Our 6th Birthday!
Dear Friends and Supporters,
We are ecstatic to announce that on this International Children’s Day, Free To Shine celebrates our 6th birthday. There’s been trials and tears, but mostly there’s been laughter and immense joy. In the last year alone, our team in Australia have volunteered another 3,800 hours of their time, we’ve raised another $265,260, employed 8 more Education Outreach Officers in Cambodia, reached 19 more villages, enrolled 260 more girls, provided 2,000 more library books, 210 more water filters and built 6 more houses! I’d love to take this opportunity to acknowledge the part you have played this year and to tell you how very much we appreciate it.We partner with parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles as they do their best to keep their children safe and in school. Our girls understand the difficulties their parents face. 11 year old Reaksa says, “Even though I am small, I am the eldest of my siblings. I cook, clean, water the plants and feed the cows. And I take care of my two younger sisters. After lunch I take them to the field with library books, so they can read while taking care of the cows. This is a hard job but I am happy to do it because I am happy to help my parents earn money. If I cannot do all these jobs, my mother could not work to support our family. So I feel I am like part of the parenting team.”In Cambodia there are no legal consequences if parents do not send their children to school, so we must rely on encouraging, motivating and insisting. It took 11 months of visiting one particular family before the parents of 7, 9, and 11 year old children, agreed they could begin school. Initially, you might think that these parents do not care about their children. Yet on the children’s first day of school, mum was so nervous that after she walked her children to school, she sat outside the classroom the entire day waiting for them. She wanted her children to know she is there for them and supports them. These 3 children have now settled into school well and are thriving.As you know, we enroll girls at high risk of being targeted by sex traffickers and we teach our families about the ploys these traffickers use. Yet once a particular ploy no longer works, sex traffickers change tactic, so we need to stay current. One organisation reports that sex trafficking of children in Cambodia is no longer prevalent, but in fact, all they researched was the number of children that could visibly be seen in the commercial sex industry. In contrast, another organisation reports rescuing over 570 girls in the last 2 years. This marks an important change in the sex trafficking industry. Pedophiles can no longer walk into an underage brothel and choose a child. Now, it happens behind closed doors, often with girls from rural communities. Sex is rarely purchased in a brothel now - instead it is purchased in the entertainment industry; karaoke bars, beer gardens, massage parlours and perhaps the newest and most alarming – cafes. Now there are undercover teams in Cambodia to raid, rescue and prosecute, so traffickers don't keep children on-site anymore. Instead the "deal" is brokered in bars etc. and the child delivered to a hotel. Another new ploy is teenagers from rural villages being tricked into accepting offers of fake vocational training.On the Corruption Perception Index, where 0 indicates total corruption and 100 indicates the lack of corruption, Australia is rated a 79 whereas Cambodia is only rated a 21. We decided a long time ago not to participate in any form of corruption. In order to operate so successfully in Cambodia we are honest, even when it is difficult. This has sometimes meant that things take an awfully long time, yet it has earned us the respect of the government ministries, and the respect of ourselves.We have high standards and we are professional. We do what we say we’ll do, and we’ll do it with a positive attitude. We are determined and committed to helping our girls and their families. We understand the situation we are working in and we are skilled in responding appropriately and helping our families solve their problems. We work really hard but we enjoy our work.Delivering books to 11 year old Sreythib is truly an uplifting experience. “My mother loves my library books very much, she almost never lets me pick them out for myself, as she always wants to choose them too. She gets so excited when Free To Shine visit,” says Sreythib. “I usually read the stories to her in the evening, it makes her really happy. My mum can’t read by herself, but she pretends that she can by looking at the pictures and describing what she thinks is happening in the story.”We work closely with commune chiefs, village leaders and school directors. Out of the 44 village leaders we work with, only 2 are female. Of the 47 school directors we work with 5 are female. These 7 women serve as excellent role models to us, the girls on our program and their communities.13 year old Pourb, a grade 7 student herself, has for the last 3 months been teaching basic English and Maths to grade 3-5 children in her village. When I asked her why, she said, “My first reason is for money. I make $2.50 per month. My second reason is to help young students in my village who cannot afford to pay for extra classes with qualified teachers but can afford to pay me a reduced rate. In Maths I teach addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. In English I teach the alphabet, and some simple words. I have 8 students. I teach for one hour each day. I like teaching so much. It is my dream job for my future.”We have a retention rate of 96%. We are honoured by this statistic, as it shows that all our hard work, honesty and partnering with families works, and works well! In fact, of the 4% who left our program early, 34% were aged 16-18 years and 60% moved out of the area into areas where we don’t yet operate our program.Over 6 years we have raised a total of $675,513 and with that we have kept 700 girls across 44 different rural villages safe from being trafficked, we have 4,000 library books being read, provided access to safe drinking water to every girl on our program and have built 10 houses. We are also extremely proud of 3 of our girls that graduated grade 12 this year; 2 of whom went onto university and 1 whom went onto vocational training.It is our commitment to continue to build upon our success and reach an ever-growing number of girls. When we reach 1,000 girls, we believe we will have enrolled every girl at high risk within a 90-minute radius of Siem Reap.But there are other towns, and other girls, outside our current reach. In response to this, we recently embarked upon a research trip to Battambang Province to determine whether we should replicate our program there. We assessed several rural villages to see whether girls are at high risk of being trafficked there, and if so, whether our program would offer a good solution to that risk. Village and Commune Leaders were aware of trafficking occurring in their communities. We were able to build strong connections with them, and they were supportive. One Commune Leader stated, “I am so excited to hear that your organisation wants to operate in Battambang Province. I will support and help you with whatever I can. My 4 walls are open to you.” So now we place our attention on raising the $188,000 required to reach the first 300 girls in Battambang. If you’d like to contribute to making this possible you certainly can.Thank you for being a part of our special journey.With much love and appreciation,Nicky MihCEO Free To ShineIf you'd like to help you can donate here, or you can donate directly to:Account Name: Free To Shine LtdAccount Number: 140557497BSB: 633-000