Central Coast Community Church member Elizabeth Waters is a graphic and web designer improving the lives of young girls in Cambodia in a creative and practical way.
Volunteering with Restore One charity, she runs a program that allows high school-aged girls in a rural village to earn money making Christmas decorations.
“The girls make the decorations, and we bring them back to Australia to sell for $A5 each,” she says.
After paying the girls for their work, the profits go directly towards running the Restore One School and paying teachers’ wages.
“We sell [the decorations] mostly through Facebook and via friends. We love having people take a bag-full to sell for us because the more widely we can promote them, the more we can sell . . . [and] the more teachers we can pay to teach the kids.”
Elizabeth runs the project for a month every September, during the Cambodian school holidays, and has been doing so for the last four years.
“Girls from rural villages are often sent to Phnom Penh to work, but the risks for young unchaperoned girls are huge,” she says. “Giving the girls the opportunity to work from the safety of their village means they are able to help their families financially, and then go back to their education in the new school year.”
In 2016, Elizabeth began her program by making hearts with the girls. Then in 2017, they made stars and in 2018, Christmas baubles out of felt, buttons and ribbon.
“And this year we have made the most delightful little houses!” she exclaims, joined by her friend and fellow church member, Kathy Altona, and volunteer coordinator for Restore One Tanya Lawrence.
On average, there are about 20 girls that come together to make the decorations, but there are sometimes less due to the Buddhist festival which is also in September.
“Some of the girls have to go to the [festival] in the mornings, but then come back in the afternoons . . . One of the most rewarding parts is looking around the room, listening to the happy laughter and chatter of the girls while they work and knowing they are safe.”
Elizabeth plans to return to Cambodia again next year.
“Why do I keep going back? Because I want to see the girls succeed. I want to see them educated and able to make choices about their futures,” she says. “I hate how children are taken advantage of in poor countries.”