A current International and Community Development Masters Degree student at Deakin University in Melbourne, Sonia Louise Cozens is interning with World Hope International Australia in Cambodia for several months. Traveling out to our various site locations across the country, Sonia is focused on observing and learning from World Hope’s market-driven and community-led approach to international development. This blog is written by her shortly after her arrival in Cambodia.

My home is a strong, steel constructed 4 bedroom house with air conditioning, perched high on 2.5 acres of lush rolling hills complete with a tropical palm fringed swimming pool for hot, sweltering summer days. I have a leather lounge with a chaise that I can relax on in front of my 55 inch flat screen TV when I knock of work at 5pm…or any earlier time I desire as a self-employed Australian. I have a garden shed for my premium lawnmower, tools and pool chemicals. I also have a large 10m x 13m work shed for my family business, which also happens to house our sailing boat and trailer.

I have access to a wide variety of shops within 5 minutes’ drive in my European convertible sports car: a supermarket, a bakery, a butcher, coffee shops, an organic fruit and vegetable store, a post office, a newsagent, a hairdresser, clothing boutiques, restaurants – Thai, Indian, Italian, Caribbean, gluten free café and pub bistro, I even have an art gallery, gift store and antique store, all in the nearby quaint South East Queensland township of Yandina.

With a long history of community volunteer work and community/arts management employment, I recently decided to return to university for my 4th post-graduate course, thanks to the Australian Government’s supported HECS loans. I study online with Deakin University in Melbourne using my Wi-Fi connection, soon to qualify for another Master’s Degree, this time in International and Community Development.

Deakin University MICD Intern Sonia Cozens and WHI CEO Ruth Thomas.

Passionate about helping people and our global neighbours, I carefully crafted my course electives to encompass a 2 month international internship placement. After much leg work, I connected with Ruth Thomas, CEO of World Hope International (WHI) in Australia who in turn connected me with Dr. Emelita Santos Goddard (fondly known as Milet) – Technical Director and Community Development Program Manager of Asia Pacific for WHI based in Cambodia. 

Typical house in Kampong Cham Province, Cambodia.
Fast forward 5 months and you will find me writing this to you from a small rural village in Kampong Cham Province in Cambodia. The comfortable 2.5 hour drive from Phnom Penh soon turned into vibrant red dusty potholed dirt roads (not dissimilar to north Queensland), with farmers riding past on small tractors, young kids playing with sticks, a few thin white brahmin cows, a plethora of chickens scratching for food and a multitude of unhealthy stray dogs. Capital city concrete block housing soon became humble grey timber stilt houses – many without sanitation, piped water or electricity.

After around 20 minutes we arrived at the World Hope office that sat comfortably nestled into the surrounding village houses.

As a privileged Australian citizen becoming overwhelmed by our greed stricken world, I had become increasingly compelled to witness firsthand the living conditions of others far removed from my own upbringing.  Despite seeing regular advertisements on TV from the comfort of my lounge about the poverty of my fellow global neighbours – it is still all too easy to be distracted with one’s own life, and not truly comprehend the very different challenges occurring at this very moment across the other side of the world for millions of people.  I soon came to not only learn, but gratefully see with my own eyes, that World Hope had really made a difference in this village, in addition to many more neighbouring villages.
On commencing work, I was fortunate enough to observe WHI’s valuable monitoring and evaluation of the “Kampong Cham Sisters Community Development Program” – aka the mushroom farmers program, funded by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). This innovative social enterprise initiative has been an amazing source of additional income for community members throughout the Kampong Cham province, lifting many families out of the depths of poverty. World Hope launched the aptly named “Thera Metrey” (meaning Compassionate Earth) in 2016 as an effective source of steady income for farmers.

Attending my first focus group session, a cross section of 6 successful male farmers from the local villages  all sat with bright eyes and big smiles on the floor of the vibrant green shipping container/turned air-conditioned WHI office. Mushroom farming was an extra job for these hardworking men, they were already farming rice, cassava and cashew in order to make ends meet. But even after 12-15 hour days, these men found it difficult to provide the bare essentials for their families, and before WHI arrived, there wasn’t even electricity in the village. 

World Hope International Cambodia staff, L to R: Milet, Sinay and Pheap.
Successful village farmers. Middle: “I can now afford to build a toilet”.

Jovially responding to Milet’s crafted evaluation questions, each man took turns in sharing their personal stories revealing significant evidence of change. Then, one softly spoken farmer proudly uttered ‘Thanks to mushroom farming, I can now afford to build a toilet’ – a tear formed in my eye.

How dare I take sanitation for granted without a second thought!  Access to sanitation is critical – a fundamental human right for every single individual.  Sanitation crucially protects our health, eliminates illness and prevents fatality from deadly diseases. UNICEF observes that in Cambodia, “Children continue to be stunted and to die from preventable sanitation and water-related causes, because they do not have access to clean water, toilets and hand-washing facilities in their communities and schools.” 

World Hope has made a commitment to the Cambodian people through the WASH program. When WHI arrived, only 33% of the village had toilets, and many girls do not attend school due to lack of toilet facilities.

Now, thanks to continued donor help and support, 66% of families have toilets and 71% have access to a toilet – but we’d love to make it 100%.

I will NEVER take my toilet for granted ever again. Every time I think of this farmer, tears come to my eyes – how can such a basic need still be so hard to obtain for many? I too want to make a commitment to basic humanitarian rights and continue to help others live a healthy, happy and fulfilling life.  Thank you for having me World Hope and thank you Deakin University.

My homestay’s newly installed toilet now helps the hosts earn an extra $5US per day as well as provides crucial sanitation for the extended family.
Learn more about the impact of access to clean water and explore WHI’s mushroom project in Cambodia. If you are interested in interning with us, contact us at +61 7 3624 9977 or by email.

You can also support the work of World Hope by making a gift to The Hope Fund today

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