Our Khmer Women’s Group

Every Wednesday, I welcome about 13 to 20 women to our Khmer Women’s Support Group in the Fairfield Women’s Health Centre. The women are from the local Southwest Sydney area. The support group provides a place for Khmer women to meet, socialise, learn new skills, and share their experiences. It’s a safe space where the women can reflect on what they have gone through, practice self-care and find the hope they need to create much greater joy.

On the first day, I gave the women some mindfulness colouring exercises. This was a good way to get to know everyone: their individual personalities and needs. Through the colours they chose and the marks they made I was able to gain more insight on how they were feeling. It’s also a good gauge to track the women’s progress in each session.    

Khmer women usually spend about half an hour on this mindfulness activity, learning how to focus better. These techniques are then strengthened through weekly meditation sessions. Usually, it takes some time before the women learn to meditate properly.

Considering what Khmer women have gone through, learning how to breath well is very important. A lot of stress is carried in the mind and body. So, it’s important for Khmer women to release this by returning each week to progress in their meditation journey.  

And most of the women do return! They are eager to do so to get into the flow of meditation.

Early this year, we even had a taste of what it meant to integrate yoga into our meditation practice. Thanks to funding from the Fairfield Women’s Health Centre, we were able to hire a yoga instructor over four weeks.

These sessions are now complete although the women in my group are very keen for this to continue.

Some other techniques we use in our group are health education, storytelling, and reflective discussions so Khmer women can find their sense of self and belonging. Group sharing, using their own language, allows the women to gain insight into how they are feeling. This helps Khmer women find it within themselves to improve their sense of confidence, independence, and self-worth.

Bonnie’s Khmer Women’s Group helps strengthen the bond between Khmer women. It is an invisible bond that will never break because of Khmer women’s experiences during the brutal Khmer Rouge Regime that began in April 1975.

Safety is so important for Khmer women. It’s the reason why many Khmer women are afraid to trust others unlike themselves who may have gone through similar experiences. Once this trust is broken, as it has during the Khmer Rouge, it’s very difficult to repair.

The importance of safety is one reason why Khmer women are drawn to each other in the first place. I noticed from the first day that the women in my group felt comfortable with each other. Some of them had arrived early and were sitting around and chatting even before the session began.

Home, Friendships and the Healing Power of Women

In Khmer culture, women are at the centre of everything and there is also a shared understanding of each woman’s roles in the family structure and community. Khmer women, for example, take on the responsibility of looking after each other’s children without being asked. Their role as a sole housemaker is clearly understood. Preferably, it is the woman that manages the preparation of the cooking and the household. These roles help bring Khmer woman together, as one family or community.

And when it comes to home, this for a Khmer woman is like a temple; sacred spaces and places to be protected and cherished where, for so many, home and family had been taken away so ruthlessly during the brutal Khmer Rouge Regime.

The same goes for family and community and the newfound relationships Khmer women have found in our Bonnie’s Group. It’s what we nurture each week in our sessions – protecting their safety, their cherished relationships, their friendships, their growth, their personal and emotional development.

Hopefully, through the generosity of our donors, we can continue to expand our support for Khmer women in Sydney. Maybe, one day, we may even hire a regular yoga instructor!

Written with Darany

Images via Canva

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