Our 8th Birthday!

Dear friends,

I hope you are well. You might know that this Friday is International Children’s Day, a reminder to consider children’s rights and well-being around the world. What you might not know is June 1st is also Free To Shine’s 8th birthday.

Happy Birthday to us!

This year we made a documentary film! It’s not for you and I so you won’t find it on Netflix - it’s for our girls so you’ll find screenings across 50 rural Cambodian villages. We know that without deeply embedded goals when a family hits a crisis some of the girls we work with opt to abandon their educations before the state-mandated grade 9 minimum, in favour of seeking unskilled and irregular employment to subsidise their family income. In order to inspire and expose girls to the range of professional opportunities that women can, and do, excel in, we created a documentary film interviewing 12 Cambodian women about their traditional and non-traditional careers, and conducted a series of screenings and goal-setting workshops.

We also delivered Gender Equity Training to our Cambodian team, because how can they role model gender equity when they themselves have been raised within a culture that teaches specific roles?

“My mother, relatives and school teachers taught me about being a lady. They told me I can be happy but not too much, I can laugh but not too loud, and I must always be careful how I stand and sit! I can’t follow all of these rules to be a proper woman, I just want to be independent and happy! Girls, please fight for your right to be equal!”

These are the words of Sreymom, our Program Officer, who conducted the training for our team. Our team members are increasingly challenging Cambodia’s social and cultural norms and are excited to see the same progress and change in attitudes within the families and communities we support. And each girl on our program, aged 14+ has received their very own copy of ‘A Proper Woman’ by Cambodian author Thavry Thon, who also features in our Future Goals documentary. This book redefines what it means to be a proper woman.

This year we have joined ReThink Orphanages and Childsafe to help us advocate for best practice, not just for those enrolled on our program but for all children in Cambodia.As our program has developed and expanded, the relationships we build through our family visits remain central to the success of our work. Going out with the team and visiting the communities, families and girls we support gives me the drive and determination to get through all the busy weeks, emails, board meetings and tough decisions. Seeing our work first-hand also makes me so proud and excited for Free To Shine's future. But enough from me, here’s a few poignant, funny and insightful words from some of the girls we work with:

"I really want to thank the sponsors who have helped me as a country girl, now I am a country girl with a bright future!"

"Last year I struggled with maths. I promised myself I would do it better this year and I did! Maths is becoming interesting and is my favourite. Actually I wish to study only Maths at school for 24 hours if possible."

"I think maths is hard and messy but don't worry I have a plan to improve. I will try to do exercises again and again and if that doesn't work I will ask my teacher and education officer!"

“When I finished grade 8, I decided to stop school because of family violence and poverty. My Education Officer and Social Worker tried to persuade me to be in school again and again, they came to visit me very often and always talked to my parents about the negative effects family violence has on children and the importance of my education. After that, my parents hardly get conflict with each other and they also work hard to find an income. I decided to be in school again in grade 9 and now I am in grade 10.

I have learnt a lot from that experience:

-Don’t allow your bad day to destroy your future.-Just keep fighting.-You are the best person to make your future better and you should always work hard to be the best you can be.”

"I want to be a police officer and I have three reasons. First, I think that the police is a good job for me. The second, I can earn money to support myself and my family and the last reason I want to be a police officer is to help my society to have more peace. I want to help poor people in Cambodia just like Free To Shine does."

"I really want to tell you that your support changed my life a lot. I used to be a girl who never had a dream, never dreamt of graduation but after your support and Free To Shine's help, I am graduated and now a university student!"

"In the future I want to become a Commune Chief. I want to help people in my commune get an education and lead them to be good people."

"My strength is that I am brave. I love myself.”

All we have achieved so far is because so many people have come together to play their part in a common goal. Earlier this week we reached a milestone of $1.5 million, the last $1 million of which was all raised in the last 2 years and 7 months. Thanks for being part of our team!

Warmest Regards from myself and all at Free To Shine,Nicky Mih,Founder & Managing Director,