Days 6 and 7 of our Cambodia Cycle Challenge were different to the rest of our time here. For one, we didn’t do any cycling! We did, however, connect with our purpose – the reason we all embarked on this fundraising adventure, which was to support the work of IJM and learn more about the issue of modern slavery.
We had the incredible opportunity on Day 6 to spend the day with IJM’s field office in Phnom Penh. In the morning, the legal team briefed us on their work and told us more about the issue of modern slavery, and particularly forced labour (which is prominent in Cambodia). We were fortunate to hear from IJM Cambodia’s head of legal, Sarouen Sek, who’s own story is inspirational – a journey from nightclub DJ, to undercover informant, to one of the top human rights lawyers in Cambodia (FYI, he has a 100% conviction rate for the 30 forced labour prosecutions he has brought over the past 2 years!).
You can hear more about Sarouen’s story by clicking on the video below.
I was moved by the stories we heard from the IJM Cambodia team. They fight tirelessly to protect the vulnerable. This job is far from easy but it is clear the team is deeply committed to the cause. They are heros and it was a privilege to meet them and learn from them.
IJM Cambodia – proving IJM’s model works
When IJM started operations in Cambodia in the early 2000s, child sex trafficking was an epidemic. After a decade working alongside government officials and NGO partners, IJM witnessed an inspiring increase in the government’s ability to fight the crime and a dramatic reduction of child sex trafficking. This progress shows that justice for the poor is possible when you invest in improving public justice systems.
To read more about IJM’s model, I recommend its recently published Justice Review, which specifically looks at the issue of labour trafficking in Cambodia and the Thai fishing industry. You can access the Justice Review here – https://www.ijm.org/documents/studies/IJM-Justice-Review.pdf.
Learning about Cambodia’s past
Before leaving Cambodia, our team visited The Killing Fields and S.21, a high school turned torture camp during the time of the Khmer Rouge. It was important for us to learn more of what happened in Cambodia in the late 1970s to understand the landscape today. It is estimated that 3 million people out of an overall population at the time of 8 million died through execution, starvation or disease. The Killing Fields and S.21 now serve as a monument to all those who died and as an educational tool to ensure history never repeats itself.
Men and women aged 43 and over in Cambodia today lived through this time. Cambodia is a country still in recovery. The lack of available education and job opportunities make people vulnerable to trafficking and slavery and sadly there are individuals out there who will take advantage of any vulnerability for financial gain. Thankfully there are organisations like IJM working on the ground here making it more difficult for the trafficking rings, and there are others doing what they can to create opportunities for employment and economic empowerment.
David and I spent our last afternoon in Cambodia before flying home with 60 beautiful young, smiling girls, who hugged us, welcomed us and shared their stories with us. Their stories are horrific. Each one of these children has been raped and is now living in a survivor shelter where they receive intensive aftercare, counselling and support.
I’m devastated that these lovely souls have suffered so much. During our time in Cambodia I have seen some of the poverty and vulnerability. And I have met with the team from IJM who rescue people from slavery, trafficking and violence. I have also met with 3 other NGOs, Project Futures, Chab Dai and Century 9, who facilitate aftercare and provide opportunities to empower survivors. The teams here are incredible and I feel privileged that we’ve been able to meet with them and, through our fundraising efforts, support the anti-slavery movement in Cambodia. I leave hopeful that the survivors we met will have a better future and that they will heal from the cruel violence they experienced.
It is clear to me that the work that IJM is doing in Cambodia is making a difference. Their system of justice transformation works, and importantly, it empowers the local people to uphold their own laws and to hold the people who violate those laws to account.
We have now raised just shy of $90,000 for IJM ($89,284.90 to be exact). Thank you to everyone who has supported our fundraising efforts. I encourage you, if you are in a position to do so, to please donate again. I have. I want to see this country heal, and I want the stories of slavery in Cambodia, in Australia, and across the globe, to stop. The individuals working at IJM’s field office in Cambodia are remarkable and inspirational. They have my support.
Finally, I would like to thank Team WK – Belinda, Kieran, Sam, Rachel, Amanda, Emma and Danni from Sydney; Will, and Ella from Perth; Hope, Kathy and Sara from Melbourne; Natasha from Wellington; and Hsu-Ann from IJM Australia for all being part of this adventure. You are amazing and it has been wonderful to share this experience with you. Be proud of yourselves. That cycle ride was hard, but we did it!!