Sara Gingold, 23, from Australia, is a volunteer for Cambodian-Singaporean non-profit organisation, Riverkids. Sara – along with her teammates; Peo Bona, 30, from Cambodia, and Elaine Woon, 42, from Singapore – was recently named as a finalist in the 2014 Singapore Committee for UN Women and MasterCard Project Inspire competition, which works to empower women through entrepreneurship and financial literacy. Here is Sara’s story, in her own words…
“I always knew I wanted to work with an NGO. In Cambodia, 18.6%* of the population lives below the poverty line. It saddened me to think young girls, due to their financial situation, ended up in the sex industry or collecting trash. I was impressed by Riverkids commitment to work with difficult cases, and their holistic program; Riverkids offers education, social work, healthcare and microbusiness support.
I run Riverkids’ fundraising initiatives from Australia; this involves organising events, selling Riverkids products, co-ordinating volunteers, appealing to donors and public speaking. I also mentor Maly, a sewing teacher assistant, who was one of Riverkids’ first students.
Though I know the impact I’m having in Australia is important, I miss being in Cambodia. I particularly miss spending time with the students at lunchtime; we’d laugh together, speaking a mixture of Khmer, English and body language. I enjoyed that bond of sisterhood. I also remember how hard it was to see the struggles these women and children face. Sometimes, the hardest thing about the work is not what you can do to help, but what you can’t.
I try to visit the Cambodia team once a year, last time we made a video about the university students for a fundraiser – through fundraising last year we secured five university scholarships for our students. These women are now studying at university, something as children in the slums they could only have dreamed about. They’ve also agreed to mentor younger Riverkids students. Seeing our students become leaders in their community fills me with pride.
This year when I visit Cambodia, I hope to run a small workshop for staff based on what I learn through Project Inspire. Our Project Inspire microbusiness project was influenced in many ways by Maly, who our late Country Director, Mr Phy Sophon, found when she was collecting ait chai (trash); she was a young girl who should have been in school. That day proved life-changing for Maly, and she enrolled in Riverkids classes.
When Mali was 16, her family started pressuring her to sell her virginity – thankfully, she knew where to go for help. Riverkids also set up a small, home, sewing business for her and a few other girls. At Riverkids, women learn skills to help them find work outside of the sex industry, and earn a profit.
What struck me most about Cambodia when I arrived was how strong the women are. Over time, I realised this was because they had to be; Cambodian women face alarmingly high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault. What Riverkids has shown me is that women are often the ones who bring about change; when you help one girl advance in life, she will grab the hands of the people next to her and bring them along with her.”
BY SARA GINGOLD
Vote for From ‘Ait Chai’ Collector to Fashion Designer in the 2014 People’s Choice Award.
Watch Riverkids’ video entry.
Get to know all of our 2014 Project Inspire finalists.