NZ charity efforts in Cambodia captured on film

Chenda, 13, likes to teach her sister Sina, 8, maths and Khmer (the official language of Cambodia). Photo Credit: Stacey Simpkin.

The stark realities of Cambodia’s rural communities, and the difference a Kiwi charity is making to young lives there, has been captured in a collection of photographs on display at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery from May 31.

‘Cambodia Rising: A blueprint for generational change’ is a raw and stunning collection of images by Auckland photographer Stacey Simpkin that sensitively documents more than a decade of progress by New Zealand charity Cambodia Charitable Trust in breaking the cycle of poverty in Cambodia through education.

Scars of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s are still fresh for many in the country. Almost one third of Cambodia’s people were killed by genocide, including a whole generation of artists, intellectuals and teachers. Four decades on, many families still live in desperate poverty.

After a visit to Cambodia in 2007 Tauranga lawyer Denise Arnold established the Cambodia Charitable Trust to attempt to piece back together the country’s broken education system by providing support and training for teachers and schools.

The work offers education and support to girls and boys for whom the alternative is often a life of poverty, or worse, sex trafficking and slavery.

The exhibition marks the Trust’s 11th anniversary and Denise says being able to show donors what their money has achieved is a real bonus.

“The impact a small amount of money has in Cambodia is hard for people in New Zealand to comprehend, but you can literally change a child’s life and transform a school for what we would consider to be a small amount of money.

"I am very proud of what we as New Zealanders have achieved. It is amazing that a New Zealand- based organisation has become a key development partner of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport in Cambodia.”

The Trust hosted the Minister of Education, Youth and Sport at its supported schools in March. “These schools are in rural areas so seeing them in the front of the decision-makers’ minds is a big step forward,” says Denise.

Auckland photographer Stacey Simpkin says it has been an extraordinary experience, and privilege, photographing the work of the Cambodia Charitable Trust in one of the world’s poorest nations.

“Meeting and photographing the children and families helped by the Trust and seeing the improvement in education over my last six trips with the team has moved me beyond belief.

“Cambodian children have a genuine desire to learn and Cambodia Charitable Trust has the programmes and people in place to facilitate this.”

‘Cambodia Rising: A blueprint for generational change’ is on at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery in Wellington from May 31 to June 16 from 10.30am to 4.30pm each day. Admission free.

For more information about the Cambodia Charitable Trust visit

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