Year project established: 2002
Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Project Categories: Social & Family Development, Community Health
– Children at risk
– Families of child victims
– Families affected by domestic violence
Project Freedom was established to bring freedom to children and families caught up in poverty and oppression. It is a social work and rehabilitative project that helps children and families from abusive and/or exploitative backgrounds, as well as those who are seeking to break out of the poverty cycle.
While Cambodia is emerging from decades of unprecedented human calamity, economic and social poverty, oppression and exploitation is still widespread across the country. Approximately two out of ten Cambodians live below the poverty line (World Bank, Feb 2014). The tragic reality is that the legacy of destruction and assault continues to affect the most innocent and vulnerable of Cambodia’s people, its children. Countless children throughout the country are being sexually and physically assaulted in their own homes and villages, as well as being trafficked for sexual or economic exploitation. Many Cambodians also still live in a situation of poverty in urban and rural slums, where prospects are bleak and the family unit is under threat.
Project Freedom aims to minister to the suffering and oppression faced by the poor in Phnom Penh – by improving the spiritual, mental and physical health of vulnerable groups in Cambodia, particularly families and children. Currently our social workers work amongst slum dwellers in the area of Phnom Penh, where they are surviving on minimal resources and money.
Children-at-risk: Most of the reported cases of sexual abuse and exploitation occur among girls, at an age when they are experiencing physical growth, but have limited skills to protect themselves or seek help.
Families of child victims: Many of the child victims are abused by people within their own community. It is clear therefore that children are most at risk from family members, neighbours and boyfriends. Project Freedom reaches out to families in poor communities to empower, educate and help them raise their children in a healthy way.
Families affected by domestic violence: The prevalence of violence in Cambodian families is very high. About one out of six women in Cambodia is affected by domestic violence. Project Freedom reaches out to families who suffer from domestic violence, and works with spouses to help them resolve conflicts in a constructive and peaceful way. Project Freedom also reaches out to the children of these families, to help them overcome their trauma.
Counselling: Counselling is provided to victims of child abuse and domestic violence.
Social work: Our social workers offer social services to the community and clients that participate in our training programmes.
Child safety: Training is provided to children, working closely with their parents and school teachers, to raise awareness on topics such as abuse, domestic violence and safety.
Domestic violence protection: Training is provided to raise awareness of child abuse and empower children and families to improve their lives.
Hygiene habits: Training is provided to children and adults on hygiene topics.
Hospital & medical assistance: We assist clients in need of critical medical services, through the use of MTI’s Medical Emergencies Fund.
The funds from Boonah Freedom Climb – 20k’s in 20 days has recently arrived at Project Freedom! Johan, Lenie and the Project Freedom team were incredibly thankful for the hard work and generosity of all who supported and participated.
Currently, Project Freedom has been sending teams into 4 slums on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, close to the Project Freedom compound. Each team is providing prevention/child safety training to parents and children around the dangers of trafficking and the signs to be aware of. Project Freedom is also keen to invest in education to the provinces in the coming months. Currently they are supporting 3 provinces, but would like to increase this to 6 provinces.
Covid 19 continues to prevent children from accessing the Project Freedom school. Education Packs continue to be distributed to the children in the slums. Project Freedom is continuing their existing visits into the slums to support families during this uncertain time.
Work is scarce and many families are struggling to make ends meet. These pressures have a direct impact on domestic violence, trafficking and abuse. People attempt to cross the borders into other countries without border identification papers seeking work. They are desperate and are easy to take advantage of.
Things are not too bad in Cambodia, officially there are 122 cases, 28 in Phnom Penh, and zero deaths because of COVID-19. Currently there is a travel ban between the provinces and the city during the Khmer New Year Celebrations in April to limit the half of the population that would usually travel from doing so.
All schools are closed for a month and religious and social meetings are forbidden. Project Freedom are continuing to help vulnerable children with the distribution of homework packets for the English class and bible stories so they can study at home. Social Workers are helping the poor people with food and medical assistance.
Shops & markets are still open, as well as the big garment factories where hundreds of thousands of girls (and boys) are working, so the economy is still going. There was a plan to close down for 3 months, and some factories wanted to close completely and move to another country. However, the government has made it possible for supplies to continue to come from China, and factories can continue to operate as usual – as long as there is no major outbreak of Covid-19.
All bars, casino’s and brothels are closed. However, there is concern that this is making it harder for the girls who are trafficked and exploited to ear a lot of money for their captors. It is likely they will be forced to work in secret places under much harsher circumstances.
Meeting the Jogini women of India, while on a vision trip in 2013 was the catalyst for beginning the Boonah Freedom Climb.
Who is a Jogini woman you might ask? A Jogini is a woman or young girl who is dedicated to the goddess Yellamma, then sold for sex when they reach puberty and condemned to a life of ritualized prostitution. It is their religious duty to provide sexual favours to the men of the community. Girls are initiated without their consent and usually do not know or understand what becoming a Jogini involves. When they are no longer useful, they become outcasts within their own community.
Visiting the shelters that provided a safe place where counseling, medical care and education could be provided for these women and girls was inspiring.
Upon returning to Australia, I felt what I had seen in India demanded a response. When I shared my experience with my friend Tracey, we decided that we not only COULD do something, but that we WOULD do something. We ran a movie night in our small town to raise funds and awareness for the plight of the Jogini women and girls caught in sex slavery and oppression. We were incredibly excited by the number of people that attended, and by the number of those who wanted to know more. We were so inspired, that we decided to continue to share this story and raise awareness for these women & children.
The following year, the inaugural Boonah Freedom Climb was held. The beautiful Mt Edwards, on Lake Moogerah in the Scenic Rim was the perfect place to hold the climb. It was on the mountain that people would struggle, hurt and work together to reach the summit. It was a climb that reflected the lives of the women and children they were climbing for….a life of constant struggle where no matter how much they try they cannot escape the oppression, abuse and poverty they are in…. they can never reach the top.
After a couple of years supporting the Projects in India, and due to circumstances out of our control, Boonah Freedom Climb was no longer able to send funds to India. This was a difficult time. We spent time reflecting on the reason why we began the climb in the first place, and the words of Cathey Anderson, the founder of The Freedom Climb initiative, continued to speak to our hearts.
“My wish is that all women and children would know their God-given value and worth. They are not objects to be used for financial gain or personal satisfaction. They are uniquely and wonderfully made, and no one should take that intrinsic knowledge away from them. We will keep on being a voice for each one of them.”
We decided that we couldn’t just give up – we could still be a conduit to making a difference in the lives of women and children caught up in oppression, abuse and poverty. Tracey and I began to seek God’s direction for a new project that Boonah Freedom Climb could support and invest in. When it came time to decide, we realised that that Project Freedom in Cambodia had been on both our hearts – and so became our answer.
In 2017, we were given the amazing opportunity of visiting Project Freedom. We were in awe of the amazing work the leaders, counselors and volunteers were able to do in the lives of women and children. It still astounds us to think that someone could be so desperate for food or for medicine that they feel their only option is to sell their child or themselves. The vulnerable are tricked into thinking they will go to a better place and live a better life, but unbeknown to them, they are trafficked to other countries and sold for bonded labour, prostitution, work for minimal or no wage and oftentimes are beaten. Our trip to Cambodia has had both a lasting and personal impact on us, and has confirmed, more than ever that there is a huge need among the Cambodian people. We realised that whatever we could do – no matter how insignificant it seemed, would go a long way for Project Freedom and the people they support. It would also go along way in the fight to end human trafficking and modern-day slavery.
It is safe to say that every Boonah Freedom Climb we have hosted has been incredibly different. We have had difficult times and many moments of incredible blessing. Most importantly, we have had the joy of meeting many people willing to share the vision of Boonah Freedom Climb and become agents of change in our world today. Every person has played a vital role in bringing hope to the hopeless, giving a voice to the voiceless, and they have stepped out of your comfort zone, so that they can be a part of tranforming the lives of women and children in Cambodia.
OUR CHALLENGE – THEIR FREEDOM!
The very first Boonah Freedom climb was held on the slopes of Mt Edwards in 2015. We had answered the call to climb a mountain to raise awareness and funds to enable women and children, caught in the horrors of human trafficking and modern day slavery, to be released and restored. Boonah Freedom Climb was a step of faith and a symbol to our community that 1 person could make a difference.
105 people accepted the challenge to climb for Freedom. It was an incredible of time
Each of our climbers carried a slave profile card, enclosing the real life story of a person caught in the oppressive grip of modern day slavery and human trafficking, as well as a small pouch of lifeless sand. After they had had a time of celebration and reflection, lead by each groups’ leaders, the sand was poured into each climbers’ palm and then scattered over the mountain as a symbol of declaring freedom for those who could not declare freedom for themselves, and that their live are NOT worthless.
It had been an intense time of preparation, prayer and planning. The outcome was an incredible First Boonah Freedom Climb! It also gave our climbers the chance to raise valuable awareness and funds and to be part of the solution to human trafficking and modern day slavery.
In 2016, due to restrictions in sending funds to India, the Project supported by Boonah Freedom Climb needed to change. After much thought and prayer both We felt that Project Freedom in Phnom Penh would become our new focus. Project Freedom really spoke to our hearts. Situated between slums on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, this project provided education, counselling and rehabilitation for women and children who had been trafficked or were struggling with domestic violence in their homes. It also provided much needed food and medicine to families too poor to support themselves.
What thrilled us most was that Freedom Climb funds were used to support individuals and families on case by case basis. The funds were used to help individuals at their greatest point of need.
Our third Freedom Climb was a time of difficulty and incredible reflection. We had been running Boonah Freedom Climb for a couple of years….the spread sheet was in place, we knew what it took to run the climb but we were struggling. It had become more about the numbers climbing and funds raised than about those we were climbing for!! We were going through the motions of Boonah Freedom Climb. We were questioning ourselves….Where we still meant to be doing this? Had Boonah Freedom Climb run its course? Was it time to move on?
That year we had 183 people climbing. We had assumed that the more people who climbed would equate to increased funds being sent to the project, but that wasn’t the case. We had were learned some hard lessons that year.
The other blessing that occurred for We after Boonah Freedom Climb 2017 was the opportunity to visit Project Freedom in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We were feeling a little overwhelmed, searching for our future direction for Boonah Freedom Climb and it was during this time, walking through the slums of Phnom Penh that our hearts were reset and the fire reignited. We came back to Australia humbled, inspired and reinvigorated.
Following our trip to Cambodia, with a renewed spring in our step, we began planning for Boonah Freedom Climb 2018.
It was our desire for Boonah Freedom Climb to provide our climbers with increased opportunities to reflect upon their purpose for climbing. To support this, not only did our climbers carry their Slave profiles but we also began the “Ring of Freedom”. This was created to give each climb group time to rest and reflect on their “why” as they climbed the mountain. It provided each climber with a small resource that they could use to tell others of their Boonah Freedom Climb experience.
It was an incredible year on the mountain. God’s grace had been sufficient and we had been transformed. Hearts had been inspired and Project Freedom had been blessed!
In 2019, Boonah Freedom Climb celebrated 5 years of climbing for Freedom!!! We celebrated this special milestone by hosting the “Five for Freedom Dinner” and our 5th Boonah Freedom Climb.
We celebrated God’s faithfulness and covering that had enabled Boonah Freedom Climb to grow each year, without incident.
We celebrated the commitment of our climbers, both leaders and participants, who struggled and hurt to climb a mountain to raise valuable funds and awareness.
We celebrated our local community that have consistently supported us by sharing our story through media, advertising and participation.
We celebrated the partnerships with our local and Brisbane church communities that had embraced the vision of Boonah Freedom Climb and given freely of their resources and time.
We celebrated the vision of Operation Mobilisation and Mercy Teams International that have committed to care for and minister to the community of “The White House” in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Life is strange!!! Who would have thought that at the beginning of 2020 we would be dealing with a pandemic and life, as we had known it, would be so altered! So what was Boonah Freedom Climbs’ response ……LET’S GO VIRTUAL!!
And so it was that Boonah Freedom Climb evolved from climbing a mountain to completing 20 k’s in 20 days. We were unable to climb together but we could still make a difference together….it was a Boonah Freedom Climb where participants could walk, hike, swim, run, ride their bikes, all in their own space, at their own pace and in their own time!
We had people registering from all over Australia. Children as young as 8 and elderly people in their 80’s joined the journey. 150 people completed 20k’s in 20 days in a myriad of ways, and the support and funds raised were truly humbling.