Crushing poverty and human trafficking are everyday realities for vulnerable children in developing nations. Meet the New Zealand lawyer helping to change the course of thousands of lives in Cambodia for the better.
Helping school children in Cambodia
A successful lawyer settled in New Zealand, you wouldn’t blame Denise Arnold for feeling content with her circumstances. But after the birth of her daughters, her sensitivity to the plight of more vulnerable children began to grow.
“Some children whose families are very poor are vulnerable to tra icking or even just being used as labour units,” she says.
Arnold began volunteering for an organisation that worked to prevent the tra icking and pornography of children, as well as child prostitution. It was there that one particular case shook her to her core.
“I heard there was a man going over to an Asian country, probably with the purpose of having sex with children. I had [enough] to identify him, track him and follow him. When I reported him, I was told it was ‘too hard’ to get involved,” says Arnold. “I had a bit of a personal crisis over it. What was the point of me spending all of these years writing policies and reviewing laws if we couldn’t nail him?” At the same time, Arnold’s eldest daughter, then in intermediate school, came skipping home excited about the o er of a school trip to Asia.
This sent Arnold into a state of panic. “I became overwhelmed with the thought of what the world was like for some kids. In the end, I agreed that she could go – but it was when she came home that I felt like I was called out a bit. My daughter came home. But these other kids didn’t. I thought, I’m part of the problem if I’m not fixing this. I really wanted to be part of the solution.”
In 2006, Arnold began researching all things Cambodia, and visited the country to see it firsthand the following year.
Education is key
Returning to New Zealand, Arnold realised she could help by supporting education systems. “Education interrupts injustice,” she says. ”It protects children and sets them up for a bright future.”
She launched the Cambodia Charitable Trust (CCT) within two schools, to help with all aspects of education, from teacher training to building toilet blocks – crucial to preventing girls from stopping school as they start puberty. Specific needs such as bicycles and uniforms are catered for, and CCT also helps with the whole environment, making sure the schools have drinking water and education materials.
CCT now supports 12 primary and four secondary schools with more than 4700 children, and two teacher training colleges with 400 trainee teachers.
Change through action
Arnold says CCT has given her back her sanity. “I’m driven by the need to act and to see results from my actions. This gives me strength, I feel as though I’m doing something meaningful,” she says.
“I realised I don’t have to solve it all, you just have to do your thing. It’s so easy for us to cop out with, ‘it’s too hard, too big, too far away’ – it’s not at all.”
“I’m driven by the need to act and to see results from my actions.”
Growing young minds The Cambodia Charitable Trust emphasises the importance of quality teaching. Both current and trainee teachers come together for a monthly workshop to improve their education. For more on the Cambodia Charitable Trust and the full image gallery head to good.net.nz/social-justice
Helping hands Having started in two schools, the Cambodia Charitable Trust supports numerous community development programmes, and sponsors 331 children.