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  • How I have reclaimed my Cambodian ethnicity.

    This is a guest post by Cindy Thang. Cindy is the Melbourne-based volunteer Events Coordinator for Human and Hope Association Incorporated, our fundraising partner. Cindy is of Cambodian-Chinese heritage and grew up in Australia. This is her story about reclaiming her ethnicity and how it led her volunteering with Human and Hope Association Incorporated.

    I had never heard of the Khmer Rouge until I turned eighteen, and consequently, I didn’t know my family’s history. Growing up, my parents didn’t talk about their feelings or their struggles, and as a child, I accepted that. Sleepovers at my grandparents were a regular occurrence, with scrambled eggs cooked by my aunt while my parents worked long night shifts. Our family never had conversations about anything beyond the surface level. It’s an aspect of growing up that many families can relate to, especially Asian households. My siblings and I wouldn’t hear ‘I love you’ growing up. Our parents never told us that they were proud of our accomplishments. We didn’t see them at parent volunteer days.

    When I became a teenager, I felt very removed from my Cambodian-Chinese heritage. It pains me to admit it now, but I was ashamed of being Asian. While we were brought up on traditional Chinese values and activities, such as handing out red pockets on Lunar New Year and celebrating the full moon, I felt a disconnect.

    My high school was predominantly white, and I was constantly aware of the fact that I was very not white. I stopped bringing in any home-cooked lunches, avoided speaking in my mother tongue, and I tried not to talk to other Asians in my classes out of fear that I would be lumped in with them. I tried so hard to remove my Asian identity and be a “true blue, born and bred Aussie”. No matter what I tried to do, I couldn’t avoid the jokes at my expense, laughing along so I wouldn’t appear uptight. We would encounter racist remarks thrown at us during our evening walks with strangers shouting “ni hao” and stretching their eyes. Someone even called me a gook.

    I didn’t want to look this way because I didn’t want to be different. There was an inner identity crisis that I had to deal with while trying to figure out who I was, what I wanted to be when I grew up, and if I had remembered to finish my English homework. Most days I didn’t feel like I was Australian enough to be considered one, but I wasn’t Cambodian or Chinese enough to feel accepted in those communities.

    A rare photo of teenager Cindy

    I don’t remember when I heard about the Khmer Rouge, or about my family’s involvement, but it triggered something inside me. We had travelled to Cambodia several times when I was younger to see family, but I didn’t think anything of the run-down houses, the number of starving children on the street, and the way my dad would pull us a little closer when we walked down the streets.

    The Khmer Rouge was a brutal communist regime that lasted for four years. Millions of Cambodians were forced from the capital and surrounding cities into the countryside to undertake agricultural work. They wanted to transform Cambodia into a rural, classless society where there were no rich, no poor and no exploitation. To do so, education, Western influences, religion and private property was abolished. It was one of the worst mass killings of the 20th century. The Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale University estimates that 1.7 million people died under this regime from execution, forced labour and famine. A United Nations investigation estimates 2-3 million, while UNICEF says 3 million. No one knows the real total.

    A photo I took of Phnom Penh in 2013

    There have been movies and documentaries released about the Khmer Rouge, most notably ‘First They Killed My Father’ (2017) based on the biography by Loung Ung and produced by Angelina Jolie, ‘The Killing Fields’ (1984) and ‘The Missing Picture’ (2013). Through these movies and stories, I learned about the suffering and inhumane conditions Cambodians were forced to live in. To viewers, these are just stories from a long time ago about a horrible time in history.

    Except they aren’t just stories. The Vietnamese invasion saw the end of the Khmer Rouge in 1979. That was only forty years ago, and sixteen years before I was born. Most of the adults in my family were teenagers during the Khmer Rouge and I can’t imagine the repression they suffered. My late 104-year old great grandma fled Cambodia with her entire family for a better life in Australia. My eldest aunt, who would have been a little younger than me during the time, still suffers PTSD and cries without realising when she speaks about her experience. My dad lost his older sister due to wrong medication. This is all I know.

    The Royal Palace in 2019

    There is so much that I don’t know about what my family has gone through – honestly, I’m afraid to ask. At twenty-three, I look back at my childhood and see things I never noticed before. My parents may not have said they loved me or were proud, but they always gave me the last bite, even if it was their favourite dish. They would go out of their way and drop by a shop on the way home to buy my favourite food. They didn’t go to parent volunteer days because they were insecure about their broken English, but they always made sure they were present at our school concerts and award ceremonies. They never said the words I wanted to hear, but they showed them in other ways.

    My dad at the Royal Palace, and Phnom Penh in 2013

    Now I can talk to my parents about my day and they will reciprocate. We (sometimes) talk about feelings and there is a playful element to our relationship that didn’t previously exist. I was too young to realise but while I was busy hating the amazing heritage they passed on to me, they were trying to find their footing in a country that wasn’t designed for them. They had to figure out Australia by themselves and only now do I understand that their nights away set me up for the privileged life I lead now.

    I regret refusing to speak my mother tongue because I struggle to communicate with my grandparents now. I wish I asked more questions and embraced our culture more. There are many things I wish I could have done in hindsight, but I can’t redo my past and can only focus on my future.

    I have the privilege of growing up in Australia and am able to separate my life from that history. For me, it’s part of my history, but for Cambodians still living in their homeland, it is part of their past, their present and their future. They are rebuilding a country that suffered from oppression and massacres. Cambodia is taking great strides in the way they are taking back their community – in my most recent visit, they introduced a ridesharing app for tuk-tuks in Phnom Penh! – but there is still so much that we can help with.

    My dad cashing in on my Insta photos

    I volunteer with Human and Hope Association Inc. because I want to do justice for my parent’s sacrifice and give back to a community I am proud to represent. I wouldn’t volunteer for a not-for-profit that I didn’t fully believe in, and the difference with Human and Hope Association is that they care. At the end of the day, they really truly care about the Siem Reap community. It’s evident in the way Sally Hetherington, president of

    With my mum

    HHA Inc., left her friends, a world she had known for five years, left the team so it could be entirely Khmer run. It’s evident in their end goal of working themselves out of a job because that will mean the community has risen out of poverty, which should be the end goal for all charities.

    Human and Hope Association is authentic in the way they want to make an impact. They are genuine in elevating the community out of poverty. It’s not about the money. It’s not about the image. It’s not about our own egos. It’s about the vision. Human and Hope are about my people – the ones who have experienced the worst of humanity and are still the kindest and selfless people I have met. I’m so proud to call these people family.


    Our most recent family photo in Cambodia

  • Join us as we ‘Walk to Cambodia’ this April!

    The distance from Sydney to Siem Reap, Cambodia, is 7,252km. That’s around 9, 572,640 steps. And we are determined to collectively walk them in the name of education this April.

    WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?

    Cambodia remains the poorest ASEAN country with 35% still living in multidimensional poverty, despite recent economic growth. Children and young people under 19 in Cambodia are generally amongst the poorest and constitute 45% of the total poor (UNDP 2018). While these figures may seem overwhelming, we can play our part in changing these statistics.

    We all know that quality education is key to alleviating inter-generational poverty. That’s why this April, we are going to ‘Walk to Cambodia’ and raise enough funds to provide 20 Cambodian children living in poverty with English and Khmer (their native language) education for a full year.

    WHERE ARE THE FUNDS GOING?

    These students study at Human and Hope Association (HHA), a Cambodian-run NGO that conducts education, vocational training and community development projects, targeting the poorest and most vulnerable women and children in rural communities. HHA has a proven track record in bringing its community members out of poverty. They have a 90% pass rate in their English language program, have seen 19 families break the cycle of poverty and have reduced domestic violence, bad hygiene practices and road accidents in its community through workshops.

    WHAT IS INVOLVED?

    Throughout the month, you will aim to walk 10,000 steps a day and will record your steps through our platform. We want to collectively walk the distance to Cambodia! You will have your own fundraising page and will encourage your networks to donate to your fundraising page. For every $120 you raise, a child will receive a year of education. It’s incredible, isn’t it?

    I’M IN! WHERE DO I SIGN UP?

    That’s great, thank you so much for committing to your health and the education of Cambodian children! Here is what will happen:

    1. Head to our registration page to sign up
    2. We will set up an online fundraising page for you
    3. We will contact you with your login for this website so you can record your steps
    4. Once your fundraising page is set up, you can start spreading the word amongst your networks
    5. We will be holding a celebratory event in Sydney at the beginning of May – stay tuned for details!

    So, get your step counter ready, tie up those laces and head on over to our sign up page so we can Walk to Cambodia this April and raise funds to alleviate poverty through education!

  • Empower a Cambodian Woman this IWD

    DONATE $50 TO EMPOWER A CAMBODIAN WOMAN THIS INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY

    “I am very excited after completing HHA’s sewing course. Now, I can help support my family and I am confident and brave when I am around people.”

    Savy has faced many challenges in her life. When she was just 10 years old, her mother passed away. Her father battled with alcoholism her whole life, leaving her struggling to survive day-to-day.

    Yet Savy still had dreams and wanted to study sewing since she was little. But with no money and extra responsibility, she put that dream aside.

    However, one day, when conducting community outreach, our Vocational Training Coordinator came across Savy at her house and told her about the free sewing classes at Human and Hope Association.

    Savy didn’t delay; she immediately registered in the program, eager to grasp this life-changing opportunity. Living far away from Human and Hope Association with no access to a motorbike, Savy rode her bicycle on an 80-minute round trip each day in the hope she would develop a better life for herself.

    After just three months of study, Savy took out a sewing machine microfinance loan through us so she could practice her lessons at home and begin to earn her own income. With a strong commitment, she completed our 10-month sewing course learning life and business skills along the way that developed her self-confidence and leadership.

    Savy now works as a seamstress in an ethical factory in Siem Reap. She earns a fair and stable wage and is able to support herself and her family.

    Your small donation of just $50 will help change the life of a woman like Savy and help them create the best possible future for their families.

    Don’t delay, act now.

    DONATE $50 TO HELP MORE CAMBODIAN WOMEN LIKE SAVY THIS INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY

  • Meet *Sokha

    It has been a while since we have shared a success story of a community member we support. Today, we want to share the inspiring story of *Sokha, a preschool graduate.

    Sokha’s mother is a graduate from our sewing program who wanted a better life for her family. When Sokha turned five, she was enrolled in the preschool program at Human and Hope Association. At first, Sokha was a quiet and shy girl who didn’t like to interact with other children.

    Sokha’s parents, having been involved with Human and Hope Association for a few years, understood the importance of education. They attended our meetings and parenting workshops and learnt how to educate Sokha at home. They worked collaboratively with us to track Sokha’ s improvement.

    After joining our preschool for one year, Sokha graduated and progressed to our Khmer language class, then our English class.

    Sokha’s knowledge, attitude and behaviour have improved dramatically. She came top of her class at public school, and second in her English class at HHA. In just two short years, Sokha has come out of her shell and matured. She is talkative and plays with her friends. She can read and write in Khmer children book very well and spends her spare time reading books with her friends in our library. 

    “I was very sorry that I didn’t have the opportunity to study, so I couldn’t help my daughter with her reading and writing. When I joined the workshops at HHA, I learnt how to help her at home despite my illiteracy. I always asked her about her study and my husband teaches her at home. I am very proud of Sokha because she received a good grade for her studies, she respects me and helps me with some of my housework as well.” Sangorb, Sokha’s mother

    It costs $15 a month to provide a Cambodian child like Sokha with preschool education. Please sign up as a Monthly Champion so other children can be afforded this same opportunity.

  • Join us for our exciting Purpose and Philanthropy Field Trip to Siem Reap in April 2019!

    We are so excited to be able to share an amazing opportunity with you. We are heading to Siem Reap on our inaugural Purpose and Philanthropy Field Trip from the 21st – 27th of April 2019 and YOU ARE INVITED! 

    Imagine heading to Siem Reap for Easter and Anzac Day for this amazing tour and cultural experience – and only having to take three days off work!

    This ethical, inspiring, socially responsible tour will see you form connections with local Khmers who have overcome adversity to move forward with their lives. You will be immersed in the Cambodian culture and learn about the innovative approaches that NGOs and social enterprises are taking to overcome poverty and social issues.

    You can download the detailed itinerary here.

    Travel out to Human and Hope and see firsthand our school, meet our fabulous teachers, see our students loving their learning, then join the local team for a Khmer BBQ. This is a wonderful opportunity to see our charity in action and to see and hear how your support, and our fundraising, make a direct and impactful difference, whilst empowering our community to become self-sustaining.

    Your host for the trip will be Sally Hetherington, President of Human and Hope Association Incorporated. Sally has a wealth of knowledge about international development, the Khmer culture and providing an empowering environment for Cambodian staff.

    Cost of the trip is AUD$1750 per person for single occupancy or AUD$1,500 per person for couples/twin share, excluding airfares.  To join this unique tour, travellers also commit to donate or fundraise a minimum of AUD$500 for Human and Hope Association by the 30th of June 2019.

    Limited to 10 travellers, this is an opportunity not to be missed!

    Register now and secure your place with an AUD$500 deposit.

    Download the detailed itinerary here, and for more information or to register, contact Sally Hetherington at [email protected] 

    We hope you will join us for this life-changing adventure!

    Sally Hetherington and the HHA Team