It’s been 10 years since I began my fundraising journey in Cambodia. Back then I was part of a church charity team and within a few years we had raised enough to build a primary school for a remote village in Cambodia.
This village had not had a school for over 30 years, since the time when Pol Potâ€™sÂ Khmer Rouge destroyed all the schools and killed all the educated people in what is one of the worst genocides of all times. 2 million people were killed – that’s 25% of the population. I visited Cambodia for the first time four years ago and saw a country still struggling from the aftermath of the terrors of the Khmer Rouge.
I traveled along the dirt track roads and saw the village school we had funded, meeting the pupils and the teachers who were so grateful for our help. Visiting again the following year, I saw the â€Žextent of the educational problems with the older children not having the opportunity to further their education. They have to travel for two hours along the dirt roads which turn to mud during the 5 month monsoon season. Every day is a challenge for children and families in the poor rural villages and they are very much living a hand to mouth existence.
After this first trip I was deeply affected by the great gulf between our lives here in UK and life in rural Cambodia. Although we often see film on TV from third world countries, it is only when you witness first hand this enormous disparity that you feel compelled to act.
So I began my own fundraising efforts up and down the UK, raising awareness of the educational needs and selling sculptures and handicrafts made by disabled artisans .The artisans live and work in an education centre run by the Jesuit Fathers . This used to be an execution centre under the Khmer Rouge where they used carrier pigeon for communications. The place is now called the Centre of the Dove and is a wonderful learning centre for people with disabilities. In Cambodia there are many disabled young people and they receive no help from the state.
Through Cambodia Craft I am now promoting the work of these young disabled artisans, mainly Polio and land mine victims, helping them regain their dignity and self-worth. At the same time funding is being raised to build a hostel for the children from the remote villages. The hostel will provide a place where they can stay during the week to allow them to finish their education.
A second educational benefit the hostel will provide is to give the students an insight into new methods in agriculture. Within the land development we will demonstrate new irrigation and cultivation methods. This will encourage the students to improve the agriculture in their villages and enable their families to lead sustainable lives.
To help raise awareness of the huge differences between our lives and theirs, I am also providing learning resources for primary schools in UK. We have just launched The Times Table Challenge which gives our children the opportunity to learn their multiplication tables and at the same time fund raise for the hostel project.
A thought about sculpture and a reflection on our own potential:
â€œA thick and shapeless tree-trunk would never believe that it could become a statue, admired as a miracle of sculpture, and would never submit itself to the chisel of the sculptor, who sees by her genius what she can make of it.â€
St. Ignatius (1491-1556) Founder of the Jesuits