Human trafficking: anybody who has read "Half
the Sky" by Kristoff and WuDunn understands the extent of the
problem. Unlike victims in wars, crimes and disasters, the victims
of human trafficking disappear. They cease to exist. Although
no-one can do more than guess at the numbers, it is likely millions
of people are affected. People are sold, lives ruined and
How do you combat trafficking? In my case, one girl at a
How much does it cost to transform a life? $NZ35 a month.
Education, opportunity and success
I am a lawyer in Tauranga,
and a mother of two teenage girls. I have just seen my eldest girl
head off to Victoria University, excited about the new life ahead
of her. Like me, she has a world of opportunities to choose from. I
didn't realise when I was her age how fortunate I was. I had never
had to worry about money, and school was just something that I had
to go to. Luckily, I loved my years at school.
I went on to study Law at Auckland, and a post graduate Business
Diploma at Massey. I started my law career in Tauranga and worked
my way up the ranks with new-found enthusiasm and with dogged
determination. I didn't know I could be so ambitious! My babies
meant I chose to work part time for a few years, but I never really
felt I could step off the career path for fear of being left
I became a Partner in the law firm at 29. I decided I needed to
work 4 days a week as I had the highest income and was therefore
responsible for the economic wellbeing of a family. My husband took
on most of the child care. I had three precious days home a week
with my girls.
Not so lucky
At about that time I became unsettled about the state of the
World and my role in it. I became more concerned about the plight
of girls unlucky enough to be born into developing countries. They
did not live a privileged life free from war and disease, and they
dreamt about an education without any real hope of getting one.
Perhaps this raised consciousness was a result of my protective
streak towards my daughters? Whatever it was, I needed to know that
I could make a meaningful difference to the lives of those girls
and contribute in some lasting way.
I volunteered my legal skills to ECPAT in Auckland (now Child
Wise, www.ecpat.org.nz/) and
this gave me an outlet for a few years. It also gave me a much
greater awareness of the extent of human trafficking throughout the
Then came the fateful day in 2007 that I read about children
being sold in Cambodia. Something inside me shifted and I have not
been able to look back since then.
I travelled to Cambodia in 2007 to see for myself how I could
get involved directly. It became clear to me that education was the
key to breaking the poverty cycle, and that poverty and ignorance
leave children extremely vulnerable to trafficking.
I also appreciated the importance of the rule of law and human
rights in a third world country. In New Zealand we take this for
granted. We have a very stable political system that is free from
corruption. I understood that part of my role would be supporting
lawyers and NGO's working to provide access to justice for poor and
vulnerable communities in Cambodia.
On my return home, I established the Cambodia Charitable Trust to support
schools in rural Cambodia. Our goal is to see as many children
complete Primary School education as possible. We also want to
increase the numbers of children completing Secondary school. We
have over 4,500 children at the 8 schools we currently support. We
also support lawyers and NGO's.
Girls are underrepresented at schools. If a family cannot afford
to send all of its children to school, the girl stays home. Girls
are set to work around the home younger than boys, and, to earn an
income for the family, they are withdrawn from school and sent to
work at garment factories. They are at risk of being
The lack of education of girls has damning long term effects.
Studies show educated girls marry later and then to a better
quality of husband. They have sex later and are protected from some
of the STI's as a result. They have fewer children and having a
wider pelvis because they are older manage to deliver them without
suffering damage or dying in childbirth. The children themselves
are healthier and survive infancy. Those children then go on to be
educated. It is a real spiral up. An uneducated girl spirals down,
her family with her. Some suffer a worse fate.
Saving the next Sochal
Sochal would be 15 this year. Last year I met her sister and
heard Sochal's story. She had to leave school to work for her
family. The only work she could find was in a garment factory. The
conditions were poor so she was interested when an employment
agency offered to find her and her friends work in Malaysia. The
agency would arrange everything, their passports, the jobs, a place
to live. Sochal's family were very concerned. Would she be safe?
Would she be happy? Would she have food to eat? Eventually they
were satisfied (what choice did they have?) and got phone numbers
to be able to contact her. Sochal left with 5 other girls from her
village. They disappeared a year ago. The phone numbers don't work.
The agency does not exist.
In our effort to combat trafficking we extended our help to
girls from particularly poor families like Sochal's. We started
this in April 2010.
We provide a scholarship for the girl to remain in school. This
family are told that their daughter is doing well at school and
that her education is important. She is provided $25 US support a
month ($35 NZ) which is provided in the form of school supplies and
food for the family.
This payment is roughly the equivalent of what these girls would
earn if sent to work. It effectively replaces a wage. When these
families are existing (barely) on about $1 a day, the scholarship
is significant. For many, the food provided is the difference
between starving or not. 100% of all money donated goes to the
projects in Cambodia. I pay for all of my own travel. My firm meets
the administration costs.
We ask for individuals or companies to sponsor a girl.
This January I returned to Cambodia again to review the impact
of this assistance. I have many stories in my head. Let me share
two with you.
Navy is an orphan (see left). She is 11. She lives
about 12 kilometres from the school we support and walks to and
from school each day. Her parents have left to find work in
Malaysia. Navy was left to live with a neighbour. She is quiet and
studies hard at school. She is particularly at risk, but is firmly
on the school's radar and the teacher we have employed in the
school to manage the programme visits her home and makes sure she
We don't just support the children that are at school. We
actively seek out children from the villages that aren't even
within the system and support the family to get them to school.
Chhry is 12. She has never been to school. Her mother is a widow
and her youngest sibling died recently. She has two younger sisters
aged 10 and 7. In spite of 5 trips to Cambodia where I believe I
have seen poverty, I was shocked to see the state of Chhry's
They had no home. They slept on the ground and cooked on an open
fire. The children were clearly malnourished and dehydrated. The
family did not even have anything to hold water in. I was frankly
surprised the children hadn't been sold. We were too late to save
the youngest child but we are doing what we can now.
Chhry's mother wept when we told her help would come. Two days
later our volunteers provided food, blankets, mosquito nets, a
water container and basic supplies. We have got Chhry to come to
school. When the younger children are in a better state of health
they too will start school.
One girl at a time
I try not to let it all get to me. We have thousands to care for
and you cannot let yourself get overwhelmed. To maintain my sanity
I am very results driven - I need to see things changing for the
better. I am convinced we are transforming lives as a minimum. In
many cases we are saving lives.
We have 85 sponsored children now, Chhry being the latest.
Upon returning to my comfortable life I
reflect again that we are so lucky. Would you miss $35 a month? I
doubt it. Would $35 save your life? I doubt it.
But it would save theirs.
07 928 4425