Srey Ra, pictured in front of the portraits at the Women Who Shine X Hagar exhibition. Photo: Nora Tam

Women Who Shine exhibition in Hong Kong captures 'survivor spirit' of those who have fought back against abuse

Project aims to capture the 'survivor spirit' of victims of human trafficking and other abuses

Jennifer Ngo

It is never easy to talk about abuse and tears roll down Srey Ra's cheeks as she recounts her ordeal 10 years ago.

Ra, 24, was raped on Cambodian New Year's Day while out selling sugar cane with her brother. She was 14 years old.

"It was so difficult for me. I had big dreams for my life, but it was like everything was gone - there was no hope, no life," said Ra, struggling not to cry.

Watch: Cambodian rape survivor speaks out at human rights photo exhibition in Hong Kong

Speaking through a translator, the pharmacy student said she wanted to tell her story of recovery and hope.

Ra is one of six women photographed for an exhibition called Women Who Shine X Hagar, on show at the Fringe Club in Central until tomorrow.

"I wanted to be part of it because I want to help those who are from the toughest places or have a similar experience as me," said Ra. "Don't let the sadness prevent you from going forward."

After the rape, Ra's family sought help from NGOs and was referred to humanitarian organisation Hagar International, with which she stayed at a shelter for a month. She was then referred to a children's recovery home, where she stayed for almost two years while her physical and emotional wounds healed.

Ra said during those two years and many more after, the people at Hagar made her feel valued and gave her an education. She is now a third-year pharmacy student at a university in Cambodia and hopes to open a similar haven for children, the elderly and the poor - "just like Hagar".

The exhibition originally began as a 10-year project by husband and wife duo Caroline Sze Shun-ying and Rico Tsui Sai-cheong, photographing women who are doing something they are passionate about. They began collaborating with Hagar to tell six stories of victims recovering from abuse, human trafficking and other rights violations in Cambodia.

"These women fit into the series we wanted to do," said Sze, who with Tsui flew to Cambodia in August last year to photograph the women.

"It was challenging because of the limited resources and time available, but I think worthwhile because we captured their survivor spirit."

Melissa Petros, executive director of Hagar International in Hong Kong, said the aim of project was to raise awareness and show that abused women are still beautiful.

"It also has to do with Caroline's philosophy. A lot of women who have been through abuse … they don't feel beautiful. They think that they're ugly. So the idea is to help them rebuild their lives," she said.

Hagar, which was set up in 1994, has served about 15,000 women and child survivors of human rights abuses in Cambodia, Vietnam and Afghanistan.


This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Exhibition lets violated women rediscover beauty