Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
I’m a former lawyer and political adviser who has now worked in international development and human rights for the past 13 years. I’ve been very fortunate to have worked for a number of inspiring women leaders throughout my career. I’m a mum to two primary-aged children and love our chaotic but joy-filled family.
What made you realize that you wanted to help women and children who have been victims of abuse and sex trafficking?
I’m just one of those people who grew up with a very strong sense of justice from a young age and it is hard to imagine anything more unjust than treating human beings as commodities to be sold, used and abused.
As a mum who can see how much my children value their safe and loving family, I feel particularly strongly about the abuse of children. I find it difficult to think about children being abused at all, let alone repeatedly when they are enslaved and have no support network to turn to.
I have also learned that women are truly amazing. When empowered to heal and rebuild their lives, they are remarkably strong and resilient, and the impact of their empowerment flows through their families and communities.
What is the most difficult thing about your work?
There are two really difficult things. The first is, on a human level, the issues we work with are dark and confronting. The stories are harrowing and there are times I have sat at my desk and just cried. It is especially moving – both upsetting and inspiring – to visit the countries Hagar works in and hear directly from clients about what they experienced but also about their journey to healing since coming to Hagar.
The second difficult thing is that we are a small not-for-profit and while our work is so pivotal to the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people, it is work that is never done. Our team in Australia is passionate but very lean. We work so hard. It can be tough to sustain that level of work but there are still 40 million people in slavery around the world and we are determined to turn that around.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement with Hagar?
In 2016, I met one of our young clients in Cambodia called Sophea. After being handed into slavery by her father at the age of four and exploited and abused for the next eight years, Sophea eventually escaped at the age of 12 and a local village chief helped keep her safe before referring her to Hagar.
By the time I met Sophea, she had walked a long journey to healing through some difficult teenage years but she was then in her final year of university and had a dream to be an advocate against trafficking, slavery and abuse. This resonated with me as someone who has done advocacy for most of my professional life and I wanted to find a way to help Sophea build her advocacy skills.
In 2017, the Federal Parliament initiated an inquiry into whether Australia should introduce a Modern Slavery Act. Hagar made the point to the Parliamentary Committee that it shouldn’t just hear from the policy and research organisations but that it needed to hear from individuals who had actually experienced slavery. We invited Sophea to get on a plane for the first time and come to Australia to share her story with the Committee. Together with Hagar’s Patron, Rachel Griffiths, our Head of Client Care from Cambodia, Sreyna Sam, and myself, Sophea gave compelling evidence about why Australia should tackle modern slavery.
We reached more than 50 million people through the media that month and played a part, together with many other organisations, in building a strong case for a Modern Slavery Act – an Act which became law in Australia this year.
Can you tell us about a success story of one of your clients?
One of our former clients, Longdy, contracted polio when he was three years old and, by five, was no longer able to walk. It was difficult for his family, who were poor, to cover his medical expenses. So, at the age of just eight, he went with traffickers to go and beg on the streets of Thailand as a disabled child. There, he was often hungry, had his money stolen from him and was physically abused. He was sent back to Cambodia a number of times but ended back in Thailand each time until, eventually, the police referred him to Hagar.
Like Sophea, Longdy’s teenage years were difficult after all the trauma he had experienced at a young age. However, he is now a young man with two Bachelor Degrees and is about to commence a Masters degree. He is happily married and is working for Hagar as a counsellor for boys recovering from abuse.
What are the ways that someone like us can help and give back to women and children you’re working with?
Become a real champion of this kind of work by becoming a regular donor – we call these people our “Hagar Heroes” – but also thinking creatively about ways you can generate other funds. MURKANI is a great example of this with their vision to create the Freedom range of necklaces, with $10 from each necklace going to support Hagar’s work.
We’ve had other supporters organize ping-pong events, dinners and second-hand clothes parties. Some have asked their families and friends to make a donation in lieu of birthday or wedding gifts.
If you’re a runner (or, even better, if you’re not!) join us for Run for Freedom, a life-changing run around the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, raising funds for survivors who are there running with you as part of the event. As a life-long loather of running, I did this last year and it was hands-down one of the best experiences of my life.