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Published: September 24th 2018
I have been meaning to get this blog written for some time, but time flies… and life gets away. Often when scrolling through Facebook and Trip Advisor I see people wanting to volunteer in orphanages or do some form of paying it forward on their upcoming trip. I, too, am one of these people. I have done it all over the last 12 years of South East Asian travel. I have participated in Orphanage visits (bad me), raised money for a house to be built for a single Mum of 5 kids who was living on a stilted piece of tin with dirty old pieces of cloth as her walls; I’ve raised money to buy school bikes and school ‘packs’ and I have taken Cambodian children on a school excursion to Angkor Wat and the local shopping mall… I’ve covered it all and was looking for a new challenge last year.
I contacted a friend in Siem Reap who I had previously helped out (the bikes, school packs and the school excursion) and asked if she, or someone she knew, would be interested in helping me do a rice run. My plan was to sell 50kg bags of rice to
friends at home, buy the rice when I arrived and distribute it to families in need (not my original idea, but someone elses I saw online). On each bag you write a message to the family from the person who donated, and in return the donor gets a photo of the family they helped out. Being in a photo was not compulosory for the family, I certainly did not want to exploit them, but every single family was happy to have a photo taken as a thankyou to the donor.
Lori, my friend in Siem Reap, put me onto the amazing Tammy from ABCS and Rice. Tammy has a small school in Siem Reap (in desperate need for funding) and they teach English as well as having a breakfast/lunch program and they will often, when they have spare rice, send a small amount home for the family. The families they work with are very impoverished. Tammy visits villages and works closely with one in particular. If someone needs a Doctor, Tammy will take them and pay for the visit and medication. She is a wonderful human being.
All I really needed from Tammy was for her to negotiate
and source my rice, arrange me a truck for delivery and identify the families we could help (and guide us there). Tammy was amazing. One of her Cambodian teachers went out to the villages, spoke to village Chiefs, identified who needed the rice and on the day, he coordianted the whole thing for us…. actually it ended up being TWO days in the end as we had so much rice.
Back home, I started pleading on Facebook (my friends are used to this by now!)…. and the donations started rolling in. I was so humbled to receive money from India, the UK, America and all over Australia. Friends, family and strangers all sending me money for what was an unknown project to them! I was charging $30 AUD for a 50 kg bag (working off $24USD per bag) and was prepared to cover the cost of the truck and conversion rates myself as part of my contribution. What happened next was absolutely humbling… the money kept rolling in…. YAY we sold 30 bags…. wait 50 bags, 80 bags, 100 bags…. and it kept climbing!
By the time we left for Cambodia we had 165 families being fed! Such
an amazing effort…. During our time arranging this, a lovely guy on Facebook who I met on the Facebook group “Cambodia and Laos Wanderlust” , who was also going to be there at the same time, messaged me asking if he and his wife could help raise money and participate on the day! The more the merrier! Jason and his wife Diane became instant besties upon meeting (we were flying out of Melbourne on the same flight cooncidentally) and were amazing in raising funds.
We met up in Siem Reap a few days later. At this stage I had to work out how to withdraw large amounts of money for the following day. That was a nightmare as the limit on withdrawing was not as my bank had told me while in Australia and on the day of the rice run I was still running around to ATMS! I was not willing to take the money from Australia as I did not want to risk losing other peoples money.
On the day, we met at ABCs and Rice school and a truck was already there loaded with the first 40 bags… yep this was going to be a
LONG day! We set off for the first village.
Village 1 was known as HIV village. Tucked away in the forest on the road to Angkor Wat was a makeshift village of about 20 families, every single family affected by HIV or AIDS in some way. They are so poor that they don’t even own their land, they are basically sqautting on Government Land. As it was a little trek in to where they were and the truck was unable to get in, we had to carry it in by hand and on balanced on the Villagers bicycles! As one stage, this frail old lady (I’ll be honest that she probably wasnt much older than me) loaded up 2 bags onto her bicycle. 100kgs! She then proceeded to walk the opposite direction to the village. I stopped her and asked if she was part of the village. It turned out she wasn’t but she had just thought it was free rice for anyone; and she put the rice back. I felt so bad that I said “No lets give her a bag”. We called her back. We gave her one bag. It was only then that she
broke down in tears and told us that her husband had recently died and she had two small children at home and no means to feed them….. YEP and this was just the start of our day…. heartbreaking stuff.
HIV village was challenging – one lady was getting angry as we had not given her rice. At first we didnt think she was on our list, but after some confusion it turned out she was. At times, you felt that some were ungrateful, but then you had to stop and think about it from their point of view. These people are SO desperate for food, that there was desperation and frustration from them. Each family in this village ended up with two bags each… 100kgs which would last them approximately 4-5 months. Each family participated in a photo at their house with the rice but this one village took us a long time. We needed to work out a quicker way (as we were still writing on bags as we were giving them out).
Veal Village was a village that Tammy works closely with. When we arrived, we spent some time interacting more with them as
they were much friendlier. One little girl ran around putting cloth bracelets on our wrists. Our original plan was to give this village two bags each but we had ‘overspent’ on others on the way here so they were allocated one bag each with the intention to give them any leftovers at the end of the day. Others were relying so much on this rice, that we couldn’t risk pulling up short at the end.
We were warned on the way to Recycle Village that we should not expect too much in way of interaction and friendliness at this village. It is called Recycle as the people of the village are the ones out collecting garbage to recycle and sell for profit. The village has alot of alcoholics, drug addicts, domestic violence and cycle of abuse. While they may not be the nicest of people you will meet, the wifes and children are extremely vulnerable and in need of assistance. We only managed to get half the village done and by this stage we were fading in the heat, hungry, thirsty and running out of time. We made a decision to do the second half of bags
two days later.
Exhausted but satisfied we all headed back to our hotels for a rest before meeting later that night for a celebratory drink and meal.
What was amazing though was the reaction of people on Facebook; having seen our efforts people were coming out of the woodwork wanting to donate! We collected money overnight in our bank account and all up by the end of day 2 we had distributed 190 bags of rice! AMAZING!
The Second Round!
Sunday came around quickly and we set off again. Thanks to the generous donations over the last two days, we now had enough to go back to Veal Village and give them a second bag each. While we were there, one of the men of the village was extremely sick laying on the floor of his hut. Tammy, with the assistance of Jason, scooped him up, put him in a tuk tuk and left us to go on our way while they got him to the hospital. Truly amazing.
It was even hotter this day and we were trying to keep up our fluids. We finished the other half of Recycle Village and then we
headed back to ABCs and Rice. We had changed tact for day two as the rest of the families were more spread out but close to the school. Tammy had arranged that each family meet us at the school at 12pm where they would be given their rice. By the time we got back there, they were all eagerly waiting. We quickly wrote the messages on the bags, set them out around the grounds, and each family stood with a bag of rice. We quickly took a photo and off they went, balancing these huges bags on rickety old bicycles down the dirt road home.
By the time we got back to the hotel I was feeling a little heat affected and it was a very early night….
The following day I balanced out the money vs the bags. We had $500USD still left as we had managed to get the bags for under $19USD each due to the bulk buy. As a thankyou we donated this money and some left over bags of rice to ABCs and Rice. The $500 was used to purchase school bags and supplies for students and for $500 we supplied these to
Moral of the story….
Do it! Don’t think that your best contribution is being herded to an orphanage to play with kids and give them lollies… they dont need this and the research shows that this is definitely not in a child’s best interests. Keeping children with their families is the best thing we can do as a community. If you are interested in ‘giving back’ while in Cambodia, please consider contacting a small organisation like ABCs and Rice and I am sure that Tammy would be more than happy to help you in a rice run. Sadly we are not back in Cambodia this year as we have other plans, but we do intend on being there in May 2019 for a huge rice run. If you happen to be travelling at that time and would like to participate drop me a line.
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