WHAT CAN ONE PERSON DO?
Several things became clear to me after this trip.
I knew I couldn’t go into brothels and rescue children directly. I thought my heart would break if I got too close to the individual tragedies and then what help would I be? I had responsibilities in New Zealand – my own children, my husband, a busy law practice. I couldn’t just move to Cambodia, and I didn’t want to.
Also, if I rescued children, there were thousands more waiting to take their place. I instinctively knew that my contribution would be to tackle the issue systemically, focusing on prevention. I needed to be the fence at the top of the cliff, not the ambulance at the bottom.
FINDING MY PATH
My vision crystallised around education as the way forward for rural Cambodia.
It made sense to me that education was a key to breaking the poverty cycle. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) reinforced that and had the research to back it up. Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, had given some hugely powerful speeches about the importance of education and the fact that it was a basic human right.
He said “Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.” Such a powerful statement and one which resonates with me.
Through education I could help rebuild the country from the bottom up, investing honest, good money into rebuilding lives.
Education would give children and their parents choices about how they could earn and income. It would empower them with knowledge to be able to recognise a sex trafficker and avoid falling into the traps they set. But it is much more than that. This is not just about trafficking. Trafficking is not all that motivates me. It is seeing the light in children’s eyes. Seeing opportunities created where they weren’t before. It is about human rights, development, economic empowerment and breaking the poverty trap. Education is a powerful force which touches on each of these.
From the start I realised this was going to be a long-term project for me. I was where I needed to be. I had found my task.
THE VIEW FROM THE TEN YEAR MARK
When I look back on the last decade, what stands out to me is that when I need help it comes. When I look for guidance I find it.
I won’t deny it has been hard work to raise the money we need, and sometimes I have stayed awake worrying about how I will keep everything going. But I still feel that this is my task. I know we are making a huge impact.
We have a very good relationship with the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. We are listened to, we are partners in the development of education.
We have a reputation for achieving things far beyond what we should be able to with our resources.
The ‘shoulder effect’ of our work is huge. Schools around our supported schools are learning from us and adapting and doing better. We can clearly see that whatever we do, we will positively influence large number of people. It is very exciting.
COMPELLED TO CONTINUE
I am sometimes asked what compels me to continue in this work. My answer is simple – the people.
The children who we have not managed to help yet. The tragic stories I hear too late for us to intervene.
But it is also the magic of seeing an opportunity opening. A child’s eyes brightening. Bringing happiness and hope. Hearing laughter and witnessing the transformative power of education. Feeling we can make a lasting change from so far away. Delivering a pathway out of poverty and seeing the evidence of positive incremental changes.
I know there are many more schools and children that need help and I cannot stop until we can support them. I need to make sure that I do everything I can to help them.
As a Trust, we have grand visions and the heart to achieve them.
I think of the enthusiasm of the teachers, the engaged faces of the school children, the community working with us and I know we are only just beginning.