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Exhibition empowers through photography

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Exhibition ‘Now We Thrive, Not Survive' to raise awareness of perils of Cambodia's sex industry

One of the photographs showcased at “Now We Thrive, Not Survive”, an exhibition at Meta House. Photo Supplied

ANEW exhibition at Phnom Penh's Meta House is giving four young Khmer women the chance to be known as talented photographers rather than as victims of the sex industry. "Now We Thrive, Not Survive" aims both to raise awareness of Cambodia's sex industry and to give the women greater confidence in themselves.

Jaymie Friesen, director of photography for the exhibition, said she wanted to help women looking to leave the sex industry move on from their pasts.

"We are raising awareness of ... what is going on in the sex industry in Phnom Penh," she said. "These aren't just sex workers, these are women who can have a different life."

Friesen trained as a photographer in Canada and wanted to use her skills to help the people of Cambodia. It was through her contact with Ruth Elliott, director of Daughters of Cambodia, an NGO dedicated to working with victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking, that she came up with the idea of empowering women through art.

The Khmer women had never operated a camera when the programme began in January, so the lessons started with the basics - including teaching them how to use a viewfinder and how to press a button to take a photograph.

Although initially shy and timid, after a month the women became excited about the project and began taking their own direction, Friesen said.

Friesen said she would like to see the project expanded and for the women's work to be compiled in a photographic journal.

These aren't just sex workers, these are women who can have a different life.

Kim Foster, who works as a nurse for Daughters of Cambodia, said the organisation offers women a viable escape if they wish to leave the sex industry. She stressed that the focus is not on "rescuing" women but rather on providing options for women who have decided they want to move on.  

Another goal of the organisation is to keep at-risk women out of the sex industry by helping them gain independence through home-based work or other forms of employment.

"It's about boosting their self-worth," Foster said. "It makes them feel like they have a future."

Another exhibition organised by Daughters of Cambodia, as well as a bazaar, will be open from 12pm to 2pm this Saturday at Gasolina.  All proceeds from sales will go towards the work of Daughters of Cambodia.

"Now We Thrive, Not Survive" opened at Meta House Tuesday night and will run until June 26.

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