I had the privilege of being asked to contribute to some of AusCam Freedom Project’s blog posts and jumped immediately with a ‘yes’ then realised the daunting process of putting thoughts into print!
I was given a range of fabulous areas to cover within the broad field of what we do. From girl’s education, gender equality, human trafficking, fashion’s role in labour trafficking and exploitation, Cambodian specific social justice issues, development in culture, to ethical story telling and the marketing of the work that is done.
I am excited to share some of my thoughts around these issues and see what great conversations we can be part of and perhaps even instigate.
However, I have decided to start on an interesting topic of conversation that I believe needs to be discussed and understood more by all those who are ‘wanting to do something’ or even have an interest in social justice. This is the discussion around what international and community development, humanitarian aid, emergency relief, missions and global outworking of faith should look like in this current day. It is often a hot debate between the professional development side and the missions side and I have watched industry colleagues struggle with reconciling the two sides just as much as myself. Even writing this has been challenging! Trying to explain the issues succinctly and in a readable fashion is not for the faint of heart!
To give a quick overview – professionally trained development workers often find no credibility, understanding of culture and development practices, and sustainability within many of the Christian mission groups. They see a lot of harm done by well-meaning church groups, outcomes of abandoned church buildings and damaging colonialist ideas implemented on a vulnerable community. On the other side, Christian mission workers can often see the development community as cynical, egotistical and lacking in essential ‘soft skills’. Where spiritual health as part of a holistic approach not being attended to is hopelessly negligent at worst and misguided at best.
There are amazing experts who are out in the field and seeing true impacts of their work and making education and informed adjustments to ensure best practices and outcomes for the beneficiaries. Within this group, there is a subset that ranges between those that are deeply knowledgeable and academic but have no experience of the real world, to those that have deep real world insights of how decisions play out ‘in the field’ (a term used for the places where the development work occurs, often in regions of poverty or disaster, or vulnerable communities).
The other side of this narrative are passionate Christians and unskilled non-Christians who are brave enough to be 'called to action' as an expression of their faith. They are seen to be willing to launch themselves with little training or knowledge upon a nation or situation with the idea that sheer willingness, good intentions and elbow grease will help change a situation or fight injustice. Within this group, there is also a subset that stretches between those that are more mindful of development and cultural practices to those that do not care but just want to dance and wave ribbons around those that are poor whilst singing and dancing the Lord’s praises. (Ok, that sounded a little cynical!)
As we clearly now know more, there is a clear need to evolve. What we did 60, 40 or even 20 years ago is now proven to be mistaken and so changes have been made. For example, taking babies from single mothers, or creation of orphanages, or forcing church attendance to receive aid is no longer a practice accepted in the Western World, yet sometimes we still see it as part of the answer for vulnerable nations? In fact, the damage through such practices see litigation in our countries, yet continue to be perpetuated by us in impoverished nations! History has shown us that this ‘help’ has often undermined the social fabric of a society and actually exacerbated the problem.
Now this all sounds challenging and overwhelming especially when you are searching for organisations to support or become a part of. But here is the exciting part, in among the myriad of charities, foundations, organisations and missions groups, there are fabulous entities that are arising from out of the mix who are doing amazing work.
As a Christian, finding a place that operates ethically and with integrity, does not sensationalise or exploit the exploited in their marketing or engagement campaigns, truly raises up the local community with healthy exit strategies, does not perpetuate the dreaded ‘white saviour’ mentality or push hidden agendas is not easy for the novice.
The reason why I wanted to bring this issue up as my first blog with AFP, is because having our supporters know this and ask us questions is important. As a Christian I believe that the two (development and faith) CAN and are supposed to go hand in hand not in combat. That we need people to discuss these areas more deeply and hold organisations to account and only support those who are actively chasing what is best for their beneficiaries and not just appeasing what feels good for the giver. In fact, there are so many wonderful Christians who are leading the pack in world class aid and development practices and innovations.
This first blog highlights AusCam Freedom Project not just because it has a special place in my heart as I know the founders and was privileged to serve as their Country Director for a season. I have seen the tough decisions that have had to sometimes be made by them. I have seen the sacrifices to ensure each girl in their care is being looked after holistically. I celebrate the boldness to step back from control and let the Cambodian staff shine. I applaud that each year looks so much different from the last as it builds upon its strengths and evolves as it grows in capacity and reach.
I look forward to continue to mull over some thoughts with the AusCam Freedom Project family throughout this year!
Please leave your comments below, I would love to hear your thoughts.
Kimbra Smith has been advocating, studying and working in the sphere of social justice since 2010 with specific interest in areas of exploitation, human trafficking and disaster relief. She has overseen a couple of projects in organisations in Cambodia between 2013 - 2017 whilst living there with her family which includes four (!) children. The last role there was as Interim Country Director for AusCam Freedom Project. Kimbra is currently recharging the family batteries back in Australia, working part time with an organisation that focuses on poverty alleviation whilst chasing sunsets and new adventures with her family. Coffee is her only requirement in friendship.
PROTECTION & EMPOWERMENT THROUGH EDUCATION, MENTORING & LIFE SKILLS
AusCam Freedom Project believes girls should be 'taught not trafficked'.
You can set a girl free by sponsoring her education here: