audio close compressed excel CS_logo_icon_solid_yellow_alt Created with Sketch. x x image insta-black menu pdf Print BTN - Shortlist Created with Sketch. Share Asset 1 word

Cox AM

Founder & President of Sunrise Cambodia


Geraldine Cox is the 71-year-old Founder and President of Sunrise Cambodia (formerly Sunrise Children’s Villages). She resides in the Kandal province of Cambodia where she is a mentor to the children in her care. She remains the figure-head of Sunrise Cambodia, making public appearances in Australia to assist with fundraising appeals.

Born in Adelaide in 1945 Geraldine was considered the ‘wild child’ of the family. In her early 20’s, after learning she would be unable to conceive she joined the Department of Foreign Affairs and began a journey like no other. In 1970 she was posted to Phnom Penh, a time when the country was in turmoil due to the Vietnam war. This first posting has significantly shaped the person she is today.

Previous experience

Geraldine went on to explore the world with postings in Manila, Bangkok, Tehran and Washington DC. In 1987 Geraldine left her Government role and worked for the Chase Manhattan Bank in Sydney for eight years.

In 1995, at the age of 50, Geraldine found herself unemployed and yearning to head back to Cambodia. She returned and worked as an Executive Assistant to the Cabinet Director of the first Prime Minister of Cambodia, HRH Prince Norodom Ranariddh, son of King Norodom Sihanouk. Geraldine also spent time in and assisted the running of Princess Norodom Marie’s residential care centre for orphaned children.

A military coup occurred in 1997 and Geraldine realised she was the only one left to look after the children. The royal family had fled Cambodia. Geraldine became widely known as M’Day Thom (Big Mum). Her bravery during this time led formed the basis of her prominent humanitarian reputation. In 1999 King Norodom Sihanouk granted Geraldine Cambodian citizenship by royal decree, a rare honour.

In 2001 Geraldine was made a Member of the Order of Australia for services to the welfare of children through the establishment, financing and administration of an orphanage in Cambodia. She has also received a Centenary Medal for service to the welfare of children in Cambodia.

Geraldine is also a published author. Her first book, Home is Where the Heart Is was published in 2000 by Pan Macmillian. She is currently working on her next book.

Geraldine was also the subject of the documentary My Khmer Heart, made by Australian director Janine Hosking and producer Leonie Lowe. The documentary won the Hollywood Film Festival Documentary of the Year Award in 2000 and has been screened at many international film festivals, including the Montreal World Film Festival, and by prestigious American broadcaster HBO. It was also shortlisted for an Academy Award nomination.

Geraldine is well-known and highly respected in Australia. The Australian media also appreciate her work and love her vibrant personality, regularly requesting her appearance on television and radio programs. She is also a sought after public speaker in Australia and around the world.

Other significant achievements include:

• Member of the Humanitarian Affairs Advisory Board from 2014
• Member of the Oasis Africa Australia from 2013
• Ernst & Young South Australian Entrepreneur of the Year Award, 2012 • Prime Minister of Cambodia Hun Sen awarded Geraldine the Royal Order of Sahametrei Medal, which is the most significant award given to foreigners.
• Recipient of the Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop AsiaLink Medal in 2011
• The Rotary Foundation named her a Paul Harris Fellow in 2006
• Awarded the Circle of Courage Award in 2006 from Australian charity Youth Off the Streets.
• In 2016 Geraldine was invited to give the keynote speech to the UniSA Nelson Mandela Lecture.

Today Sunrise Cambodia is a world-class charity giving much needed help to at-risk kids, struggling families and poor communities in some of the most poverty-stricken provinces of the country. Sanitation, safe homes, healthcare and education is the focus.

Talking Points

A Different Kind of Wealth

Geraldine speaks about the comparisons between her life of excess and glamour in the Australian Diplomatic Corps and the corporate sector in Sydney, spanning 26 years of hedonism and her life now in Cambodia, living in an orphanage caring for more than 200 orphans and disadvantaged children. She will take you on a ride of highs and lows, telling the tragic stories of the children in her care and how some of them rise above their origins to commence lives of independence and dignity and those that do not. She will describe the war and armed violence she and the children have lived through and survived, to the extent that she has been bestowed with Cambodian Citizenship by King Norodom Sihanouk and calls her previous sworn enemy, the Prime Minister of Cambodia, Hun Sen, her Brother

School Is Just A Dream

Geraldine speaks about the vast disparities between the education opportunities enjoyed by children in western countries compared to the pitiful state of the Cambodian education system. Her talk is aimed at students of all ages to appreciate and value what so many of them take for granted in their schools and from their teachers. She talks about the plight of abandoned street children who do not even dream of ever going to a school, or sleeping in a clean bed, or having access to clean drinking water. She talks about schools with no desks, no cafeterias, no playing fields, certainly no computers and often without qualified teachers.

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle

Geraldine speaks about the indomitable spirit of the women of Cambodia from all levels of the society who, against all odds, battle to keep their children by their side, despite abandonment by their men, neglect by their government, and abuse by an often uncaring and ignorant population. She describes the valiant efforts made by many returned Cambodian women from western countries, determined to make a difference in Cambodia and how they struggle with the knowledge that what they have learned often can not be accepted or applied to present-day Cambodia. She will tell you stories of brave women who risk their lives saving children who have been trafficked into prostitution and child labour. She will describe for you the face and soul of today’s Cambodian women, who are shrugging off the cloak of their post-traumatic stress disorders from the legacy of 30 years of civil war, genocide and foreign occupation, in an effort to make the future for their children full of hope, possibilities and achievable dreams

Coming Out Of The Mist

Geraldine speaks about modern-day Cambodia and all the issues facing it. She gives a thumbnail sketch of what Cambodia has suffered over the last 100 years and what is being done to drag the country into the 21st century. She addresses the problems of corruption, drug smuggling, HIV AIDS, deforestation, arms dealing, the state of the new Norodom Monarchy, the strength of the present government and its opposition, the obstacles in the way of foreign investment and the challenges for the tourism industry. She explains the huge problems in the fields of health and education and what is being done to improve conditions and how, most of all, why she is optimistic that Cambodia is commencing on a journey of solidarity, prosperity and peace never experienced before in its history
Geraldine has a tremendous story and she tells it with passion, enthusiasm and irreverence. The Business Chicks community around Australia fell in love with Geraldine and many were inspired to take action after they heard her speak. We still get comments and feedback about her, and she was a joy to work with. Business Chicks

Geraldine had the audience of 2,000 people at 'Happiness & Its Causes 2009' captivated with her passionate and compelling presentation. She is an inspiring speaker and paints an unforgettable picture of overcoming the odds to establish Sunrise Children's Village. The stories of her courageous children are heartwarming and uplifting.

Vajrayana Institute

Geraldine Cox is a woman who has found herself and meaning for her life. She discovered a different type of wealth in the most unlikely place of Cambodia. Sunrise Villages are more than orphanages, they are family communities and give children the opportunity not only to be safe and well fed but to be nurtured, protected and receive unconditional love. The love and respect shown for Big Mama was obvious in one of her students in telling his story. Geraldine challenged all members of the audience to consider a different form of 'wealth'. I would thoroughly recommend everyone having the opportunity to listen to her life experiences and to not only hear about the differences that one individual can make but also hear her success stories.

City of Marion

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 year’s 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.

Senior Project Manager, Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation, Pakistan

Geraldine Cox participated in December 2017 to a Connected Women event hosted at Google. Theme was on "Benefits of Change" and event was attended by 270+ men and women from Digital and Media. Geraldine was a wild card for that event with an inspirational talk on Persevering through adversity. She shared her personal journey and was a total hit for the audience scoring a 9.6/10 in post event survey with quotes like "Geraldine was so inspiring", "What a character and inspiration for all" or "Loved Geraldine's inspirational story and energy". The most common social media tags for her session was "#If Cambodia has taught me anything is to not waste my energy on things I cannot change". Geraldine is not only a fantastic speaker but she has the ability to connect with her audience to make each and every single of us rethink our realities or take perspective on life differently. It has been a true pleasure working with Geraldine and her team to coordinate all the logistics and theme. Thanks again Geraldine for embarking with our community on the journey of inspiring the leaders of tomorrow in Tech and Digital to think about personal or professional changes by embracing diversity at the core of their job!


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.

Executive Director, Asia Society AustralAsia Centre

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
Let us know

and we'll send all the latest Saxton updates and news direct to your inbox
Thanks, you have been subscribed
View Shortlist