Days for Girls Cambodia - Part 1

Visiting CRST in Cambodia

This year, Sharon & David Hamilton headed to Siem Reap in Cambodia through the partnership between Fella Hamilton & Days for Girls (DfG) Australia. Over the 2 days they were there, they were drawn to learn more about, & take an active role in one of the DfG partnered social enterprises, which is run by the organisation Cambodia Rural Students Trust (CRST) in Siem Reap.

David & Sharon at the CRST headquartersDavid & Sharon (centre) at the CRST headquarters

Fella Hamilton has been working with Days for Girls since 2020 by donating time, expertise and the use of machinery in the cutting of waterproof polyurethane laminate (PUL) fabric to make menstrual hygiene kits. Having cut over 40,000 components so far, our contribution helps DfG Australia immensely. The components we cut are then delivered to the DfG volunteers in Australia who sew together the washable, long-lasting pads and carry pouches for the kits.

The kits made in Australia are distributed to what DfG calls the blue' or 'orange'  impact zones around the world – these zones are countries that dont have an established DfG enterprise program or leadership on the ground.

The red'’ impact zones however, are territories where a well-established enterprise program exists with funding to employ staff to cut, sew and distribute the menstrual hygiene kits, as well as run an educational lesson on womens health.

Cambodia is a DfG red zone and it is through Cambodia Rural Students Trust (CRST) that this program is run. The DfG partnered project is called Project G– Empowering Girls and it is run by students who are sponsored for their education through CRST. They are the only Gold Standard Enterprise in Cambodia. Project G is just one of many student-run social enterprise projects in action here.

Educate, Empower & Inspire

What CRST do is sponsor students from poor rural families to study at the best private high school and university in Siem Reap. It is a non-government organisation (NGO) and registered with the Cambodian Interior Ministry.

The sponsorship includes student education, health and dental care, life skill courses and monthly living allowances, giving these students from poor backgrounds, opportunities of mentorship, life-skills and business skills for an empowered life and social contribution.

With many families in Cambodia, particularly in rural areas, not being able to afford schooling for their children, CRST is a powerful and much-needed organisation in this country.

Founded in 2011 by the Palti family from Melbourne, Australia who fund part of the sponsorship program, the organisation includes High School Education, University Education, a Master’s Degree Program, English & Computer studies, Community Service & Family Support Programs including Educational Social Enterprises such as Project G. There is also a New Selection Program run by a student management team, to ensure the students applying will meet the selection criteria which includes having to come from a poor rural family and are already contributing in some way to the community.

Project G – Empowering Girls

Beginning in 2018, this project focuses on womens health in schools and provides education for both girls and boys. The program includes the cutting, sewing, packing and distribution of kits, and education workshops, all over Cambodia. 100% cotton and flannel are shipped from Australia to Cambodia so that these kits can be locally sewn.

There are 16 team members in the Project G team, with skill sets such as professional sewing for menstrual kits, packing and distribution, teaching via facilitation of educational workshops in schools, and reporting on project activities – this is entirely student led.

Students in rural high schools, girls and boys, are involved in separate educational workshops which include sex education, menstruation, self-defence and sex trafficking.

DAY 1 of Sharon & Davids visit:

 David & Sharon in Cambodia

All hands were on deck on Day 1 when Sharon and David visited the CRST headquarters early in the morning. They began their day meeting and greeting the students. CRST is managed on the ground by the sponsored students themselves, and so Sharon and David were fortunate to meet many of these amazing young adults.

They learnt how these students not only attend High School or University, but in a large part are also involved in various community projects. Project G is one of these projects, and then there is Projects B, L, R, T, V and W. Project B for example is Bicycles for Education, and as the name suggests, Bicycles are donated and repaired to help rural students become educated and enables them to get to school. Poor children in rural areas will often require a 1-2 hour walk in the hot sun or rain, so being gifted a bicycle reduces dropout rates significantly.

Project L - Light for Education, provides distribution of solar study-lights to poor rural students so they can study after dusk. With no electricity in the home, students are prevented from studying and reading after dark, which in turn perpetuates the cycle of poverty.

Another program has even seen students building homes for rural families, with 6 homes in total being built in 2023.

Sharon & David at the working bee packing menstrual hygeine kitsSharon & David packing menstrual hygiene kits at CRST headquarters 

As the Project G packing bee took place that day (it can take 3-5 days to complete packing kits for the month) Sharon and David helped a team of 8 students. They were able to ask plenty of questions and learn more about their experiences at CRST. Each student has come from a poor family, and are grateful for the opportunity to have their education sponsored and give back to poor communities living in rural Cambodia.

All of the items for the menstrual hygiene kits came straight from the sewing room, and the sewing room set-up includes 5 seamstresses and sewing machines. Each of these sewers are fully trained and taught how to make the components of the DfG kit over the course of a year.

The reusable and washable Kits include a care and use guide, drawstring bag, a carry pouch for washing and storing used liners, fabric waterproof shields, tri-fold fabric absorbent liners, washcloth, soap and underwear. The kits are intended to last between 3-4 years when cared for correctly.

DAY 2 of Sharon & David’s visit:

On the 2nd day a bus rode out for 1.5 hours to a rural community. Much excitement is felt in the classroom when the CRST team are coming to facilitate a workshop. The classes can be up to 50 students in each.

With boys and girls in separate rooms, important issues such as body changes, body image, male and female anatomy, reproduction and women’s mensural cycles is taught. Sharon and David watched the facilitation of the workshop with much admiration for the facilitators and students themselves. Sharon loved how the students had so much respect for their teachers and the other students – she especially loved how the students would clap after another student finished speaking.

Sharon and David handed out the menstrual hygiene kits to each of the girls. The kits have such a huge impact on the lives of each and every one of these girls. Living in a poor rural community can often mean that families cannot afford sanitary solutions, and so they resort to using dangerous alternatives such as rags, cardboard, mattress stuffing, banana leaves or nothing at all.

Through Project G, girls and boys are becoming empowered with knowledge about their bodies and about how to manage their periods in a safe and healthy way.

As they left the school, it was comforting for Sharon and David to know that the CRST team would be back in 3 months to undertake a follow up workshop.

David & Sharon handing menstrual hygiene kits to the rural studentDavid & Sharon at the rural school handing out mentsrual hygiene kits

David & Sharon at the rural schoolDavid & Sharon at the rural school with students

Sharon & David Sponsor CRST students:

With Days for Girls Australia not linked to the Days for Girls Project G program at CRST, Sharon and David decided that they wanted to directly help this outstanding organisation, and so after their trip, they began the process of sponsoring 2 students and 1 seamstress for the year.

Student sponsorships are funded primarily by the Palti family with other private individuals also coming on board to sponsor students. Sponsorship of students means more students can have an opportunity to break their poverty cycle through education.

 Sharon & David began the process of sponsoring 2 students and 1 seamstress for the year.

In PART 2 of this Blog here, we meet Kongkea and Ly to learn about their life experiences and work at the CSRT.

LY PACH (Bachelor Degree student studying Business Administration, CRST Family Support Team Member and Project G Production Team Member)

KONGKEA TONG (Bachelor Degree student studying International Relations, CRST Finance Team Member and Project G Education Manager)

Ly & Kongkea in Cambodia

Read Part 2 of this Blog here 

If you would like to learn more about CRST - see here for more information.

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