When we began our journey, one of our goals was to meet inspiring people who are making a difference in this world – however small – and to tell their story. Adrianne and Rick, a couple we met while admiring the monitor lizards in Bangkok’s Lumpini Park, were the first people to fit this description. We feel fortunate to have met them. It’s not just the work that they do that is inspiring – it’s who they are and how they go about it.
Adrianne and Rick have spent three months each of the last six years away from their home in Canada working on projects in Cambodia. The work they do falls in the general category of grass-roots development –building houses and schools, sponsoring a music program at an orphanage, giving small amounts of money to families to help them start a small business with a few chickens or pigs, and helping to buy new medical equipment for a children’s hospital. Each project includes a focus on sustainability and aims to help people get the basics they need to build a better life.
When they started this work six years ago, they arrived with $500 and the willingness to do physical work and learn. This past year they came with $30,000 (Canadian) from direct donations. They oversee the distribution of all funds and do not use any of it for their own travel or living expenses (they buy and sell Cambodian crafts back home to cover these). Over the years they have developed strong relations with local NGOs and orphanages and work directly with them, following their advice regarding where the need is greatest.
Almost three months after our first meeting in Bangkok, our paths crossed again in Siem Reap. They had expected to leave earlier for another village in Northeastern Cambodia, but nine houses burned to the ground leaving 13 families (83 people) homeless a few days earlier. They delayed their departure plans from Siem Reap to assemble the materials and a team to help the villagers rebuild and get back on their feet again. We had dinner with them after most of the initial organizational work had been completed. It was a happy day – and one full of relief – for them and the villagers.
Adrianne and Rick undertake projects like this – planned and unplanned – and work directly with the affected people to determine the best use of resources.
They send email updates to their donors to inform them of how their money is being used. Their emails are moving and show repeatedly how a small amount of money spent well can really change lives. This is an excerpt from an email about the fire.
We went out to see the site of he fire. It was difficult to see the devastation the fire had left. The families were in a dazed and confused state, wandering aimlessly around the debris. Luckily no one was killed. However they were left with only the clothes on their backs…some children without even clothes, many without shoes. As these houses were made of thatch and palm leaf they went up like an inferno, luckily the fire department did arrive to stop it or there may have been hundreds left homeless.
We spent the morning meeting with the commune and village chiefs discussing what we could do…this process was interesting but we finally obtained permission to assist the families. We then called a meeting with a representative from each family, which was held under a palm tree. We told the families that family and friends donate money towards helping people in Cambodia and that we had money to assist them to rebuild their houses. We explained that we do not have a lot of funds but if everyone pulled together and the men built while the women cooked and cleaned up the area we should be able to re-build their houses quickly. We then took a census of each family and decided our priorities would be: to get some cooking materials and food for the families so that they can start eating again, to get the children back in school as their uniforms, bikes and books were destroyed, we also need to get medical attention for a man that is badly burned and a small child that was slightly burned. This afternoon we will also buy hand tools for the men and tomorrow we will buy the building materials and start building the houses quickly. The families were rather stunned at the news and it took a while for it to sink in that they were actually going to be able to get their homes back. As we left them they were already busy pulling apart the ruins of their homes.
We originally wanted to record an informal interview with Adrianne and Rick when we met for dinner. However, we enjoyed their company and forgot to record anything. Luckily, they are good sports and agreed to an email “interview” afterwards. See the next post in this series.