Geraldine Cox started the Sunrise Children’s Villages in Cambodia, providing a loving home to the country’s orphans and dispossessed. They currently look after around 400 children.
With the assistance of a Sydney couple and a grant from the Chase Foundation, Geraldine co-founded the Australia Cambodia Foundation in 1993. Geraldine had been on holiday in Cambodia and had seen many children in great need. She decided she needed to do something about it and moved to the country in 1996.
Geraldine Cox grew up in Adelaide and studied at the Metropolitan Business College. After many jobs and travels, she joined the Department of Foreign Affairs. She worked for the department from 1970 to 1987, stationed in Australian embassies in Cambodia, the Philippines, Thailand, Iran and the United States. After leaving the organisation, she started working at the Chase Manhattan Bank in Sydney.
While the Foundation was becoming established, Geraldine earned a living working with then First Prime Minister, Prince Ranariddth, but following the 1997 coup she was left without a job. On the positive side however, it meant that she was able to spend more time on Foundation matters and with the children at the orphanage. Two years later, she was given Cambodian Citizenship in 1999 by King Norodum Sihanouk, by Royal Decree, and made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2000.
The children she helps have come from very sad and troubled backgrounds, with abuse and abandonment being key issues. Some of the children have literally been thrown onto rubbish heaps, or have been burnt with acid to make them better beggars. Sunrise provides them with a loving home, along with quality health care and education opportunities which are beyond the reach of most Cambodians. Some of the Sunrise children have gone on to graduate in fields such as dentistry, hospitality, IT, insurance, mechanics, banking, sales and advertising. Those who study in Australia return to their home country after their degree to help make Cambodia a better place.
Geraldine has written a book, “Home Is Where the Heart Is,” published by Pan Macmillan and was the subject of “My Khmer Heart,” which won the Hollywood Film Festival Documentary of the Year Award in 2000.
She now spends around nine months of the year living at Sunrise Children’s Village, 20 kilometres outside Phnom Penh and the rest of the time travels to Australia, Asia and the United States to raise much needed funds. There are currently three Sunrise Children’s Villages in the country, and they care for around 400 children in total.
In addition to her work with Sunrise, Geraldine serves on the board of the International Advisory Board of Oasis Africa Australia.
Geraldine’s story has been featured on Australian Story, The Sunday Program, This Is Your Life, Four Corners, Today Tonight, The 7.30 Report and 60 Minutes, Talking Heads and the 7pm Project.
2012: Geraldine was nominated by Ernst & Young for the Entrepreneur Award of the Year in the Social category for South Australia.
2012: Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia, awarded her with the Royal Order of Sahametrei Medal
2011: Geraldine was the recipient of the prestigious Weary Dunlop Award.
2010: Geraldine was a Finalist for the South Australian of the Year Award.
2007: Australia Network, the ABC’s cable television channel screened in 41 countries, invited Geraldine to be one of their Achievers, where she promotes the channel and its programs.
2006: She was named a Paul Harris Fellow by the Rotary Foundation.
2006: Geraldine was awarded the Circle of Courage Award from the Australian charity, Youth Off the Streets.
"Geraldine is one of the world's most warm-hearted people. She is also fearless and tireless and the orphanage, which now exists in politically easier times, was both born and survived entirely as a function of her vigour, generosity and humanity."
Ambassador John Dauth, Australian Mission to the United Nations, New York
"In speaking for the Asia Society AustralAsia Centre in Melbourne 2 years ago, Geraldine Cox took us through the process of establishing the orphanage, Sunrise Children's Village, in a way that was frank, engaging and inspirational. By the end of her talk, there were few in the audience who did not want to get up and volunteer their services immediately in helping her secure the means needed to support her children. Geraldine is also able to place her activities in the context of the dynamic and changing political and social environments of Cambodia, offering a clearer understanding of a country that has experienced so much tragedy."
Prue Holstein, Executive Director, Asia Society AustralAsia Centre, Melbourne
"There are a lot of decisions that she made, by her own admission, could be deemed questionable. You always see the motives that are behind what she's doing and her first priority is the children, you know, in the orphanage and she makes no bones about that, so I think that's really admirable. She's not a saint, she's human. I was just incredibly moved by her and by her work."
Matt Damon, Hollywood
"The heroine at the heart of "My Khmer Heart" is such an astonishing, unpredictable, indomitable force of nature as to be wholly implausible, except for the fact she does exist. Think of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage, then add Mother Teresa, Hanoi Jane Fonda and the unsinkable Molly Brown.”
Kirk Honeycutt, the Hollywood Reporter’s Head Critic, Los Angeles
"Her commitment in bringing awareness about the plight of these forgotten Cambodian children will never be forgotten."
Danny Glover, Hollywood
“What an outstanding story this is and what an outstanding woman Geraldine is and what an amazing path she has travelled."
Harry M. Miller, Celebrity Agent, Sydney
'Geraldine Cox has an extraordinary and important story to tell - and she tells it very well indeed.'
Phillip Adams, ABC Journalist, Sydney
"SMEC as one of Australia’s leading consulting firms is also proud to be involved with Geraldine and her work in Cambodia setting an example of how Australian businesses can have a human face on the international scene for such a worthwhile project. Geraldine was one of the principal guests at the inauguration of the SMEC Foundation in 2002 and was invited to speak at the recent anniversary of SMEC’s 10 years of privatization in 2003 and this high regard in which she is held by SMEC management is a reflection of her never-ending efforts to further her goals for the Orphanage and its children."
Leigh Shalless, Senior Project Manager, Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation, Pakistan
"I have known Geraldine for more than 30 years. She has never taken the easy way out. She has demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to endangered Cambodian children and energy levels to match. Her story is one of courage and heartbreak, of hard work and love."
Michael Mann, President, RMIT International University of Vietnam and Ambassador of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta to Cambodia, Ho Chi Minh
"Geraldine uses a big heart and openness, combined with subtle tact, to cross borders between cultures, which many people do not even know exist."
Warren Reed, former ASIS Officer and author of ‘Code Cicada’, Sydney
“The orphans of Cambodia have a good chance with a mother like her."
Prime Minister of Cambodia Hun Sen, Phnom Penh
"She has the courage to believe she can make a difference".
Peter Ustinov, British Actor, London (deceased)