Award graduate helping to combat human trafficking
Australia Award graduate Sok Sokunthea’s “dream vision” is to set up a public-based business that offers members of a local community opportunities for working and earning money – opportunities that did not exist before.
Sokunthea, who completed his Masters in Professional and Organisational Communication, graduated from Victoria University in Melbourne, in 2015.
Born into a large family in Kampong Cham Province, he and his brothers are the only ones in a family of seven siblings who live in Phnom Penh. The others have remained in Kampong Cham with their widowed mother. Although his mother is not highly educated, she has valued education and encouraged him to move forward his education goal.
A conscientious student in primary and secondary school, Sokunthea did fairly well in all subjects but developed a love of language and literature.
Sokunthea won a scholarship for his Bachelor in Media Management at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) and the program was sponsored by the German Government. “I was pleased to get the scholarship”, he said. There were only 30 awardees selected each year. “I was one of 29 who gained a scholarship - and we had to go through three levels of very tough assessments and interview before we found out if we had succeeded.”
Later, completing his studies at RUPP, he graduated with two degrees – Bachelor in Media Management and Bachelor in Education.
After working for a few years as a Communications Officer with local and international NGO, Sokunthea had heard from a friend about the opportunity to apply for an Australia Award and decided to apply, “so I could contribute to Cambodia’s development”.
In Melbourne, Sokunthea soon experienced many “ups and downs”, but persevered and eventually gain two awards while at Victoria Uni – an “Outstanding Student” Award and a “Creativity Award” for his work with the International Students’ Association.
“I also had a great opportunity to experience an Australian workplace, when I completed an internship with an “Australian Greens” Member of the Victorian Parliament, Coleen Hartland, MP.”
Sokunthea believes that, as well as the positive outcomes from his Master’s studies in Australia, he has also gained many new skills and increased his capacity, simply because of the practical experience and demands of living, studying and working in a different country and culture.
Currently working as the Knowledge, Learning and Communications Manager for USAID’s Cambodia Countering Trafficking-in-Persons program implemented by Winrock International, Sokunthea uses his Award skills and knowledge every day. Apart from managing program’s internal and external communications, he coordinates a Behavioral Change Campaign that uses holistic approaches including IEC materials, media, and social mobilization to raise awareness and reinforce the target people particularly potential, current, and returned migrants and marginalised people to have positive attitudes and behaviors in preventing themselves from being trafficked and migrating safely.
“My boss is very supportive of me using my new skills and she encourages me to be fairly independent… I am lucky to have such a positive supervisor.”
Sokunthea is often asked for advice about living and studying in Australia, by people thinking about applying for an Australia Award – and he always answers that they should not be too individualistic.
“I say: ‘Look at the bigger picture to see how your studies can make a positive difference in Cambodia’,” he explained.
Although busy with his work with Winrock International, Sokunthea finds some time for his favourite hobbies, discussing current national and domestic issues, running a social issues blog, and even has time for the occasional game of table tennis.
Sok Sokunthea has a mobility disability. He was supported by Australia Awards Cambodia through the Equity Pathways Program (EPP), before he commenced his studies in Australia for his Australian scholarship.