It is time for Sunrise Cambodia to respond to recent media coverage in Australia regarding criticism of the orphanage model in other countries. This coverage, which calls for all Cambodian orphanages to be closed down, is not well considered and would be very unfortunate for at-risk kids in Cambodia who need world-class care. A recent media campaign, led by a small lobby group, then led to specific criticism of the Sunrise Cambodia Brains Trust Appeal which funds vocational training in Cambodia.

First things first: the move away from the orphanage model is certainly not new thinking. But to declare that every single full time residential care centre in Cambodia should be forced to close is not wise or in the best interests of some of the most vulnerable children in the world. Bad orphanages should be closed but the good ones should never be painted with the same brush.

Sunrise Childrens Villages Cambodia

Sunrise Cambodia has been moving away from a focus on residential care and towards community development and support for kids and families within the village context, for a number of years. We have had a reintegration policy in place for more than five years, where children are reunified with their family as a priority, but only if it’s safe. There is also an in-between solution, which works very well: group homes where seven children live with a qualified social worker. In our experience, foster care is not a safe model in a country where more than 80% of the population lives in grinding poverty.

During the last year and a half, the Cambodian Government has asked all NGOs to dramatically reduce numbers of kids in full time care. This has meant that we have had to step up the reintegration program at a pace that is much faster than we would prefer. With a lot of hard work and care, we are now down to 133 kids in full time care and another 50 scheduled to go home to the provinces, with our support, before the end of the year. Some kids have gone home happily. Others not so much. Each case is complex and needs careful handling and ongoing support for the best outcomes for these kids. UNICEF thinks so highly of our operations that they are keen to refer approved cases to our Kandal centre for full time residential care, which will increase numbers in an ongoing, but very rewarding juggle. This is the work that needs to be done.

While that is underway, Sunrise has redirected much funding and focus to supporting at-risk kids in the village context with good schools, health centres, sanitation, housing and more. It’s the way of the future. And these are exciting times for the Sunrise Cambodia crew and our supporters.

The Kampong Speu girls' soccer team at practice on their field next to the school - the soccer pitch used to be shale, not grass, and the kids would cut their feet. Now they have boots to wear and grass to play on

One of our best projects is a school at Kampong Speu where Sunrise has partnered with the Cambodian Government to upgrade the school and add an enormously successful soccer program. The 200+ students live in the poor surrounding villages and their education is much improved with Sunrise support. This is really exciting stuff and results have been outstanding with a huge increase in attendance and national soccer stars coming from this community.

With all this in mind, it is hardly accurate to say that Sunrise Cambodia is an orphanage. We may have started out that way 23 years ago but in 2016, Sunrise Cambodia is a world-class Community Development Centre providing education, health, sanitation and infrastructure programs as well as residential care for orphaned and vulnerable children on referral from the Ministry of Social Affairs in Cambodia. We are very proud of that and so are our loyal donors.

On 17 April, the anniversary of Year Zero when Pol Pot took control of Cambodia, Sunrise launched the end of financial year appeal. It is designed to raise half a million dollars specifically for vocational training for 1000 young people. Education is the key to rebuilding Cambodia in a sustainable way. Donors responded generously and gave more than $200,000 in donations to the Brains Trust Appeal in the first six weeks!

The appeal was recently featured in a mainstream media story, which explored the images used in the creative. It was suggested that using common scenarios to illustrate desperate need in Cambodia was a potential problem.

The Brains Trust appeal is a board-approved, well-rounded communication piece showing typical scenarios and common stories found in the communities we support in Cambodia. It shows the background to the problems, the real need, the positive outcomes and a tangible cost to train a school leaver. We have always found that supporters need to see the problem in order to respond to the need. Simple.

The appeal was created within the ACFID code, as required by NGOs in the international aid sector not DFAT code which applies to DFAT staff only. The beautiful, brave people featured in the images were treated ethically, with appropriate consent and a small payment to the kids after their images were selected for the campaign. The kids were photographed in their village, in their usual clothes.
Australians are accustomed to seeing charity appeals for worthy causes using talent to portray a situation that needs financial help. When Australians see an image in a charity fundraising appeal, for one of the big guns like the Salvation Army or the Smith Family, it is obvious that images are shot to illustrate a common but serious scenario. Photos of needy people are models and their names are changed. The educated viewer assumes that consent was given for a child in an ad campaign, yes? No one would suggest that the people featured in these campaigns have been abused and exploited in the taking of an image or that their future is compromised by posing as a drug user or homeless person? So why would a Cambodian girl in an education appeal be viewed any differently?


LaosInstagramThe Sunrise Cambodia crew, including the board of directors, proudly stands by every element of the Brains Trust appeal and so do our supporters. We are thrilled with the vocational training, which will be funded by this appeal. There are Khmer young people hoping that their training will go ahead and we can’t wait to get cracking.

The need in Cambodia is great. The Sunrise crew is fantastic. Our strategy to support communities is the way of the future.

Please donate HERE before 30 June 2016.


  1. Great response Lucy. Having visited Sunrise Cambodia and witnessing first hand the positive impact it has on these children as well as the community, I can only say it is done with honesty, integrity and transparency. Providing children that have no love, no shelter, no future with care, a safe place to live and education IS courageous. Not many people want to do it because, well, it’s a bloody tough gig and I walked away so inspired by what Sunrise has done, what Geraldine has done.

    I felt saddened to hear one person’s opinion or bad experience has clouded the hard work that all of you at Sunrise Cambodia but those of us that know the truth will continue to support you and spread the word. Generalisations as hasty as these need to be called out as it’s not just damaging reputations of the whole industry but for the children, the community and humanity. Just because it didn’t work for her doesn’t mean that there aren’t organisations and charities out there that have evolved enough to make it work.

    Keep it up and thanks for the great response and insight into Sunrise Cambodia.

    – Sheryl

  2. I have known Sunrise Cambodia for 5 years now, I have volunteered for them in Cambodia and in Australia and I support them through my company’s Workplace Giving program.

    I have also visited them on numerous locations across Cambodia, and I am happy to tell anyone that the work of Sunrise is effective honest and managed by a tireless team of qualified workers and volunteers.

    I always think journalists and critics try to portray charities in a poor light to justify why they themselves never give or help anyone less fortunate than themselves.

    Kevin, Geraldine and Lucy dedicate their lives to do so when many do not and never will.

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