Student volunteers and Shine girls connect through poetry 

A collection of poems has been created by girls at Hope for Justice’s Shine Career School after they took part in a creative writing lesson led by Northwest University Students from Seattle, Washington.

The girls wrote poems about their homes and other things they loved for a class held by the student volunteers.

The group of eight young people spent four days visiting the charity’s projects in Cambodia and getting to know the girls who attend Shine Career School. They then spent two afternoons talking to the girls, through an interpreter, about the art of poetry writing.

The girls, all survivors of human trafficking, were visibly engaged and were very keen to have a go at writing their own poems. In the second session they were given a chance to share their creations with the class.

Da Ya* was the first to stand up, and in a captivating voice sang her poem, about the village in which she grew up.

Shine interpreter Mesa Long explained that in the poem she described how when she went back there, she would forget her sadness and “start to smile again.”

Chanmoni* wrote a poem in English, entitled ‘Power of the Rose’, which included the lines: “Rose is the colour red. It looks like fire in my heart.”

She said: “I think it’s very good they came to teach us because I like poetry. Khmer poetry is my hobby but I am not good at English poetry. It was interesting. I like it when people from other countries come to teach us because I can get experience from them.”

Interpreter Mesa said: “I think the teaching of English poetry is very good for our clients and they were very interested, and I think that will lead our clients to be interested in Khmer poetry, which is more complicated as there are many types and rules.”

The visiting students said their time spent with Hope for Justice and the girls had been enlightening and inspiring.

Bethany Williams, leader of the volunteer team, said: “We came here with a few assumptions. We expected to be really saddened by the girls as they have gone through such trauma, and we expected them to be downtrodden or quiet – but we were met with shining, smiling faces and this was both beautiful and surprising.”

Student John O’Hagen, who led the poetry class, said: “I think it’s a really good programme, they are doing stuff I could only imagine being done. In the US you hear about sex trafficking but you don’t really know what can be done but I have come here and see that all this can be done.”

Lauren Bakker, another student, said she thought the Hope for Justice project in Cambodia was “incredible”.

She said: “I was surprised by how thorough [Hope for Justice] are. They visit the girls’ homes and look at the reasons behind why the children might have got involved in the sex industry. Then they try to address those issues by helping the families, such as paying one father’s medical bills. Also, you can see how much the girls are loved here and are being given the opportunity to follow their dreams.”

Aside from poetry, the volunteer students were also here for a National Holiday, which allowed them to learn new Khmer games from the survivors, who then got to learn how to make a Western breakfast.

*Names changed to protect survivors’ identities

Photography: Annelise Blackwood            Words: Aly Walsh