Making a difference for 25 years

In the past 25 years many charities and NGOs have come and gone in Cambodia, but Awareness Cambodia has remained an integral part of the Kampong Speu community and a leader in providing the services and programs needed.

So what is it about Awareness Cambodia that has allowed us to stay true to our ethos while evolving to meet the changing needs of our local community?

Our distinct approach focuses on education as a means of empowerment. Our team is dedicated to breaking the cycles of poverty, abuse, illiteracy and neglect to give families a chance to move beyond current limitations.

Education helps create generational change.

It was 25 years ago that we dared to dream a dream – a dream of creating a new paradigm for the underprivileged in Cambodia. We wanted to develop a world of opportunity for the children in our care, a world where hopes and dreams could be realised.

This dream led to the inception of Sunshine House, House of Progress and the Graduation House project. Within these Child Development programs we have worked hard to create a ‘better future’ for our children – and the foundation for that better future has been a commitment to education.  Going far beyond delivering a rudimentary education, our programs are designed to nurture individual talents and allow our children to explore all the educational and vocational options on offer.

The opening of Graduation House

The opening of Graduation House

Our holistic approach has seen orphaned, abandoned and abused children who came to us 20 years ago grasp the opportunities afforded by education and pursue their dreams. Today those first vulnerable children we rescued have graduated from university (with degrees in fields like civil engineering, design, architecture, accountancy, English literature, business and economics), completed vocational training and gained employment. Having been instilled with confidence and a sense of achievement, they have taken their places in Cambodian society. We are thrilled so many have not only embarked on brilliant careers but also married and started families of their own. We beam with pride as our Awareness Cambodia family continues to grow!

So successful have our Child Development programs been that we extended our reach further into the community to provide educational opportunities for the rural poor. Through our scholarship program, academically gifted young adults are able to study medicine and agriculture at university. These graduates will hold important roles in the community: providing essential medical services or delivering the farm management skills so vital to a key industry for rural Cambodians.

Awareness Cambodia’s Child Development programs are truly a unique model where holistic immersion is a catalyst for transformation – from danger and hopelessness to safety, opportunity and prosperity. With an emphasis on empowerment through education we are helping to produce future leaders imbued with hope and a knowledge that they will play their part in transforming Cambodia.

A change in Operation Nightingale’s focus


Medical education does not exist to provide students with a way of making a living, but to ensure the health of the community

 – Rudolph Virchow

In the 12 years Operation Nightingale (ON) has been in operation, we have fostered the development of Cambodian doctors, nurses and allied health professionals. Through mentoring, training, scholarships, collaborations and practical experience, we helped augment the healthcare services available in the provinces. And we want to build on this success. We are excited about our plans to focus on tertiary education to develop the skills of the next generation of medical professionals. 

Our plan – more medical scholarships

With a belief that a person’s desire and ability to heal should not be determined by how much money they have, in 2014 Awareness Cambodia established the medical scholarships program. 

The program enables academically gifted but impoverished students with an aptitude for medicine to pursue their dream of being doctors. We provide the students with all the resources they need to complete their medical studies in Phnom Penh by providing them with a home at Graduation House, paying for their tuition, having ON doctors and Australian medical specialists mentor them and providing the support they need.

Since the program’s inception, 6 students have joined the medical scholarship program. We are also continuing the scholarship program for post-graduates looking to enter specialities.

With the ongoing support of the medical profession and financial contributions from those who believe in our program, we will look to increase the number of scholarships made available for those with a passion for medicine but without the means to pursue a career in it.

It is also our hope that we will be able to establish a similar scholarship program for nurses.

There is an established need for nurses both in Cambodia and across the world. By providing scholarships for students with the desire and drive to become nurses we can help address that need. 

A meeting with the Cambodian Director of the World Bank in 2018 and subsequent discussion with the Head of the World Bank Health Department in 2019 was welcomed as an opportunity to explore how Awareness Cambodia might cooperate with the World Bank and Cambodian Government to provide nursing scholarships for impoverished provincial students. We will further explore this opportunity in 2020.   

Our plan – creating a nursing program

Quality nurses are in high demand both locally and internationally. And Australian-accredited nurse are held in high esteem globally.  

By introducing an Australian-accredited nursing course in Cambodia through ON, we could help meet that demand with internationally-recognised high-quality trained nurses.

This potentially means significant immediate and long-term impact through:

  • Improving the quality of life for Cambodian women and families. As some sources indicate up to 93% of graduating nurses are women, the course, while not directly creating gender bias, would overwhelmingly empower Cambodian women, lifting them and their families out of poverty.
  • Improving service delivery within the Cambodian health system, particularly in rural communities. Most doctors will not relocate to the provinces, but nursing staff are generally happy to do so.
  • Assisting in identifying and negotiating bottlenecks in international educational service delivery and creating a pathway for the addition of education in other medical-based faculties.
  • Encouraging sustainability by providing a contemporary nurse training program designed to provide graduates with the clinical skills to deliver superior health care – and also ensure continuous learning to keep skills up-to-date.

 Since investigating the opportunity to introduce this program, Awareness Cambodia has received expressions of interest from the UK, Germany and Singapore to invest in/secure Australian accredited nursing graduates from Cambodia.

To introduce this program, Awareness Cambodia will need the support of the medical profession to develop the program and the financial backing to deliver it. 

Our plans need support

As is often the case, the development of the tertiary focus will largely depend on access to funding.

CEO, Dr Gary Hewett would be happy to discuss the proposed programs with any individual, business or organisation that may be able to help us turn this dream into a reality.

Contact Gary at [email protected] 

 A Case for Change – delivery day 2019!

Once a year, our Cambodian team travels to a remote primary school to deliver backpacks filled with school supplies – and hope for a brighter future.

At 7am on 1 August, we gathered at the front of our four-wheel drive parked in front of our offices in Phnom Penh. With hundreds of backpacks packed tightly into the cabin of the car, there wasn’t much room for our 3 staff members to squeeze in.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way! Safely ensconced in the vehicle, we headed off on a  50 km journey that included dodging cows and random carts as we navigated some seriously potholed and rocky tracks on the way to Kampong Speu.  After a few hours of exhausting travel – and a few near misses which was fortunate for the cow! – we arrived at our designated primary school. Our weariness was quickly forgotten as we were greeted by a sea of smiling faces!

We arrived ready to provide each child with a backpack filled school supplies, a bar of soap and pamphlet on the benefits of hand-washing. It was a simple hygiene lesson on washing hands after going to the toilet and, importantly, before eating meals. So simple, but a lesson that can make such a difference to a child’s health and wellbeing. Making our way through each classroom, we gave a talk to the enthralled students. We not only spoke about hand-washing, but also looked to inspire each child to stay in school and follow their dreams – all of which can be made possible by grasping the opportunities that an education presents!

It was long and exhausting day, but we were thrilled to have invested in the future of hundreds of students by giving them some of the essential tools to aid their education journey. There were so many smiles and grateful ‘akuns’ (Khmer for ‘thank you’) that we knew our message and encouragement to pursue their dreams had made an impact.

Climbing back into the now empty four-wheel drive, we headed back to Phnom Penh, knowing that we had made a difference. The journey home from the province also gave us the opportunity to reflect on the generosity of the schools and businesses that had made this day possible:


Wesley College, Byford Secondary College, Outback Splash, Bourkes and My Bayon Resturant. A huge ‘akun’ (thank you) from Awareness Cambodia!

Goodness gracious, thankfully no great balls of fire! 

An electrical fire at Graduation House

Report: Kim Hewett

The dining room at Graduation House is usually the scene of aromatic smells from delicious meals… not on this day. A quizzical sniff at the air produced the tell-tale scrunching of the nose as the odour of burning plastic filled the nostrils. That sensation was quickly joined by the watering of eyes as smoke wafted over from the ceiling fan switch on the wall.

As the smoke spread, so did the panic! Students and staff scurried about – some screaming others laughing. But a serious situation was unfolding.

Kimna, our Financial Officer – and now unofficial fire warden – hightailed it over from the central office (located in a 3-storey building, just in front of GH).

Brandishing a brand-new fire extinguisher, she charged in to take charge.  By nature, Kimma is very calm and steady, so she fronted up to the electrical fire and pulled the pin on the extinguisher. One squirt, two squirts… Nothing, zip, nada – the brand new extinguisher wasn’t working.  Calm and collected Kimna promptly disappeared! She was off to find Gary, our CEO. Practically breaking a land-speed record, Gary grabbed a fire extinguisher from his apartment and headed to the dining room, triumphantly quelling the fire.

Crisis averted, the only evidence that there had been a problem was the horrid smell, a smoke-filled room and a very worse-for-wear wall switch.

The next day, we called former student Racha to sort the live wires and install a new electrical switch. In 2005 Racha arrived at Sunshine House as small child and made his way through our child development programs. While he was at GH he undertook  vocational training as an electrician. Today, Racha is married and working as an electrician in the community – which proved very fortuitous for us!

Racha spent a few hours at GH, repairing the electrics and catching up with everyone. I fondly noted that the dining room was now restored and back in the swing serving up tasty meals – to which Racha can attest, as he had lunch while talking and laughing with our   staff and students. It is particularly gratifying that past students, who were rescued so many years ago, are now able to give back and pay it forward.

Somnang’s a triple threat!

A ‘triple threat’ is someone who can sing, dance and act – and that’s precisely what Somnang is! The vivacious House of Progress student is an exceptionally talented young woman who has dreams of a singing and acting career. Inspired by her talent, but ever-practical, we are encouraging Somnang to finish her year 12 exams while we help her to identify an individual pathway to achieve her goals.

Originally from Kampong Cham in the north, Somnang came to Awareness Cambodia in 2002 where she was cared for and supported through our Sunshine House project. She has grown into an outgoing and warm young woman who can often be heard singing throughout Graduation House.

Somnang is highly-gifted – an incredible artist, singer and developing actress. During a recent Youth Group “talent show” she blew everyone away with her comical impersonation of a Japanese Kabuki singer.  House of Progress students were runners up in this competition and all the girls, including Somnang, performed extraordinarily well.

Together with the other HOP students, Somnang attends a private high school and is achieving good results leading up to her year 12 exams. We have great hopes that she will achieve her dream of becoming a performer one day and Awareness Cambodia continues to support her in becoming a confident and capable young woman ready to take her place in the world – and hopefully on the stage!

Theara is preparing to ride off into the sunset!

Theara and his sister joined our Sunshine House project in 2005 when they left Svay Reing

Province after their parents’ death. Fast-forward 14 years and Theara is now a bright, intelligent young man who is pursuing his passion for mechanics.

After completing his high school exams, Theara wanted to get into mechanics , so we developed a vocational pathway for him and he began to study with the Automotive & Motor Scooter School (AMS) in Phnom Penh, where he is excelling.

Not only a natural when it comes to mechanics, Theara is also a self-taught musician, has learned HTML coding language, and manages his own website. We have often turned to him to help solve difficult computer problems and he was the ideal candidate to refurbish some PCs that had been donated to Graduation House. Theara took on a part-time job with our security camera contractor where he has been able to use his IT skills and save up to buy a scooter.

Theara will complete his final exam in August this year and is preparing to transition to

independence from his years in Awareness Cambodia’s care. He is well prepared for the next stage in his life, with a qualification and many other useful skills which make him highly employable. We are very proud of Theara – he has worked hard and is appreciative of the opportunities that Awareness Cambodia’s student support programs have afforded him. His future is certainly bright and while he will soon head off on a new journey, he knows all roads will always lead back to Awareness Cambodia where he’ll always be welcomed as one of our family!

Lork’s journey from adversity to triumph

Born in rural Cambodia, Lork is the 5th child of six siblings. His mother died when he was 13 years old,  leaving his father – a farmer who has struggled physically since losing his left arm during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror – to raise the children.

After remarrying, Lork’s father started a new family.  As is common in Cambodia, the children of the first wife or husband are often not welcome in the new family. Cast out, Lork and his siblings struggled to survive and were forced to leave their homeland to find work so that they could not only live but also continue their studies, which, even at their tender ages, they knew was important for their futures.

As a 9th grader, Lork remembers being asked: What is your dream?  Without hesitation he declared: “I want to be a doctor”.  He successfully passed his lower school exams but had no way of being able to continue to study at high school.

As he had heard there wa s a good government school in Siem Reap, Lork decided to move to the city, as he was sure he could find employment to support himself while he studied in upper school. Fortunately, he found a job where he could work half a day and continue his high school studies in the afternoons. Lork was alone during this time and was lonely without his siblings around him, but he knew the sacrifice would be worth it if he studied hard and strived towards his dream to study medicine.

Due to his diligence he was rewarded by coming 1st in his class and being named one of the top students for mathematics and chemistry in his province. Two months later he passed the national examination for medical school entrance in Phnom Penh. With more than 4000 applicants and only 360 places to be filled, Lork’s selection meant his dream was about to begin.

In January 2016, Lork was awarded an Awareness Cambodia scholarship, which provides his tuition fees and a nurturing home at Graduation House. Today Lork is in his 7th year studying medicine at the University of Health Science in Phnom Penh and is incredibly grateful to Awareness Cambodia for making this dream come true.

Loved by all, Lork is a delight to have around Graduation House, where he is thriving.  Instilled with a desire to help others and ‘pay it forward’, he volunteers at local hospitals and is always helping the other students with their studies.  Lork has just been accepted into a medical specialty program and will continue his scholarship with Awareness Cambodia.

Deb Amos, Registered Nurse, Medical Team

Have you ever thought about volunteering overseas? I have volunteered on the Awareness Cambodian Medical Team for the past 4 years (considering number 5 this year)

There is also a Maintenance team who work on whatever projects have been set for Sunshine House for that year. For example, the last couple of years has been water filtration, plumbing, painting, repairs, etc.

I’m not denying that it’s hard work – because IT IS! The days can be long & tiring. The work can be hard, hot and sweaty in the heat and humidity. Convinced you yet?!

In regards to the medical team, over the years we have seen some really sad cases which affect us all in some way and yes you cry a few tears because some things are just so heartbreaking and out of our control. It also makes you realise how lucky we are here in Australia

But what makes me go back is not just providing primary health care to the people in the remote villages, it is also about working with and mentoring the Cambodian Medical team. These include student and trained nurses as well as medical and pharmacy students. They are a group of amazing, dedicated people who want to provide healthcare to their own people. I’ve seen the personal and professional development of those who have been on the team in previous years. For me, the aim is that one day they will not need us.

The other reason I go is because of the friendships (new and old) developed and still continue to this day (Cambodian, Australian & other nationalities), the team work, the camaraderie, the laughs and sometimes the tears.

This is my “Awareness Cambodian family”. ?


Moni’s Story

We would like to introduce you to one of our amazing girls, Duon Chan Moni, who is affectionately known as ‘Moni’ at Sunshine House.

Sadly 4-year-old Moni’s mother passed away from AIDS and her father was too ill with HIV to give her the level of care she needed. So, in 2004, Moni arrived at Sunshine House.

When Moni came to live at Sunshine House she received the nutrition, education, and emotional support that she needed. That positive foundation has allowed Moni to develop into an extremely bright, well-adjusted young woman.

Now 18 years old, Moni is completing Year 11 and her grades are outstanding – in a recent English test she scored straight ‘A’s, as well as achieving top marks in mathematics. She has an extremely bright future ahead of her and has expressed a desire to study at one of Phnom Penh’s universities where she can complete a Master Degree in Business, Accounting and Economics. With her passion for teaching, Moni is sharing the gift of education by tutoring the younger children at Sunshine House.


As important as a great education is, it’s not all study! Moni loves making clothes and frequently heads to the sewing room at Sunshine House. Moni also has a great respect for her Cambodian culture and you will often see her performing in a traditional Khmer dance at Sunshine House events. So just like her peers who didn’t face the challenges she did as a child, Moni is enjoying her teenage years today and has big plans for tomorrow.

From an uncertain future as an abandoned 4-year-old to a confident young woman with dreams for a bright future, Moni is living proof of the incredible difference that can be made to a young life.

Somphos and Sokhua

From the Sunshine House family to a family of their own – meet Somphos and Sokhua

Sponsored by Awareness Cambodia since 2000, Somphos and Sokhua  were residents and students of the Sunshine House and Graduation House projects. Today they are university graduates, married and the proud parents of an adorable toddler named Galvin.

Somphos came to Sunshine House at age 10 after her father passed away. With both his parents deceased, Sokhua joined the Sunshine House family as a 7-year-old.

Somphos and Sokhua transitioned through our Child Development programs – Sunshine House to House of Progress to Graduation House – and in 2010 took up university studies. Somphos studied Economics  and Sokhua studied Architecture. After graduating with their qualifications, they married in October 2015.

Now living independently in Phnom Penh, the young family’s future looks bright. Both

Sokhua and Somphos are grateful to Awareness Cambodia for the care, support and sponsorship that helped them realise their dreams – good jobs and a loving family. We couldn’t be more proud of what they have achieved and hopeful for what lies ahead for their young family.