The Beginning of AusCam

AusCam Founders, Geoff & Julie Dowse

In 2003, I was faced with an image that burned right to the core of my soul. I was standing in a room of an undercover investigations team in Chiang Mai Thailand, where the walls were full of young missing girls. All were suspected of being trafficked. It was this image that fuelled my passion and determination to fight for the freedom of every girl that is being subjected to this horrific crime. I couldn’t do anything for those young girls back then, but it set me on a path that 20 years later I am still on, with the same passion and determination I had back then.

Julie Dowse

When I returned from Chiang Mai in late 2004 I knew I had to learn more about this heartbreaking issue of child trafficking if I was going to make any difference. I dedicated the next 5 years to furthering my skills and knowledge by studying a Master’s Degree in Child Protection Investigation and doing more research on the global issue.

In 2010, Geoff and I made the decision to pack up our comfortable lives and home by the ocean in Sydney and move to Phnom Penh, an area that was a hot spot for child trafficking.

I began working in a large human rights organisation working with hundreds of victims of trafficking and violent abuse. Geoff was working in various engineering jobs volunteering his expertise. We were also devoting our spare time to a little orphanage where we fell in love with 70 children who we believed at the time were orphans. Naively and unknowingly, however, we had allowed ourselves to get caught up in what is now referred to as ‘orphanage tourism’. This orphanage was running a for-profit business using vulnerable families to make money by presenting all these children as orphans and keeping them in squalid conditions. Not only were they living in these conditions and separated from their families but we also became aware that many of the children were being abused. It is still heartbreaking for us to think about.

Once we discovered this, we moved swiftly to report the orphanage to authorities, the orphanage was closed and the children were either returned to their families or placed in other safe foster homes. However, there were a group of teenage girls who for various reasons and challenges were unable to return home.

We had been living in Phnom Penh for a little over 1 year. In reality, this is not a long time to truly be immersed in a new country and culture, but we had experienced every emotion one could possibly feel in this short time. Pure joy, excitement, frustration, anger, sadness, happiness, determination, loss. We knew however, we had to do more. In January 2012 we returned to Sydney and established AusCam Freedom Project. Soon after we returned to Phnom Penh as a newly formed Charity with a vision and a sense of urgency. Those girls from the orphanage became the seed of AusCam Freedom Project.

Our first project was born – “TLC” as it was affectionately known (The Transitions Life Centre) – a home for adolescent girls who had little or no support, had experienced various forms of abuse, and exploitation, or were at risk and needed a safe home to live and thrive. Of course, it wasn’t that quick or simple – navigating the bureaucracy in Cambodia is no easy task! However, through many long hours of work and support from our Khmer friends, we signed our MOU with the Cambodian Government (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation) as an International Non-Government organisation.

TLC operated from 2012 until 2016 and we cared for 18 beautiful young women and girls throughout this time. We remain in close contact with several of them who were from that original orphanage. They went from victims of abuse to empowered, educated, and resilient young women with renewed hope and excitement for a safe and positive future. We are so proud of all their achievements.

In 2013 after spending 12 months doing an outreach program in the red light districts of Phnom Penh, we recognised a common thread among the hundreds of young women and girls we encountered – none of them had an education.

Strategically we decided to create a new program and focus on identifying those girls who were at risk of dropping out of school to ensure they could finish their education with a newfound hope for a positive future. The Freedom Education Scholarship Program for Girls was born in December 2013 with 25 girls. Today we have 60 young women in University with many young women already graduated. Our programs have grown and changed over the years adapting to the needs of young women and the changing landscape of trafficking in Cambodia. We continue to learn and grow.

Over the past 12 + years we have impacted the lives of thousands of girls. Those girls are the heartbeat of AusCam. Their resilience and determination through so much adversity is to be admired. Our team in the field is passionate and committed and works tirelessly for the cause. We have had many volunteers who have contributed thousands of hours of work yet sit so humbly behind the scenes and our donors and supporters have contributed $3+ million dollars to help us in the fight against human trafficking and exploitation.

Today, the images I look at on my office walls are very different from those images all those years ago. They are girls who are happy, filled with hope, determined, skilled, and resilient. But most of all, they are safe.

So now we look to the future. There is no doubt that the best is yet to come!

Thank you to all the donors, supporters, colleagues, staff, volunteers, friends, and family who also believe that every girl’s story matters – together we have done this..

Julie & Geoff 💜

The Beginning of AusCam

“Action without vision is only passing time, Vision without action is merely day dreaming, But vision with action can change the world”
Nelson Mandella

We want all girls, everywhere, to be free from trafficking and exploitation.