A HUMAN rights organisation based in Mornington helps girls in rural Cambodia get an education and this, in turn, makes them less vulnerable to people traffickers and the ubiquitous sex trade.
Mornington resident Nicky Mih established Free To Shine in 2010 to “make a difference” to the thousands of southeast Asian girls who find themselves exploited through poverty, lack of education, and ignorance.
“The organisation began with a simple idea: ‘It starts with you’,” she said.
“I kept reading these harrowing stories about girls in the sex trade and it got to the point that I had to act, I had to do something to help.”
So Ms Mih, with a background in teaching and working with children, packed her bags and headed to Cambodia. She arrived in Siem Reap and spent a month with survivors of sex slavery. What she heard horrified her.
There are a number of great organisations in the cities helping girls escape the sex trade, but rural areas are often overlooked. The difficulties accessing remote communities and villages have stopped other organisations from helping these girls, but not Ms Mih.
Claire Schnackenberg, who is doing an internship at Free To Shine, said studying was the most effective way to stop people traffickers, as well as listening to the stories of survivors and local victims, so Ms Mih decided to make education her organisation’s main focus.
“She found that girls who were better educated were far less likely to be targeted, and that simply being in school can make all the difference,” Ms Schnackenberg said.
“Involving the local community is also essential in getting sponsors and supporters.”
In five years, Ms Mih and Free To Shine have put 500 at-risk girls back in school and provided them with basic human rights such as clean water, shelter and food.
Backed by a team of dedicated young women, including a group of Mornington residents, Free To Shine also helps Australian women.
By providing leadership opportunities, as well as skills in working in a human rights organisation, the women involved are helping girls on an international scale and getting the experience they need to enact change in their communities.
Free To Shine’s Mornington Masquerade Party is on Saturday 10 October. The night of dancing, music and fun supports an organisation committed to helping Cambodian girls.
Alongside its annual party the group runs movie nights and participates in fun runs.
For more info, check out freetoshine.org or on Facebook at facebook.com/FreeToShine.org