Bringing smiles to Children of the killing fields

little girl on tip
little girl on tip
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For nearly ten years Lynne Barnett has been offering therapy to the abused and exploited children of Cambodia. As she prepares for her 11th and longest the trip, she talks to Catherine Scott.

Lynne Barnett doesn’t find it easy to talk about the volunteering work she does in Cambodia.

One reason is that she doesn’t like to draw attention to herself. Her work in Cambodia since 2005 has been purely to help the abused and exploited children in this poverty-stricken country where life seems cheap.

The second reason is that the things she has seen and heard from the mouths of some of these children are just too horrific to recall.

But she has decided to speak out for the first time as she is about to embark on her 11th and longest trip to South-East Asia and needs the support of the local people.

“It isn’t for me,” stresses the 51-year-old grandmother from Doncaster. “I need the support of people to make sure that I can stay the full year. There is nothing worse than getting the confidence of people, getting them to open up and then not being around long enough to help them.”

Lynne, a former RAF nurse and midwife, has worked extensively as an outreach nurse in sexual health for Doncaster’s under-16s and as a national trainer and therapist, she has used her skills and a degree in counselling to set up Sanctuary Therapy. Based in Doncaster, Lynne works with both children and adults on a variety of challenging issues such as trauma, low self-esteem, abuse and anxiety.

It is almost a decade since Lynne took those skills to the former “Killing Fields” of the Cambodian genocide, in order to work with children as young as six who have been abused, traumatized and trafficked into sexual slavery.

Calling the support she offered Sanctuary in Cambodia, Lynne has previously taken weeks of holiday each year to serve some of the most vulnerable and destitute people on the planet, offering counselling, therapeutic group work, training and humanitarian support for those who are exploited and oppressed.

“This is no adult gap year or poverty tourism – I am a self-employed counsellor taking a full year to help many more children, young people and families living in absolute poverty. My extensive background in health, counselling and training has enabled me to provide voluntary consultancy on ten previous occasions. Working with numerous projects since 2005 has enriched my life, as I have met many inspirational people – I love the Khmer.”

She even took her son, Benjamin, 24,with her on one occasion.

“It was very frustrating for him, as it often is for me. When he saw a young girl with a much older man he wanted to do something, but I explained to him the only thing he could really do was to go back to England and tell his uni friends about when he had seen and try to raise awareness of what is happening in a country people seem to have forgotten about. If he had taken action it would have seen him thrown into jail, it is place where we have to be very careful.”

During one visit Lynne contracted Dengue fever and was very poorly.

“It was over Christmas and I became very ill, but I was so well looked after by all the Khmer friends I have made over the years. They were amazing and although they are so poor they wanted to give me fresh fruit and vegetables to make me well again.”

When she returns in June Lynne will continue her work with sexually-trafficked children and young people.

“These young individuals, who are sexually exploited and often imprisoned, need love and support to enable the healing process. I will be offering counselling, training local people in basic counselling skills and providing some theoretical knowledge of trauma issues. Currently there is no service available for those who have suffered atrocities, historical or recent. Generations are affected by the trauma of war. For this reason I will also facilitate group activities to enhance self-esteem, confidence, health and relationships.

“Tourists see the beauty of the Cambodian landscape, but being there always activates a roller coaster of emotion in me. From the distress I feel when confronted by the lack of mental health care provision – individuals tethered by family under huts to keep them safe – to feeling totally inspired by the stoic attitude and resourcefulness of those living in absolute poverty.

“The injustice, oppression and poverty in this ‘forgotten’ country stunts progress and stifles potential.”

When she goes Lynne takes dozens of teddy bears knitted by the women from her churches across South Yorkshire to give to the children.

“A lot of these children have nothing to call their own,” continues Lynne. “When I give them the teddies their faces light up. It is hard to put into words.

“I am so grateful to all the people who help support what I am trying to do out there and help my fund-raising.”

Lynne plans to rent a house in Cambodia which she says his much cheaper than staying in a B&B. She knows the months ahead will be gruelling, but being a counsellor she knows the importance of her own mental fitness.

“I am going to have regular debriefings which is crucial in this line of work.”

When things start to get too much for Lynne, she takes to the stunning Cambodian countryside with her camera and takes photographs of what she sees.

“I go into the villages and people are so pleased to see me that it really helps me cope with everything. It does seem sometimes like what I am doing is a drop in the ocean but if I can just help one child then it has been worth it.”

To help Lynne visit www.