A Mile in Serey’s Shoes – Cambodian Rural Life 1/2 Day Experience
Wow, where to begin. I’ve been following the work of Free to Shine since January 2018 after seeing founder Nicky Mih, speak at an event in London. She is a compelling public speaker, and each time I have met Nicky since then, I have been so moved by her passion and dedication to her mission to keep girls safe and prevent them from been sex trafficking in Cambodia.
She first encountered this painful reality when she was volunteering in Cambodia years ago. She wanted to do something to change that. But what she discovered was that while there were so many organisations working with the victims of child-trafficking, few were specifically working on prevention.
So, she established an organisation with the highest child protection standards to change this picture.
Free to Shine’s program has five main pillars that help them achieve this mission.
- Educational Scholarships (access to school, transport & supplies)
- Addressing Basic Needs (Water filters, vegetable seeds, improving shelter conditions etc.
- Mentorship and Leadership (monthly visits at home or school)
- Social Work Support (partnerships in local community)
- Community Education (training & discussions in the villages on subjects such as ‘Safe Migration’, ‘Knowing Your Human Rights’ and ‘Preventing Child Abuse’).
Following another emotional experience with Nicky at an event in Singapore last year, my team at Brandlective felt an inclination to do more with Free to Shine, which has led to us being in Cambodia on this trip. Nicky was busy back in Australia getting the final draft of her book edited, so we had the pleasure of meeting Sierra and Sotheareak at the Siem Reap office to take part in their 1/2 day Cambodian rural life experience ‘A Mile in Serey’s Shoes’.
We began with an introduction to the history of Cambodia including the Cambodian Civil War (1967-1975) and The Khmer Rouge Cambodian genocide (1975-1979), this is important to grasp in order to understand the culture in Cambodia. The lasting effects on the people of Cambodia are very real and can be seen across education and literacy rates, health conditions, intergenerational trauma and spirituality.
A mental health study in 2009 found that up to 40% of Cambodians suffered psychological problems and approx 14% over 18 years of age suffered from PTSD as a result of the genocide. Only 3000 of the 20,000 teachers survived and only 45 of 600 medical doctors survived the Khmer Rouge – of those, 20 fled the country.
As a westerner, it is challenging to comprehend what it must have been like to witness 25% of the countries population murdered and interpret how Cambodian’s have managed to recover.
The experience that Free to Shine have put together is based on a similar foundation to the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book series. So as a participant in this half-day experience, I am ‘Serey’, a 30-something-year-old woman, who has three children and has recently lost her husband. I am presented with a series of every-day decisions to make, each of which result in a different outcome. I thought it was good to have covered the history of Cambodia before the interactive experience because knowing that ‘Serey’ is unlikely to have had a formal education, and the other challenges around developing critical thinking skills directly effects the way you make some of these decisions. I found myself throughout the exercise, making a decision for Serey that was the opposite of what I would choose if I were in the same situation. It is a powerful example of how cultural, political, historical and social experiences impact the choices we make.
What an awesome experience! I absolutely loved it, because it truly helped me grasp why the work Free to Shine do around very simple life skills is so essential.
If you are visiting Siem Reap, then I highly recommend you take part in this experience, here are some of the benefits:
- A deeper connection to life in rural Cambodia.
- A chance to connect with Free To Shine’s team and learn more about their work supporting some of the most disadvantaged girls and families in Siem Reap Province.
- And some delicious Cambodian snacks a wealth of knowledge, and lots of fun.
Enquiries for bookings can be directed to: firstname.lastname@example.org
There is a recommended donation of $55 USD to participate which helps Free to Shine continue to continue carrying out their work.
About Free to Shine:
Vision: Educated girls, free from sex trafficking, leading and shaping their communities and country.
Mission: We prevent the trafficking and exploitation of girls by strengthening family and community systems to prioritise the safety and education of their children.
How can you support Free to Shine?
- Sponsor a girl via the website: https://www.freetoshine.org/sponsor/
- B1G1 members can give via the platform
- Shine & Dine: If you live in Australia, why not also visit some of the restaurants and cafes that have menu items which result in a donation to Free to Shine? More info here: https://www.freetoshine.org/shineanddine/
To learn more about how Free To Shine got started, watch this short video from Nicky: