba, Suze and Lizzy working on the ground in Cambodia supporting and leading our Cambodian team.Special thanks to our friends Tania at Green Gecko, Tara and her team at Cambodian Childrens Trust, Scott Neeson at Cambodian Childrens Fund and James McCabe at the Child Protection Unit, who have been on hand to offer us support and guidance this year as we navigate the many challenges involved in running a child protection organisation. Your friendship means the world to us – thank you!Thank you to each of our friends and supporters. Free To Shine is truly a team effort. Happy 7th Birthday!

Warmest Regards,Nicky Mih,Founder & Managing Director

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