Empowering Survivors through Photography

Photography Feature Image

As a new year began, we welcomed the Art and Justice League to lead a three month photography project at our Shine School in Cambodia.

Chey and Anthony Lee founded this grassroots charity to improve the lives of children in need in developing countries through creative programs and tools. Alongside their generous donation of computers and 22 cameras to update our computer lab, Chey and Anthony are running their ‘Love is Created’ project with our students, each of whom is working to overcome their personal experience of sex trafficking. The program is introducing the girls to new skills and providing a chance to explore creativity. It covers:

Digital Photography: Teaching basic photography skills incl. camera operation and photo editing.

Graphic Design: Teaching foundations of graphic design incl. how to make business cards and other marketable skills.

Leadership Training: Helping girls to discover their talents and strength, equipping and empowering them to dream big dreams and live them out.

Our new Cambodia Storytelling and Teaching Intern, Katie Hicks, has been helping out in class and shares how this program is inspiring our students.

First Steps with Cameras

In week one Chey and Anthony jumped right in, teaching our students about the functions of a camera with an interactive scavenger hunt. The clients absolutely loved it, one girl said to me; “It was fun! I really like games!” Chey and Anthony showed the girls how to focus, use the flash, use the zoom, and to view and delete photos.

Once these practical basics were taught the girls were off to the races and so keen to experiment! Chey and Anthony began to teach the clients about key compositional techniques. To teach the girls about perspective in a photograph they brought in toy dinosaurs – automatically captivating the girls’ attention – and asked them to take pictures from different distances making the dinosaurs look bigger and smaller. “The dinosaurs were big and small” giggled one student, “it was funny”.


“I’m learning so many new skills. I understand how a camera works now.”


Creativity and Joy

As part of the project Chey, has been taking portraits of each client and Anthony, prints them out for the clients to see. One of the clients said “The pictures make me feel so beautiful.” This is what the programme, and Shine School, is all about – teaching girls their true value at the same time as giving them knowledge.

Anthony’s said, “One day I noticed that one of our youngest clients really enjoyed taking pictures of flowers. So, the next day we changed the whole activity and lesson plan to just taking pictures of flowers. The look on her face, I will never forget that look. She jumped up and down. That will stay with me forever.”

With classes three times a week our clients have an opportunity to participate in different games and activities. It allows them to learn so much more than photography and computer skills but to express their creativity and have fun too. That joy is so important in their recovery.


“I love taking the pictures with the camera. It’s fun. I like taking pictures with my friends.”

Diamond Island Montage 2

Photography in the classroom

Chey and Anthony fuse creativity with the rest of the curriculum. As part of their English classes, the girls have been on scavenger hunts, taking pictures of vocabulary words they’ve recently learned. The next day we used each girls’ photos to create a pairing game. The girls had to match the correct English words with the correct photo. The girls learned lots and laughed even more!


Developing Technical Skill

The girls are such quick learners and Chey and Anthony’s classes soon progressed to using Photoshop, a popular photo editing program. Anthony used a projector to carefully lead the entire class through each step. He used one of the client’s pictures of the dinosaurs as an example demonstrating what each different tool does and why it is helpful.

A standout moment was when he showed the students that you can ‘snag’ part of an image, then ‘copy and paste’ to replicate it. With a few clicks, Anthony ‘snagged’ one of the dinosaurs’ heads, transforming it into a three headed dinosaur. Watching the client’s faces was priceless! One turned and said to me, “Three heads, so funny!” in moments like this I remember that children are children everywhere and each should have the chance for a childhood.

After the explanation the girls got a chance to jump on their own computers and to begin to experiment with Photoshop.
“I like to change the color of the picture. I like black and white.”


Venturing Out

At the start of February some of our incredible donors visited us in Phnom Penh. The Shine School team, students and the donors went out on a river boat cruise – the girls saw this as a perfect opportunity to bring their cameras onboard! The girls love to take pictures of their teachers, each other, and of course, selfies! Chey and Anthony also brought flowers for the girls to photograph. They’ll use these images for editing practice in future classes.

Our students also had the chance to spend a morning taking pictures on Diamond Island. Koh Pich — Diamond Island in English — sits in the Mekong River, hugging downtown Phnom Penh’s shoreline, and boasting beautiful views. The clients thoroughly enjoyed the field trip, one client said, “It was nice to go to a new place!” and another said “The flowers were pretty and smelled so good!” Chey said,

“We were able to watch them experience the park and enjoy being with one another. Best of all, the girls got to capture those moments with their cameras!”

Diamond Island Montage 1

Celebrating Achievement

To celebrate the girls work as the project draws to a close, Chey and Anthony hosted an Art Walk for the visiting donors at Shine. Each student had one of their photos selected for a pop-up gallery. Photos ranged from the girls’ outings to the popular class activities. Each image was carefully mounted and hung on the wall along with Chey’s portrait of the girl who took it and a quote about her photograph. The event was beautiful! Our students had a blast posing with the donors, the fresh flowers Chey and Anthony had organised (a special treat in Cambodia), and the photographs.


“I loved walking in the room and seeing my picture hanging on the wall, I felt proud of myself!”


If you’re a supporter of Hope for Justice, that’s the priceless feeling that you make possible, so thank you from everyone here in Phnom Penh and each of our students. A special thanks, of course, to Chey and Anthony and everyone who helped make the ‘Love is Created’ project possible. I am looking forward to the coming months with these incredible girls!

Katie Hicks is the current Storytelling and Teaching Intern at Hope for Justice in Phnom Penh. She will be teaching English and music to our clients for the next six months. She recently graduated from the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) with a degree in Music Education. This is her second time in South East Asia, having previously spent two weeks with our team. Katie says, “I fell in love with this place and I knew I had to come back.”