Today we are celebrating our 6th Birthday. For Geoff and I this is a great cause for celebration to see our vision that was initially handwritten on a piece of paper in a little coffee shop by the beach in Dolls Point Sydney on the 18th January, 2012 now flourishing and impacting so many lives.
We had been living in Phnom Penh for a little over 1 year. In reality this is not a long time to truly be immersed in a new country and culture, but we had experienced every emotion one could possibly feel in this short time. Pure joy, excitement, frustration, anger, sadness, overwhelmed, happiness, determined, loss.
As Christians we relied heavily on our faith to get us through the tough times and we gave praise for the miracles we witnessed.
We loved our work – I was working in a large human rights organisation and Geoff was working in various engineering jobs volunteering his expertise. We also were devoting our spare time to a little orphanage where we fell in love with 70 children who we believed at the time were orphans. Naively and unknowingly however, we had allowed ourselves to get caught up in what is now referred to as ‘orphanage tourism’. This orphanage was running a for profit business using vulnerable families to make money by presenting all these children as orphans. Keeping them in squalid conditions. Not only were they living in these conditions and separated from their families but we also became aware that many of the children were being abused. It is still heartbreaking for us to think we had been caught up in this.
Once we discovered this, we moved swiftly to report the orphanage to authorities and before long the orphanage was closed and the children were either returned to their families or placed in other safe foster homes. However, there were a group of teenage girls who for various reasons and challenges were unable to return home.
Those girls became the seed of AusCam Freedom Project.
This bible verse became our vision
“She is Clothed with Strength & Dignity and she laughs without fear of the Future” Proverbs 31:25
Not long after that day in the little coffee shop where we wrote our vision and registered our organisation, we returned to Phnom Penh as a newly formed Charity with dreams and a vision. We had little time in Australia to prepare well, fundraise and cross all our t’s and dot all our i’s. We had a sense of urgency placed on our hearts. Geoff and I were very fortunate we had our own nest egg tucked away and we strongly felt the call of God to use this and that all our own needs would be taken care of. In Philippians 4:6 Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” We knew that if we lived by faith in this promise of future grace, it would be very hard for anxiety to survive.
Our first project was born – “TLC” as it was affectionately known (The Transitions Life Centre) was a home for adolescent girls who had little or no supports, had experienced various forms of abuse, exploitation or were at risk of such and needed a safe home to live and thrive. Of course it wasn’t that quick or simple – navigating the bureaucracy in Cambodia is no easy task! However through many long hours of work, wonderful support from our Khmer friends we signed our MOU with the Cambodian Government (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation) as an International Non-Government organisation. TLC was official.
TLC home operated until June 2016 and we cared for 18 beautiful young women and girls throughout this time. Today we are still in close contact with several of them who were from that original orphanage. Socheata graduated with a bachelor Degree in Accounting and is now a supervisor accountant with a large chain of coffee shops, Srey Leak graduated with a business degree and has a secure future with a great job within the construction field and Srey Nuch is married with a baby and has been working as a teacher assistant. “oh be still my beating heart” – we are so proud of all their achievements.
In 2013 after spending 12 months doing an outreach program in the red light districts of Phnom Penh, we recognised a common thread among the hundreds of young women and girls we encountered – none of them had an education. This was revelation for us as we were struggling emotionally with hearing the stories of all these precious girls. Many had been put to work by families, sold to pimps or poverty sent them to work the streets.
Strategically we decided to create a new program and focus on identifying those girls who were at risk of dropping out of school and ensuring they could finish their education with a new found hope for a positive future. The Freedom Education Scholarship Program for Girls was born in December 2013 with 25 girls. 5 of those 25 girls have just graduated with their national grade 12 exams and in University, as well they are also part of our Girls leadership Council and are now mentoring our younger girls, organising events and consulting with us on our programming. What an awesome achievement!!
Today we have 125 girls on our scholarship program, we have 5 partnered schools and work in several others as well. In the last 6 months we have engaged with 528 girls with our Life skills and personal development workshops and had 100 girls attend our Girls clubs in 4 of our schools.
Saying Thank You to our Cambodian Team!
We could not have achieved anything without the commitment, tenacity, perseverance and loyalty of our wonderful team over the years. They have and continue to work tirelessly in the field in often harsh environments and yet humbly go about their day serving our girls and families.
We began AusCam with one program manager, 1 house mum which soon became 2, a counselor, an awesome long term missionary volunteer from the US and Geoff and I. Over the years we have had some staff come and go, hosted some truly wonderful volunteers who are still a part of our AusCam family through sponsorship and ongoing support. Each one has firmly cemented a little piece of themselves in our organisation. Today our organisation is totally run by a national team and we have 15 incredible staff members. They are our unsung heroes – Geoff and I are so proud of them and everything they bring to AusCam and especially to the hundreds of girls and their families who we exist for.
Saying thank you to our team in Australia!
When Geoff and I decided to found AusCam, my son Benjamin who had just turned 24 years old at the time was involved in all our discussions and decisions from day 1. With no business experience (He was a sound and audio engineer and a guitarist in a band!) he took on the role of President with gusto and determination. He singlehandedly set about to cross all those t’s and dot all those i’s I mentioned earlier. He was inundated with paperwork registering us as a charity with the Australian Charities and Not for Profit Commission, getting our ABN, setting up our bank account, developing our website and the biggest task of all getting our Tax Deductibility Status. He remained as president for several years, managed our website, operated our online social enterprise store and did whatever he could to support us. What a champion… I am so proud of him.
Benjamin & Geoff at a fundraising Event
We have an awesome band of board members – we have an Executive Team and a Creative Team. Some have been with us since our very early days and some have recently joined us – they are the ones who work tirelessly behind the scenes here. It takes a lot of funds to run an operation like AusCam, ensure our governance is top notch and our pitch to the outside world is transparent and authentic. We can’t do this without great people working behind the scenes. Geoff and I are so grateful for their constant love and support. The day to day operations in Australia runs with 2 volunteers. Myself working full time and Leonie – who many of you have regular contact with – manages our Sponsorship program. We operate very leanly here to ensure all your support goes directly to the field.
Board Meeting – Our Board has recently grown and we welcomed 5 new members to the team. No pictures of them yet….
Saying thank you to our donors!
Well what I can say about you all… you breathe the life into AusCam. Without you we can do nothing! Your generous hearts have literally touched hundreds of girls over the past 6 years – in fact more like a thousand girls. Personally, my heart is touched by every single donation that comes through. I see every single one and each time I give thanks for you. Your belief in what we do and why we do it keeps me encouraged and gives me the strength to keep fighting the good fight. We know that if you Educate a girl SHE can change HER world.
Education changes everything!
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
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: