Human Trafficking & Debt

This blog was originally posted in 2017 but this story still happens in Cambodia today:

One of our young leaders, a recent high school graduate has started University. She is bright, hardworking and has now begun volunteering at one of the Flame centres teaching English to the young slum-living kids. She is pretty and full of energy with a genuine, kind heart.

So far the story looks good, right?

About 6 weeks ago, she basically decided to take up an amazing job in Japan. The package included the airfare and visa, the monthly salary was said to be US$1500, which is a truckload of money for a 19 year old!

This kind of scheme draws in those who are struggling, the brokers deliberately target rural areas where there are known debts.

Our young leader's mother is supporting the family on her own, as well as looking after their grandmother. Out of desperate need, the mum took a loan from her employer. Now she works full time in a paid job but receives NONE of her salary. It goes directly to her employer to pay the exorbitant interest on the loan, 10% per month. 

With this kind of financial pressure hanging over her family- directly affecting her, with cultural pressures at play, the Japan job is SO tempting. Our young leader is willing to give up her own education and dreams of being an English professor at a university, to make quick cash, with the HOPE that she will be safe and that the job will be real. 

The reality is that all of the associated costs of the trip could become a huge debt held against her, so instead of repaying a debt she creates another one.  There is NO guarantee of a good income or safe working conditions, and once she has left her networks, language and everything familiar behind, she would be voiceless and completely at the mercy of a stranger.

This is THE standard human trafficking lure. 

Poverty is a complex problem and we have learned that there are no easy solutions. We have shared previously that primary education immunises the community against traffickers, and because this young woman is in Flame, she had a safe place to come with her fears and questions about the job opportunity in Japan. This is a timely reminder of the need to practically equip and arm our young people against those who would exploit and take advantage of them.

What other ways can we help this family?

Why does this job offer worry us? Just last week seven Cambodian women were rescued from a restaurant in Japan where they were allegedly forced into sex work.

The women, who are in their 20s, were lured to work at the restaurant in central Honshu in November with promises of high wages by a Japanese owner who arranged visas and airfares for them. Here's the link to the article

Japan has long been a destination for women from Southeast Asia seeking higher wages. Some find themselves forced into sex work or indentured labor.

Last August the Philippines warned its citizens against illegally traveling to Japan in search of work, saying they often risked being trafficked for sex or forced labor.

Washington’s annual report on human trafficking says Japan remains a “destination, source and transit” country for human trafficking despite a recent increase in prosecutions.

Let's keep the ambulance running at the bottom of the cliff... but work hard to build fences at the top.  


We have heard of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon,  but maybe not the “floating gardens of Cambodia” but throughout history, Cambodians have been growing vegetables and flowers with fish in this very zen and sustainable harmonious collaboration. Small scale intense farming of organic vegetables and fish is a familiar concept to Cambodians. 


The Flame Young Adults are excited and engaged in growing organic veggies with bubbling fish in ponds right in front of the Leadership Academy. Figuring out the details of ph levels and really trying to keep the fish alive has proven quite the challenge for these keen university students. Words that come to mind are “STEEP LEARNING CURVE”! The mortality rate of the fish has been quite horrific! Nobody said it would be easy! We are super thankful for Michael Hensel and Koya Project , who have come alongside Flame to give the Young Adults the necessary training. If you click on the link you’ll see the smiling faces of Flame Young Adults on the Koya website landing page :-)

We are not the aquaponics NGO, but we are launching our Young Adults into projects where they can practically learn and grow and develop their leadership skills. The dream for aquaponics is replicating these little systems within the poorest communities of urban Phnom Penh. It’s a long way off yet! If you’d like to help support our Young Adults, please donate using the button below.


Why we love sport

Imagine a young girl walking along a dusty track between endless rice paddies. She has a skip to her step as she heads to the nearby volleyball pitch, net strung between two coconut trees. The sun is relentless in the Cambodian countryside, and she thinks nothing of her bare feet, enjoying the sense of being able to touch the earth, dust between her toes. The volleyball competition between the different groups of village kids isn’t the most important thing to her, it’s being able to escape from her 12 year old worries. She can shelve the stress she feels about her parents latest quarrel, the sulking refusal to join the family meal. She is distracted at school with thoughts that circle inside her head, wondering if her parents will stay together, wondering who she will find when she goes home. When she’s playing sport, she focusses on the ball and on her team mates, desperate not to let the team down, hoping to avoid any recrimination or blame for a fumbled shot or bad pass. She wants her team to know she is trying her best. She laughs out loud and loves sport.

As an adult now, Navy brings these memories to her job at Flame. She is passionate about sport and believes that it’s not just about skills on the field. Sport is a way out of the mundane drag of life, an escape from the monotony of the slums. It’s football, of course it’s about the physicality of the sport, health and strength, balance and muscle development, but it’s so much more than that. The technical aspects of football can be summarised by how one team conquers another, but the process involves the kids brains as they learn to read the other team, communicate with their own team, maintain trust and relationships, and plan and strategise on the run. The skills learned on the field can be transferred to daily life.

To continue training the bodies and minds of the 65 young Flame footballers, we need your support. Please donate and do it now so that we can make the most of the Global Giving Campaign

World Famous in New Zealand - our founder Sue Hanna

sue .jpg


Growing up on the family farm in the Waikato, Sue Hanna’s passion for helping people was heavily ingrained from her childhood, which led to her current venture - helping Cambodian children living in slums complete their education - from primary through to university.

With more than 25 years in leadership and ministry roles, Sue founded Flame Cambodia in 2015, alongside another fellow Kiwi, Nicola Palairet from Auckland, who is the current communications manager.

Flame was created to connect with slum-dwelling children and inspire them to leave begging or rubbish collecting and start school or re-engage in education. The goal is that each child reaches beyond their potential.

Currently, Sue facilitates foundational leadership training to young adults. She also mentors, motivates and encourages the staff who work in the centres with the children to help them to be able to do the work that they do.

They have a team of 33 staff members throughout the different Flame programs such as three activity centres, a residential university scholarship program, leadership training and more.

Sue calls the process of the children becoming a young leader “the full circle” and it involves three stages – identify, grow and launch.

The activity centre staff work with children and their families to identify why they’re not in school. Often that’s due to low income or perhaps the parents are illiterate, so they can’t fill out the forms or the kids don’t have a birth certificate. 

‘Grow’ is about keeping the kids in school, motivated, and passing their grades. The kids go to school for half a day, and the other half they go to one of Flame Cambodia’s three activity centres to do any catch-up work with staff to help them stay on track in school.

As part of their ‘launch’ stage, Flame has university scholarships available and a leadership programme, so they strongly encourage the university students to come up with mini projects of their own that they would like to happen to help their people or the communities they came from.

“Those kids are the future generation, and this enables them to learn a new skillset while giving back to their community. They emerge as confident leaders in their communities, inspiring others in education, service, and leadership,” Sue said.

“We launch them off to help Cambodia because they’re the ones who will change it.”

It was “wandering around the planet” on her OE and seeing poverty throughout the world that lead Sue to where she is now.

“It had a huge impact on me and made me realise that I had the ability to make a significant difference in somebody’s life even if I didn’t know them,” Sue said.

Upon her return, she worked for World Vision for 10 years as a territory manager in the Waikato, Bay of Plenty, King Country and East Coast.

It was in this role that she visited Cambodia several times to see the work that World Vision was doing and collect stories to take back home and raise more money.

“Cambodia got more and more under my skin every time I went, to the point that in 2004 I took some annual leave, went to Cambodia and decided I was going to find a Sue-shaped hole, because I knew there was something I could do there which was linked into those moments I had when I was travelling on my OE,” Sue said.

Sue’s passion has always been to stand alongside the poor and disadvantaged, who have been written off by their own communities, and to help them.

Her parents also held a desire to help people, so growing up, they always had extra people coming to stay in their family home. Sue said they would have people out of prison who would stay often for six months at a time, as well as missionaries who were overseas and had just come back to New Zealand.

“As a child, I would just immerse myself into other people’s stories. I also read a lot of autobiography books, and I would imagine myself exploring and thinking this is what I want my life to look like,” Sue said.

Sue has been living in Cambodia for the past 13 years, helping families through Flame Cambodia. However, they also have a New Zealand board, which includes Brian Trebilco from Te Awamutu, as the board chair; Greg Stocker from Pirongia as trustee; and Meredith Brocklebank from Auckland, who is the secretary treasurer.

The name Flame comes from a biblical passage, where it talks about a flame which is nurtured and then it eventually comes to a point where it’s a fire on its own.

“That’s where the identify, grow and launch comes from – at the start we need to do a lot of protecting, encouraging and inspiring, but then it becomes a point where the fire will keep going, and then it’s a well-burning fire and those people can then go off and start other fires, to give back to their communities.” 

 27/Aug/2018  by Shontelle Campbell

Time for Toothpaste

Research shows that healthy mouths aid  healthy bodies...  and we know that healthy children have a huge advantage in their learning. 

In collaboration with Pro Health Cambodia ( and generously funded by the InTouch Global Foundation ( Flame began a "Brush My Teeth" centre-based iniative, adding oral hygiene to the  to the education based program.

150 Flame kids eat a healthy and nutritious lunch with an age specific mult-vitamin. We take nutrition seriously. Now,  each child is supervised brushing their teeth each day they come to our Activity Centres.


Flame depends on donations to help the poorest kids in Phnom Penh. Please consider partnering with us to make a difference.


Esther So Photographer - Melbourne Exhibition, 01 Sept 2018

IMAGINE 2018 Exhibition
01 Sept 2018

Melbourne Meat Market
3 Blackwood Street
North Melbourne VIC 3051

Sat: 10am – 4pm

Esther, the Flame photographer, will have her photos featured in the Have A Heart For Cambodia IMAGINE 2018 exhibition on 01 Sept, 2018 in Melbourne's famous Meat Market. They are part of a awareness-raising campaign about Flame and the urban poor of Cambodia. Esther will be there in person, and her work will be on live auction, with other items for sale. Come along if you're in the area and have a look at her latest work.

For more information click here

Below is Esther's video, a heartbreaking account of her life as a child subject to the hardship of living in poverty. Esther graduated in June from the Royal University of Phnom Penh with a degree is sociology and works full time between Flame and another project among the urban poor children in the community where she grew up. 

We need your help to support young people like Esther.  Go and see her work being displayed and join in the celebration of her success story. 

Flame Graduation


In June I attended the graduation ceremony for the Royal University of Phnom Penh. Prime Minister Hun Sen delivered the keynote speech so security was tight -the military and police presence blatantly obvious. My water bottle was emptied and my bag was x-rayed as I entered the huge facility. This was a major national level deal! I excitedly took my seat among the throngs.

Of the over 3600 graduates, two were from the Flame Leadership Academy:  Esther So (estherso_photographer on instagram) our Flame Photographer graduated with a sociology degree. You'll be hearing a lot more about Esther next week as she is heading to Australia and New Zealand to exhibit her photography... watch this space!

Esther will be exhibiting her work at The Meat Market, Melbourne, 01 Sept, 2018 in collaboration with  Have a Heart for Cambodia and IMAGINE 2018

Esther will be exhibiting her work at The Meat Market, Melbourne, 01 Sept, 2018 in collaboration with  Have a Heart for Cambodia and IMAGINE 2018

The other student was Longdy Chhap, graduating with his psychology degree. The crowds were so large that there were multiple mounted television screens around the hall so that everyone could see the President hand out the degrees...  except only 10 graduates were chosen to receive their degree on the stage -shake with the right,  receive with the left! 

Longdy is outstanding, and of the 10/3631 ... what a privilege to shake hands with the President!

Longdy is outstanding, and of the 10/3631 ... what a privilege to shake hands with the President!

Longdy was one of the ten. Maths isn't my strong suit but even I could tell that this is a huge achievement, and a testament to Longdy's hard work and commitment. Longdy has been accepted into the Masters of Clinical Psychology program and will start that next year. In the meantime he's working and continues to come to the Flame Leadership Academy and helps with translation and counselling of our young leaders.

Thank you for your support to put these young people through university and to help the families of the kids in the poorest urban communities of Phnom Penh. 


We need your help to get more kids into school, and to give them the chance of being university graduates like Esther and Longdy. Please give discerningly and  generously to something that really does work. 

Maria’s Story

My parents couldn’t give me an inheritance, but they could give me an education.
— Maria (Flame Case Management Team Leader)

When people are deprived of an education, how do they read or negotiate work contracts? How do they understand the wider digital world that we live in without computer literacy? Before I came to Flame, I worked with survivors of human trafficking. I saw for myself the clear link between low education levels and increased vulnerablity to human traffickers and exploitation. People without basic literacy are simply more easily cheated and taken advantage of. They have less choices in terms of what they can do, where they can go and what capacity they can function in work-wise. 

 “Give a child an education, and they take it wherever they go.”

 “Give a child an education, and they take it wherever they go.”


My job as isn't easy, but it is rewarding. I have decided to put aside the difficulties I face daily, the horrid smells, behavioural issues, harsh language and generally tough environment and focus on the positive. To be honest, I love working with kids, and I really want to bring love into their lives as well as giving them the opportunity to go to school. They are so in need of care and encouragement.


I believe that the heart is so very important... if we don't have compassion, how will we serve our communities?


When I help slum living kids, I feel super excited, it's like my soul is filled -I'm so happy. I love the fact that I am not only able to find out what's going on at the time, but am able to follow up, day by day and step by step to really help them attain sustainable change. Without an education, these kids will only ever be able to work using brawn not brains. They will stay begging at the traffic lights, without a chance to change their future.

   I love being part of the solution. 

This is a new Flame student, happy to be able to attend school instead of collecting plastic bottles. 

This is a new Flame student, happy to be able to attend school instead of collecting plastic bottles. 


My team and I are thankful each day for the supporters who make an education possible for kids like this. Please consider partnering with us to help more kids. 


Kids on the night shift


You’d never guess that Pich is 13 years old. He is in grade 3, and until recently, worked nights collecting plastic alongside his younger siblings and parents. Pich was hit by a motorbike late one night and his family approached Flame for financial assistance to pay for his hospital bills. He had a suspected concussion and his front teeth were knocked out. The accident occurred while he was on the job, but there is no compensation for a child like Pich.

The entire family have been collecting bottles at night when the temperatures drop,  so despite the fact that the children are enrolled in the local school, and the youngest is enrolled in kindergarten, they’re just too tired to go.


Pich’s Dad works days also as a Moto-taxi driver, shown here with Pich’s youngest brother Thy who is 5.

A kiwi Flame supporter had stepped up to help this family, so  now the kids are attending both public school and the Flame Activity Centre daily - and no longer need to work at night. A Flame case worker has been assigned to the family and we are looking at practical solutions to their desperate situation. With both mum and dad willing and keen workers, there must be a way for them to become sustainable.

If you want to help families like this, partner with us. We can’t do this without your help.


These kids can now go to school ... let’s try and help the whole family out of poverty  

A Baby Is Born!

Flame recently celebrated the birth of a new baby: Thai Theraka! Thai and Chanthy are long time Flame mentors who give and give and love the Flame Leadership Academy young adults.


Thai has been a significant influence in the lives of many of our young guys, playing soccer regularly and meeting intentionally to share hearts, laughter and coffee! Chanthy has been deeply involved in mentoring the young women at the Flame Leadership Academy and is now a mother for the first time!

Please join us as we welcome their sweet, new baby :) An interesting twist is that the baby was delivered by Rithy!! We love the Flame Full Circle!!


The Flame young adults are the “top end of the Full Circle”... in university or vocational training, leading or participating in their initiatives in local slum communities. If you want to help young adults reach their potential, you can give easily using the donate button below. 

Fishing Boat Boy Becomes Community Leader

Read the story of Wandy Long - Flame Activity Centre Leader at Steung Meanchey

Wandy (Photo creds Esther So)

Wandy (Photo creds Esther So)

I grew up on a boat in a fishing family right by the Killing Fields. My father caught fish and my mother sold it in the market. My family wanted me to go to school, but I didn’t actually start until I was 9 years old. Then, instead of attending school, my friends took me to the Russian Market to go begging and “fanning foreigners”. Back in the day, foreigners in the market would be so hot they would pay my friends and I to fan them! All the while, my parents thought I was at school!

Life on a boat

Life on a boat

I remember being so excited when someone gave me $1 - it was so much money! I only went to school erratically and spent most of my time begging or stealing which was easier than being in class. One time I crawled under someone’s chair at a wedding and stole a whole case of beer from right under the seat!  I stole shoes from the old ladies praying at the Pagoda, and looted the collection money from the offering box too. It’s hard to believe I was so naughty.

One day, I happened upon some kind American people who asked why I was not at school. They took me to church and found a family to sponsor me to go to school. I still might have gone begging except they kept a close eye on me and made sure I was actually going to school. To this day I am so very thankful for these people. 

When I finished high school I didn’t go to University but I got a job teaching Khmer to foreigners. Despite the fact that I found this job very stressful and difficult, I ended up sticking with it for seven years. I then became a social worker and taught maths and English at another NGO before working for Flame. I currently lead the Activity Centre, I teach and encourage the kids.

I’m now married with a little boy. My wife sells sugar cane and I love her very much. I play the guitar with my young son and he sings his heart out! 

The fun people at Surfside Christian Life Centre in Raglan New Zealand, have been supporting my position at the Flame Activity Centre at Steung Meanchey. They have invited me to go to NZ next month to meet them in person, share my story and attend the 2018 Life Conference in Auckland. This is such a cool opportunity for me, I can’t wait!

I will be at Surfside on both the 22nd and 29th April if you would like to come and meet me, and hear me share my story. Please contact for more info.


There are now 45 kids at the Flame Steung Meanchey Centre