Cambodian students adjust life goals after stint in Australia

For the past five years, Central Coast Grammar School, north of Sydney, has been hosting the at-risk children, many of whom, have gone on to forge successful careers.


Seventeen year-old Phannat Phy only began playing piano five years ago.

He learnt entirely by ear in his home country, Cambodia, and he’s already receiving standing ovations.

His performance at Central Coast Grammar’s school assembly blew the audience away.

Phannat is one of a generation of children in Cambodia living below the poverty line.

Since he was three, Phannat has been living under the care of Sunrise Cambodia, a charity that supports and educates at-risk children.

It was set up in the early 90s by Geraldine Cox.

“All of the children that have come have been affected in some way by feelings of abandonment, low self-worth, lack of confidence because there is a stigma attached to being an orphan in Cambodia.”

Phannat is one of four teenagers from Sunrise Cambodia, taking part in an Australian exchange program.

For a month, they attend school at New South Wales’ Central Coast Grammar and stay with a host family.

For most, it’s the first time they’ve lived in such a setting.

Phannat says it’s like having a second family.

“I feel like that this is my own house and she is my mother, yeah – they are very kind, it’s like my mother and father.”

He and the others are giving just as much back to the community.

Bec Hockey, a year 12 student at Central Coast Grammar, first met Phannat when she went on exchange to Cambodia last year.

She says it was an honour to see Phannat perform at the assembly.

“Really proud, I knew how nervous he was and he was just amazing and to see his talent be showcased at our school was really amazing.”

Founder of the exchange program, Peter Davies, in the past has hosted some of the Cambodian students in his home.

He says the memories they leave behind last forever.

“Some of the funny things that happen, you’ll never forget. For example, we told two of our boys that we had a machine for washing clothes – I wound up pulling clothes out of our dishwasher.”

For the students, the trip is full of new experiences.

In Cambodia, school runs for just three hours a day and there are no extra-curricular activities.

Phannat says he’s grateful to be taking part in a range of subjects that don’t exist in Cambodia.

“(We) don’t have sport or art or music, that’s why it makes us like, feel stressed. This place is very nice.”

Chieb Khtik says it’s her first time using a computer at school.

“It’s very fun. The school standard, in here, it’s very modern. In Cambodia, when we study, we use the notebook but here, we use the computer.”

The classes are igniting new aspirations for the students.

Vichhay Khorn has been taking part in an I-T elective and now hopes to forge a career in that area.

He says he wants to share the skills he’s learning here in Australia with his peers back home.

“I want to work in IT. The knowledge about technology is so low, so that’s why I want to get more from Australia and share with the other children at the centre and in the community.”

That’s a real possibility, says Geraldine Cox, if the program’s past participants are anything to go by.

“We’ve got one doing a scholarship in China in IT, another doing agriculture in Israel, we’ve got two girls doing international relations degrees in Phnom Penh universities. We’ve got another boy doing civil engineering, we’ve got kids in hospitality, social welfare, the whole lot.”

And with Phannat on a path to study at the Royal Fine Arts School in Phnom Penh, the list of success stories looks likely to grow.



Crunch time for reef research: experts

The world must start ploughing time and money into new research to understand how crucial coral species might survive climate change, an Australian-led team of scientists says.


A new paper by international coral experts says the mechanisms corals might use to acclimatise and adapt to a rapidly warming world are poorly understood.

While there’s been some promising new knowledge, they say efforts to understand those mechanisms must be ramped up, and now.

“We can’t wait for the full impacts of ocean warming before we start thinking about how we’re going to solve the problem,” says climate change scientist Dr Line Bay, from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).

Scientists say research must focus on hard coral species – the building blocks upon which everything else on the reef depends.

“These are the trees of the rainforest, the foundational species that support the enormous biodiversity we recognise on the reef,” Dr Bay says.

“Just like you can’t have a forest without trees, you can’t have a reef without hard corals.”

Scientists around the world, including in Australia, have learned much over the past decade about how corals function and respond to their environment.

“Corals are not only animals, they are individuals. Within the same species you’ll have individuals that are more sensitive to extreme conditions, and others that are more tolerant.”

Dr Bay says such knowledge could lead to new and practical strategies to aid reef survival, such as breeding heat tolerant coral to help the reef recover from mass bleaching events.

The group of scientists, led by AIMS and Dr Gergely Torda from James Cook University’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, have published their paper in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Dr Torda says much rides on the ability to better understand the mechanisms that could enable corals to cope with warmer seas, which caused back-to-back mass bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef this year and last.

“The time to act is now, as the window of opportunity to save coral reefs is rapidly closing,” Dr Torda says.

Team challenging traditional obesity management is itself challenged

A quarter of Australian adults are estimated to be clinically obese.


A common view is that obesity is a self-inflicted condition but one Melbourne clinic is challenging that perception.

Austin Health Obesity physician, Professor Joe Proietto, says he treats obesity as a chronic genetic disease.

“The view that obesity is genetic is controversial, however the evidence is very strong that there is a genetic predisposition to obesity.”

Doctors at Austin Health feature in a new documentary, trying to treat patients through a combination of diet, medication and surgery tailored specifically for their genetic make-up.

Professor Proietto believes the environment has far less bearing on weight than genetics.

But Sydney University Obesity Research Director, Doctor Nick Fuller, says blaming genetics is only going to make the obesity crisis worse.

“We are finding more and more genes that contribute to obesity but genetics are not the reason for the increase in prevalance of obesity.”

Doctor Fuller believes dieting is not the most effective solution.

He believes weight loss should happen slowly, to trick the body into believing it is at a new set weight point.

“They need to lose a small amount of weight before the usual response to weight loss kicks in and maintain that weight so they can reprogram their set weight before going on to lose weight.”

Helene Jagdon has been trying to lose weight for 30 years.

She has tried many fad diets and training regimes, without success.

Only in the last few years under Doctor Fuller’s strategy has she been able to lose 14 kilograms – and keep it off.

“He didn’t make us feel like we were on a diet, he was just guiding us to what foods we can eat and not really saying what foods we can’t eat. Just saying if you feel like having a laksa have a laksa but maybe limit it to one takeaway treat in a week.”

Now a comfortable 68 kilograms, Helene has maintained her passion of cooking and is inspiring people half her age to lose weight without dramatically changing their lives.


The 3-part documentary The Obesity Myth starts on Monday September 4 at 7:30pm on SBS.



Report says cluster munitions use doubled last year

Cluster munitions are often crude and unreliable weapons.


Launched from the air or the ground, they can release hundreds of smaller sub-munitions to attack a target.

Globally, since the 1960s, they have killed more than 21,000 people.

But a report by the leading international monitor of the use of such weapons, the Cluster Munition Coalition, says almost a thousand casualties were directly related to them just in 2016.

Those casualties, mostly in the civil wars in Syria and Yemen, were double the number in the previous year.

And the coalition’s landmine and cluster-munition monitor, Loren Persi, says the weapons can cause harm for decades after they are first deployed.

“The majority of all casualties from unexploded remnants of war were from cluster munitions, and many of them were children, and it is definitely an indication that Laos, which is a ‘states’ party, and many of the countries that are affected are still affected by these munitions many years later.”

The rising figures come despite an increasing number of countries ratifying an international treaty prohibiting their use.

Officials say it is becoming increasingly difficult to monitor cluster munitions, with some speculating the number of attacks was actually far higher than the 200 recorded.

The advocacy director from Human Rights Watch’s Arms Division, Mary Wareham, singles out the ongoing conflict in Syria.

“The vast majority of that use has been by Syrian government forces. And, last December, the Russian foreign minister sent us a letter with a three-page policy position paper about cluster munitions in Syria. He did not explicitly deny or confirm Russia’s involvement in the use, but it denied that cluster munitions were being used indiscriminately in Syria. We disagree.”

The latest report was released at United Nations headquarters in Geneva.

The United Nations has also raised concerns over a sudden rise in air strikes hitting the Syrian city of Raqqa last month.

A United States-led coalition, seeking to oust IS from the city, conducted more than a thousand strikes on Raqqa, up from 645 in July.

And Russia’s air force, backing Syrian government troops along with Iran, reported carrying out more than 2,500 air strikes across Syria in the first three weeks of August alone.

The UN human rights office says forces may be violating international law and endangering civilians.

Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani has urged both sides to remember what they are fighting for.

“If you’re going to pummel civilians, if you’re going to cause massive loss of civilian life and infrastructure, then what is the point? The point should be to liberate these civilians from ISIL’s murderous regime, not to pummel them so that, in the end, you have a Pyrrhic victory.”



Marawi battle: Philippines yet to accept offer on Australian troops

Defence Minister Marise Payne will travel to Manila next week to discuss the conflict between rebels and security forces in Marawi.


Australia has offered Manila assistance with military capacity-building and training on top of the two surveillance planes already deployed there.

But Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declined to speculate on the scope of any extra assistance.

“We do not want (IS) establishing a stronghold in Southeast Asia,” he told reporters in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.

“It is vitally in our interests to see that insurgency defeated.”

Defence has sent two P-3 Orion surveillance planes to help with intelligence gathering.

Canberra has offered special forces soldiers to help train Filipino troops, but Manila is yet to accept.

The Philippines defence force has been fighting IS militants in Marawi since May and foreign fightersreturning from Iraq and Syria are being drawn there.

The conflict had displaced an estimated 400,000 people.

‘Not about troops on the ground’: Foreign Minister Bishop downplays assistance  

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has downplayed reports Australia will send special forces troops to help the Philippines fight Islamic State militants.

Ms Bishop stood by her earlier comments that Manila had been offered assistance in advising and training local forces.

“It’s far too early to even speculate because the Philippines haven’t indicated what level of support or what form that support would take,” she told reporters in Sydney on Friday.

“We are talking about advising and assisting and training. This is not about troops on the ground — the Philippines would not accept that. And it hasn’t been offered,” she said. 

“The Phillippines haven’t indicated the level of support they require.”

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Deputy Prime Miinster Barnaby Joyce said the threat presented by IS in Southeast Asia must be taken seriously.

“We don’t want a caliphate in the southern Philippines. I don’t think that’s going to be good for business in South-East Asia,” he said.

“This is not just a problem for Australia, it is a problem for the whole region and the whole region will work together in a concerted way.”

Amnesty warns against complicity in rights abuses

Amnesty International urged Marise Payne to seek assurances from the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte that Australian troops will not inadvertently become complicit in human rights abuses.

Defence Minister Payne will be discussing Australia’s offer to send special forces troops to fight IS in a meeting with officials in the Philippines next week.

“Amnesty International Australia has been appalled by reports back in June that the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte gave his troops an unequivocal license to kill civilians with impunity while fighting ISIS-aligned militants in Marawi,” said Amnesty International Australia’s Campaigns Manager Michael Hayworth. 

“At a minimum, Australia should be leading calls on President Duterte to protect civilians and make sure that a proportionate response is taken to any alleged threat from extremist groups.”

Battle claims 800 lives

Pro-Islamic State militants took over the southern Philippines city of Marawi in May.

Filippino soldiers have been fighting to take back the city in a conflict that has displaced an estimated 400,000 people.

IS rebels in Marawi are believed to be receiving direct funding from IS in the Middle East.

Close to 800 dead including about 600 militants.

Duterte declares battle is nearing its end

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Wednesday a three-month battle against Islamic State group supporters occupying parts of a southern city was in its “final stages”.

Duterte gave his assessment shortly after government troops secured a vital bridge in Marawi city, allowing them easier access into areas being held by the militants.

“We are in the final stages. So let us send immediately, even air-lift, the police,” to Marawi, Duterte said in the capital Manila, about 800 kilometres to the north of the battle zone.

Pro-IS gunmen occupied parts of Marawi, the Islamic capital of the mainly Catholic Philippines on May 23, triggering a battle that the military says has left almost 800 people dead.

The fighting, which has included a US-backed air campaign against the militants, has destroyed large parts of Marawi.

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