Two universities, one mission

23 October 2015


Waikato and Massey universities' social work students did a work placement in Cambodia to contribute in the fight against child sex trade and human trafficking.

Social work students from Waikato and Massey universities are working together to contribute to the fight against child sex trade and human trafficking in Cambodia.

Five students from across both universities have just returned from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where they spent 10 weeks on a student placement working in conjunction with Justice Reach, a New Zealand based NGO committed to setting children free from the abuse of human trafficking and the sex trade.

“According to the Cambodian Ministry of Social Affairs, 90% of Cambodia’s sex workers were sold into the sex industry by their own families,” says Simon Lowe, Senior Tutor in Social Work at the University of Waikato’s School of Social Sciences. “When you hear statistics like that it’s hard to comprehend, but even if we helped one child, we achieved something.”

The Cambodia placement is a first for both universities, who have been working with Justice Reach since the start of the year to make it happen.

Dr Kathryn Hay, Senior Lecturer in the School of Social Work at Massey says placements such as this are pioneering a new type of social work placement for New Zealand tertiary institutions. “It was challenging due to the location and subject, but the personal and professional development of the students is invaluable.

“It was a fantastic opportunity for students to experience social and community work practice in a completely different context. Learnings from their experience in Cambodia can be transferred to their social work practice back home, especially around working cross-culturally, group work and managing community development projects.”

As part of the placement, Gina Barnes, Hannah Morris and Alex Dentener from Massey and Rochelle Doyle and Georgea Hinii from Waikato worked with local youth (18 and under) within the Wat Phnom district. Together they undertook a scoping exercise to explore NGO, community, and government responses to child trafficking, current initiatives, challenges, gaps and opportunities for future development. The students’ work culminated in a report for Justice Reach addressing the needs and responses for children trafficked into the sex industry.

Waikato University fourth year Bachelor of Social Work student Georgea Hiini, says the majority of their work was connected with people who were homeless and working as prostitutes. Both she and fellow Waikato student, Rochelle Doyle, experienced sensory overload when they first arrived in Cambodia.

“The poverty in Cambodia is immeasurable, the issues are intergenerational. As part of the placement it wasn’t possible to directly help everyone, however under such circumstances, I found it impossible not to,” says Rochelle.

Both Dr Hay and Mr Lowe accompanied the students to Cambodia and supported them for their first few weeks. A registered social worker from New Zealand also accompanied the students for the duration of the placement, providing professional supervision. The pair visited the Royal University of Phnom Penh social work department to explore possibilities for future connections. The New Zealand students have also met with their Cambodian counterparts to share their placement learnings.