Managed by Coffey in partnership with IDP Education in Cambodia, the Australia Awards seek to promote knowledge, educational links and enduring ties between Australia, Cambodia and the global community.
A moving example of Australia Awards Alumni making a real and profound difference in the world is Dr Chhim Sotheara.
Dr Chhim is one of the first ten psychiatrists in Cambodia and is currently Executive Director of the Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation in Phnom Penh. This non-government mental health organisation provides psychosocial and mental health care for traumatised Cambodians at the grassroots level.
Dr. Chhim grew up during the time of the Khmer Rouge. His career in medicine extended to psychiatry when he witnessed first-hand the shocking mental effects of war on his country’s people. An Australia Award to undertake a Masters of Psychological Medicine at the University of New South Wales in 1999 started Dr Chhim’s career in the mental health field. He is currently completing a PhD at Monash University in Victoria.
Dr Chhim recently received the Leitner Center’s (New York) Annual Human Rights Award in 2012 for his extraordinary work in helping to heal his nation from the terrible atrocities of the past. His concept of “Baksbat” or “broken courage” has allowed the creation and discussion of a meaningful and culturally appropriate response to trauma and mental illness. Dr Chhim’s practice of “Testimonial Theory” is a culturally sensitive trauma treatment approach adopted by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia; the international criminal tribunal.
“The verbalisations of the past could be still a problem….not many people talk about this to each other because [they feel] there is no point to talk. That’s why our organisation’s focus is to encourage people to talk about the past trauma, about their issues, because we understand that the more they keep to themselves the more problems they suffer,” Dr Chhim explained during an interview on ABC Radio National.
The Australia Awards gave Dr Chhim the opportunity to learn how the Western diagnostic system treats mental illness and create a culturally appropriate approach that captures the Cambodian responses to trauma and political violence. He has now been working in the mental health sector for over 17 years.