Trauma, education, hope

A new school for human trafficking survivors in Cambodia

Recognising the importance of education, Hope for Justice established a Cambodian school for sex-trafficking survivors. Andrea Bailey, Nourn Vanna and Ngin Sam Onn report


Hope for Justice is a global anti-trafficking organisation whose mission is to bring an end to modern slavery by rescuing victims, restoring lives and reforming society. A vital element of our work is providing post-trafficking support and central to this are education and skills.

In 2011 Hope for Justice established Shine Career School to meet the educational and career needs of trafficking survivors in Cambodia. Such survivors have often had little or no formal education, and any education they have enjoyed has inevitably been disrupted by their trafficking experience.

Trauma-informed education

Shine Career School was created to provide survivors with education, literacy, higher education support, vocational training/support and enrichment, giving them the best chance at a successful future in whatever field they choose. Small classes in a trauma-informed environment allow students to get the specialized and individually tailored academic, career and emotional support they need in a safe, stable environment.

Cambodia’s Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport trusts Shine’s programmes, recognising the way they help students whose formal education has been interrupted and valuing the fact that its teachers have many years of combined experience.

Hope for Justice is the only NGO in Cambodia to have the Ministry’s approval to run an educational programme through grade 10, and, as such, will add Grades 11 and 12 over the next two years. The Cambodian educational system does not have the capacity or resources to run a ‘catch-up’ or high school equivalency programme.

We have memorandums of understanding in place with other government ministries too, and the Cambodian government has said it would like Shine Career School to be a model for other NGO education programmes and the public school system.

Shine staff with Ministry of Education officials

Trauma-informed perspective

The teachers at Shine follow the Ministry curriculum but with a unique trauma-informed perspective. That means individually tailored academic instruction, individual counseling, vocational training and career preparation. This enables the girls to explore their own educational and vocational interests, in addition to equipping them with basic literacy in Khmer,  alongside foundation and advanced education in math, English, Khmer, technology and more. 

Educational challenges

The Shine staff understand the particular challenges that students with a traumatic past can face with respect to learning. This includes, but is not limited to, dissociation, learning disabilities and behavioral issues. To provide adequate support for these challenges, Hope for Justice employs a dedicated Career and Education Social Worker (School Counselor) who focuses on helping students identify goals for the future.

Shine has small class sizes and individualised academic, career and psycho-social support. Students who come to us with low self-esteem and few hopes or thoughts for their future end up learning marketable skills, exploring their innate creativity and being challenged to engage in unfamiliar learning activities in a safe, caring setting.

Wider setting

The great work taking place at Shine is further enhanced by its place within the wider network of Hope for Justice Cambodia projects. For example, our Lighthouse Assessment Center welcomes girls into care from the very day of their rescue for six to eight weeks of immediate crisis support and medical care, as well as family and community assessments. At the Hope for Justice Dream Home, we provide girls rescued from trafficking aged 13-18 with a safe, loving, full-time place to live until they are ready and able to live again with their families or independently. The Hope for Justice STAR House is a step-down project for young women reintegrating to life on their own. Our Bridge Project serves to rebuild, strengthen and restore the relationship between the survivor and her family, community and society.

 A student’s perspective

Srey Maly* had a traumatic and troubled childhood filled with terrifying violence. She ran away from home, and got in with a group of friends…but one of them betrayed her, getting her hooked on drugs and using that dependence sold her into the sex trade.

One of Hope for Justice’s partner NGOs in Cambodia rescued Srey Maly and referred her to our Dream Home, where our clinically trained and caring team have been stabilising her aggression and withdrawal symptoms. They also developed an emotional safety plan for her.

Srey Maly has been exposed to things a teenager should never experience, and still has lots to learn and to overcome. But there’s been a significant change in her attitude recently – she knows how to clear her head and she even reaches out to help her peers who also struggle with aggression. Thanks to the excellent education and advice provided by Shine Career School, she wants to study to become an accountant and really has something to aim for now.

She said, “I think that Shine will help me reach my goal because here I have accommodation and good teachers. I like it here. I would like to continue my studies and go onto university in Phnom Penh.

I would like to thank all organisations that support and help us, and who spend a lot of money to help the clients even though I’m not related to the donors.” 

Andrea Bailey, Career & Education Director at Hope for Justice Cambodia;




Ngin Sam Onn, Director of Operations, Shine Career School; 




Nourn Vanna, Shine Career School Project Manager and Education Liaison to the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport.





*Name changed to protect identity 

Find out more about Hope for Justice’s projects in Cambodia: Click on the logo




Feature Image:  ‘They can release the trauma from their lives through sports’ –  having fun at their quarterly Sports Day.


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