Cambodia Cycle Challenge Days 6 & 7 – why we came to Cambodia

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Days 6 and 7 of our Cambodia Cycle Challenge were different to the rest of our time here.  For one, we didn’t do any cycling!  We did, however, connect with our purpose – the reason we all embarked on this fundraising adventure, which was to support the work of IJM and learn more about the issue of modern slavery.

We had the incredible opportunity on Day 6 to spend the day with IJM’s field office in Phnom Penh.  In the morning, the legal team briefed us on their work and told us more about the issue of modern slavery, and particularly forced labour (which is prominent in Cambodia).  We were fortunate to hear from IJM Cambodia’s head of legal, Sarouen Sek, who’s own story is inspirational – a journey from nightclub DJ, to undercover informant, to one of the top human rights lawyers in Cambodia (FYI, he has a 100% conviction rate for the 30 forced labour prosecutions he has brought over the past 2 years!).

You can hear more about Sarouen’s story by clicking on the video below.

I was moved by the stories we heard from the IJM Cambodia team. They fight tirelessly to protect the vulnerable. This job is far from easy but it is clear the team is deeply committed to the cause. They are heros and it was a privilege to meet them and learn from them.

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IJM Cambodia – proving IJM’s model works

When IJM started operations in Cambodia in the early 2000s, child sex trafficking was an epidemic. After a decade working alongside government officials and NGO partners, IJM witnessed an inspiring increase in the government’s ability to fight the crime and a dramatic reduction of child sex trafficking. This progress shows that justice for the poor is possible when you invest in improving public justice systems.

To read more about IJM’s model, I recommend its recently published Justice Review, which specifically looks at the issue of labour trafficking in Cambodia and the Thai fishing industry.  You can access the Justice Review here – https://www.ijm.org/documents/studies/IJM-Justice-Review.pdf.

Learning about Cambodia’s past

Before leaving Cambodia, our team visited The Killing Fields and S.21, a high school turned torture camp during the time of the Khmer Rouge. It was important for us to learn more of what happened in Cambodia in the late 1970s to understand the landscape today.  It is estimated that 3 million people out of an overall population at the time of 8 million died through execution, starvation or disease. The Killing Fields and S.21 now serve as a monument to all those who died and as an educational tool to ensure history never repeats itself.

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The memorial Stupa serves as a monument for all those who died

Men and women aged 43 and over in Cambodia today lived through this time. Cambodia is a country still in recovery. The lack of available education and job opportunities make people vulnerable to trafficking and slavery and sadly there are individuals out there who will take advantage of any vulnerability for financial gain. Thankfully there are organisations like IJM working on the ground here making it more difficult for the trafficking rings, and there are others doing what they can to create opportunities for employment and economic empowerment.

Wrapping up

David and I spent our last afternoon in Cambodia before flying home with 60 beautiful young, smiling girls, who hugged us, welcomed us and shared their stories with us.  Their stories are horrific.  Each one of these children has been raped and is now living in a survivor shelter where they receive intensive aftercare, counselling and support.

I’m devastated that these lovely souls have suffered so much. During our time in Cambodia I have seen some of the poverty and vulnerability. And I have met with the team from IJM who rescue people from slavery, trafficking and violence. I have also met with 3 other NGOs, Project Futures, Chab Dai and Century 9, who facilitate aftercare and provide opportunities to empower survivors. The teams here are incredible and I feel privileged that we’ve been able to meet with them and, through our fundraising efforts, support the anti-slavery movement in Cambodia. I leave hopeful that the survivors we met will have a better future and that they will heal from the cruel violence they experienced.

It is clear to me that the work that IJM is doing in Cambodia is making a difference.  Their system of justice transformation works, and importantly, it empowers the local people to uphold their own laws and to hold the people who violate those laws to account.

We have now raised just shy of $90,000 for IJM ($89,284.90 to be exact).  Thank you to everyone who has supported our fundraising efforts.  I encourage you, if you are in a position to do so, to please donate again.   I have.  I want to see this country heal, and I want the stories of slavery in Cambodia, in Australia, and across the globe, to stop.  The individuals working at IJM’s field office in Cambodia are remarkable and inspirational. They have my support.

Finally, I would like to thank Team WK – Belinda, Kieran, Sam, Rachel, Amanda, Emma and Danni from Sydney; Will, and Ella from Perth; Hope, Kathy and Sara from Melbourne; Natasha from Wellington; and Hsu-Ann from IJM Australia for all being part of this adventure.  You are amazing and it has been wonderful to share this experience with you.  Be proud of yourselves.  That cycle ride was hard, but we did it!!

https://give.everydayhero.com/au/team-wk

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Cambodia Cycle Challenge Day 5: 620 steps and the final 50kms!

We started the 5th day of our Cycle Challenge with mixed feelings – excited to complete the last leg of our ride, but also a bit sad that this part of our trip would be coming to an end. Because although it has been hard work (this final day was particularly challenging!), it has also been incredible. We would miss saying hello each day to the kids as we cycled through their villages, and we would miss exploring this remarkable country.

But we hadn’t finished yet, so here’s what we got up to on Day 5…

Our day started with a trip to a local family’s house where they produce pottery, completely by hand. There was no pottery wheel – the lady just walked round and round, shaping the clay by hand. She makes about 60 pots a day, and she demonstrated her technique, which was speedy and impressive. Made even more impressive when Hsu-Ann from IJM had a go, and proceeded to destroy the clay in multiple ways. Pot making is definitely harder than it looks!!

It was great to be able to get these insights into local Cambodian life, and to see many traditional techniques being preserved and handed down through the generations.

Our next stop was Oudong, the old Cambodian capital (between the 17th and 19th centuries). Here our guide, Lot told us that before starting our 50km cycle ride we’d do a quick hike, up the mountain. So 620 steps later we made it to the top, where we were met with remarkable views and an exquisite temple.

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A quick water break and it was time to put on our cycle gear one last time and start on our final leg to Phnom Penh.

Our journey started well. Although our legs were a bit tired from 4 days of consecutive cycling and a quick mountain climb, we powered on through! Things got a fair bit harder just before lunch when the heavens opened and the rain started falling. Then we were trying to navigate deep puddles and mud. So much mud!

But nothing could dampen our spirits!

A moment of fear and courage came just before the photo above was taken. Lot has cautioned us at the start of the day’s ride that there may be a few cows on the road and to maintain a wide berth. This became a bit challenging when a herd of about 30 cows ran out in front of our team, taking over the entire road and splitting the group. Kieran led us safely through (despite being chased down by one particularly aggressive bovine!). Just before this point we’d been saying how tired our legs were feeling – well those cows re-energised them! May have been my fastest section of the entire ride!

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We kept ploughing through the kms, until we were just 2kms away from our finish line. The team all congregated on the side of the road so that we could cross the finish line altogether.

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And here we are, at the end of 5 days of challenging, amazing cycling! I couldn’t be prouder of Team WK – for their cycling, their determination, good humour and their commitment to the cause and their fundraising for IJM Australia. Thank you Team WK for coming on this journey!

And thank you to our superb team from Grasshopper Tours. We could not have asked for a better guide or support crew.

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Our fundraising total is now sitting at $88,310.71! Incredible! And we’re not done yet!

If you would like to support our fundraising for IJM Australia, you can make a donation here – https://give.everydayhero.com/au/team-wk

Thanks for all your support!

WK Cambodia Cycle Challenge: rice wine, bamboo sticky rice and floating villages

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Day 4 of our Cambodia Cycle Challenge provided the opportunity to spend time in Cambodian homes and local businesses in the Battambang area and gain insight into the daily life of Cambodians in the countryside.  For today’s 50km ride we partnered with a local social enterprise, Soksabike, which provides vocational training and job opportunities to local youths.  We were joined by 2 knowledgeable student guides for this adventure.

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Our first stop was with a family who make rice wine, a traditional alcoholic drink in Cambodia, similar to sake from Japan or cheongju from Korea.  Rice wine is seen as having medicinal properties and is often fermented with ingredients (like snakes, scorpions – and fruit!), with each concoction designed to address a different ailment.

The family we visited make about 30 litres of rice wine each day – a significant producer.

Rice wine operations!

We then got back on our bikes and cycled through some beautiful country tracks, observing the local families going about their everyday.

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We made our way to a local producer of bamboo sticky rice, a delicacy and a delicious dessert.  It is made by cooking pre-soaked rice, black beans, coconut milk and sugar inside the bamboo.  Once ready, you can eat the dessert straight out of the bamboo stalk (as demonstrated by Danni in the photo below).

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Once cooked, the blackened edges of the bamboo are removed, and the bamboo sticky rice is ready for consumption.

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Our team then raced against the clock to complete our 50km cycle AND get back to the hotel in time to shower before getting the bus to our next destination.  Amazing how fast our team can cycle when there’s a prospect of spending 4 hours on a bus still in sweaty bike gear!

After completing the 50kms in one of the hottest days we’ve had here, the bus journey provided a bit of respite.  As you can see, most of us crashed out.

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Our destination was Kampong Chanang and its bustling dock on the Tonle Sap river.  Here we jumped on a boat that took us out to the floating villages.   Our timing was perfect as the sun was just starting to set as we embarked.  When we finished the boat trip, the moon was reflecting off the water and the Cambodian families on the water were settling in for the evening.   A peaceful end to the day.

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We transferred across to our hotel, and after a local dinner together we hooked up for a Skype call with IJM’s Field Office Director in Cambodia.  Peter joined IJM in 2010 and has been leading the forced labour project in Cambodia since 2016.  Peter shared with us the successes of the Cambodian team of IJM in combating child sex trafficking in the region, rescuing more that 500 victims and ensuring the conviction of over 200 criminals.  He also shared some of the complexities of the new forced labour project, particularly cross-border trafficking into the Thai fishing industry.  To successfully combat this crime, IJM’s Cambodian field office is working with its Thai counterpart, bringing dual prosecutions in both jurisdictions to ensure the trafficking rings are brought down.

It was great to hear from Peter today.  We are all looking forward to Day 6 of our trip where we have the opportunity to spend a whole day with the field office in Phnom Penh and learn more about IJM’s work in this region.

If you would like to support IJM, you can make a donation on our team fundraising page – https://give.everydayhero.com/au/team-wk

Till tomorrow…

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WK Cambodia Cycle Challenge: bamboo trains, rickety bridges and a home-cooked dinner

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Our cycling for Day 3 started in Battambang, a small city about a 3 and a half hour bus journey from Siem Reap. It is the second largest city in Cambodia, and yet was off the tourist trail until relatively recently.  Our guide, Lot, told us to expect a relatively quiet city, but we discovered on arrival that our trip coincides with the regions celebrations for the Water Festival, a 3 day party which marks the reversal  of the flow of the Tonle Sap river.  Everyone living in the area has descended on Battambang to take part in the festivities.  Its a great atmosphere, but makes for some tricky city cycling!!

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Team WK getting ready to start Day 3

After yesterday’s epic ride, today was a recovery day, covering 35kms of Cambodian countryside out to the famous Bamboo Train. We’d all been feeling a bit exhausted, but our spirits were lifted on our way to Battambang by Emma, who sang and played her banjo (great forward thinking Emma re the banjo!!). And once we were back in the saddle we were focused and happy to be back out in the countryside, saying our hello’s to the local kids.

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Watch out for that pot hole!

The road brought us to an old wire-and-wood bridge over the river. Getting in touch with our inner child, we processed in single file, at great speed across, loving the experience!

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The Bamboo Train, built on a now defunct old French rail line, used to run cargo and passengers along the train line. The ‘train’ consists simply of a bamboo and metal frame, a set of bogies either end and a gasoline-powered engine. 

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As there’s a single set of tracks, when you meet a train coming in the other direction, the train with the least passengers have to dismount and the drivers lift the train off the tracks to allow the other train to pass.  A simple but effective system!

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After our train ride it was time for a quick 10kms back to the city.  The sun started to set and the temperature cooled.  Perfect!

We had a treat in store for us in the evening – a home cooked dinner at a local family’s house.  Sambath and his wife provided us with a truly delicious meal and some interesting refreshments (rice wine with cobra’s blood anyone??), but the highlight for me was the opportunity to hear Sambath’s story.

Sambath was born in 1970, into war.  He told how his mother had to hide with his siblings in a bunker when she was heavily pregnant with him because bombs were being dropped overhead.  And he told of some of his memories from the Pol Pot era.  Of being sent out to work in the rice fields aged 8, of being so hungry he and the other kids would have to search for scraps and leftovers.  These stories are so recent and its remarkable that our experience here has been to see wonderfully happy and welcoming people.

Sambath told us that tourism has changed his life.  He used to live in the countryside and was extremely poor.  He had a dream though and came to Battambang to be a taxi driver.  At first he earned $1 a day, at best.  And then one day the tourists started coming.  He remembers the first day he earned $6 and he still speaks of it with absolute glee and wonder.  Now, his determination and entrepreneurial spirit see him with his own tourist business, doing tours, home-stays, and home-cooked dinners.  He has been able to send his children to university as a result, providing them with a different future.

It was important for us to hear Sambath’s story.  To appreciate the poverty and vulnerability that are very present in Cambodia.  Sambath’s story of leaving his village to find his fortune has a happy ending, but we know from IJM’s work here that there are many men who do the same thing but are trafficked into the Thai fishing industry and forced to work in horrendous conditions, separated from family indefinitely.  And that is why we are all here.  We are raising funds for IJM Australia so that they can continue their work, rescuing people from slavery and holding the perpetrators to account.  So far we have raised $87,413.31 for IJM and the fundraising isn’t over!  If you would like to make a donation you can do so here – https://give.everydayhero.com/au/team-wk

Till tomorrow…

WK Cambodia Cycle Challenge: An epic 80kms!

Our second day of cycling in Cambodia was the one that worried us the most in the lead up to our adventure.  It’s our longest day – 80kms, and for novice cyclists, which we all are, we knew it was going to be a long, hard day.  What we didn’t know, was that it was also going to be pretty damn awesome!

 

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We started our day just on the outskirts of Siem Reap town.  I’d had a great idea for us to get a nice team pic in our WK shirts, which we did (see above). although the backdrop wasn’t quite what I was hoping for – a muddy field… Still, draws more attention to our smiling faces!

We covered so much different terrain on Day 2, starting on red dirt tracks through vibrant green rice fields, onto country roads through villages and small towns, and pot hole ridden main roads where trucks, cars, motorbikes and our cyclists were all vying for the best bit of road and trying not to fall into the deep muddy indents.

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Our first stop off for the day was at Banteay Samre, a Hindu temple built in the early 12th century.  A highlight of this temple were the many intact, beautiful doorways which provided ample photo opportunities, and some much needed shade from the sun.

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We cycled on to another temple, Banteay Srei, where we had lunch before exploring the intricate carvings that have been remarkably preserved at this 10th century temple.

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Having refueled and refreshed, it was then time to pick up the pace so that we could complete our 80kms and still make it back to town in time for our evening plans.  With 30kms still to cycle, this was not going to be easy, but our guide, Lot, was not prepared for the determination of Team WK.  We zoomed through the next 20kms, at which point we hit about 4kms of some of the worst road we’d ever encountered.  The shouts of ‘pot hole!’ could be heard reverberating through the group, but this didn’t really capture the craters that we had to manoeuvre around.  One of us toppled on this section, which whilst it wasn’t our first fall (by far!), it was the most painful landing.  We took the next section a bit more gingerly, and were grateful to hit the main road for the final stretch.  We passed through busy markets on the outskirts of town at rush hour, which was hectic and fun, and soon reached the bus, waiting to pick us up and take us back to the hotel.

A quick turn around was needed to get us out the door for dinner and over to Phare, the Cambodian Circus.  This circus is remarkable, and if you every get the chance, do go.  The performers are all graduates of a school set up to give Cambodian youths from some of the most difficult social and economic backgrounds the opportunity for economic empowerment.

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And so Day 2 comes to an end.  With a great sense of achievement, we completed our 80kms cycle.  The team are in great spirits, and we are buoyed by the support we’re receiving from you all at home.  Keep the encouragement coming!

Till tomorrow…

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W+K Cambodia Cycle Challenge – Temples, Dirt Tracks & a Stunning Sunrise

Sunrise WK

After months of training and fundraising, today Team W+K started our 5-day Cycle Challenge across Cambodia.  We started early (4.45am!) so we could make our way to Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise.  It was incredible.  An inspiring start to the day!

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As the crowds of tourists returned to their hotels for breakfast, we took the opportunity to explore Angkor Wat in relative peace.  Then it was time to carb load, and get ourselves lycra-clad, ready for the start of the day’s cycling.

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We traversed 40kms today, through countryside and forest, all around the Angkor temple complex.  It was far more challenging that I was expecting!  The dirt tracks were narrow and full of obstacles – low lying branches, rocks, and deep sand all determined to make us lose our balance.  The heat and humidity added to the challenge with us needing to be really mindful of not overheating or dehydrating.  Thankfully we have an amazing support crew from Grasshopper Tours – a tour leader, 2 bike mechanics (which came in very handy when my chain came off and then subsequently got a flat tire!), and 3 further support staff.  These guys are going to make sure we all complete this challenge!!

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During today’s cycling we were able to stop off at 2 other temples in the Angkor complex – Bayon (the temple of faces) and Ta Prohm (of Tomb-raider fame!).  Both magnificent and a real contrast from each other and from Angkor Wat.

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We finished the day cycling back into Siem Reap, and navigating the insane traffic of tuk-tuks, motorbikes, cars and buses coming at you from all angles!  Our Grasshopper guides were great – stopping traffic and making sure we were all able to finish the day in one piece!

Reflections on day one?  Tough day, but amazing.  I’m glad its a challenge for all of us as it means you’ll know that we are working hard for all your generous donations!!

I finish the day with some trepidation of what tomorrow will bring.  Tomorrow we double our distance so I suspect there’ll be some sore bodies and exhausted team members tomorrow night (and if I’m honest, my body is already feeling pretty sore!!).  It will be worth it though, because by doing this we are raising awareness about IJM Australia and the issue of modern day slavery.  And so far we have raised $87,122.33 to support IJM’s work.

To learn more about our Cycle Challenge, and to donate to IJM Australia, please visit our fundraising page – https://give.everydayhero.com/au/team-wk

Border Politics

Earlier this week I watched the documentary ‘Border Politics’. Julian Burnside, an Australian barrister, traverses the globe to see how other Western countries treat refugees. There are moments that stick with you. Like the realisation that in a few years there will be millions of children who will have grown up with little to no education, who have spent their lives in refugee camps.

As Julian Burnside says:

“It is not adequate to look back in future ages and say we regret what we did”.

I know I need to help bring about change. I’m not sure what that looks like yet. Maybe it starts with inviting you, my network, to watch the documentary.  You can view the trailer below.

Next, we can write to our local MPs and ask some simple questions to ascertain their views on refugee policy.  If their views do not reflect our own, then perhaps its time we stopped voting for them. For some helpful letter writing tips check out Julian Burnside’s website – http://www.julianburnside.com.au/write-to-federal-mps…/

Over the past week I’ve looked for other ways we can make a difference.  Here’s some suggestions (primarily Sydney-based so I encourage you to share other resources using the comments section below).

The Asylum Seeker Centre

Laptop Donation Program – Help someone seeking asylum by donating your second hand laptops, tablets and smartphones. Your donation will assist a person seeking asylum to study, look for work and contact family overseas. It will also help them to deal with government agencies and organisations.

Food + Toiletry Donation – click here for a list of most needed items.

Support local refugee businesses

Four Brave Women, a cafe in Summer Hill is run by refugee women serving food of their cultural background.  The aim is to give refugees experience of working in a commercial kitchen, serving customers and managing the day-to-day running of a small business in Australia. After a cycle of eight weeks, the goal is for them to gain enough capital and knowledge to branch out and establish a business of their own.

Addison Road Street Food Markets runs twice a month.  You can support refugees and recently-settled migrants by purchasing their food products.

Volunteer with the NSW Humanitarian Hub

The NSW Humanitarian Hub is a collaborative project between four organisations who work with refugees and people seeking asylum: The Asylum Seekers Centre, The House of Welcome, The Jesuit Refugee Service and The Refugee Advice and Casework Service.

The Hub provides a centralised website for people who want to volunteer with these organisations.  Check out the current opportunities here.

For other suggestions for how you can support our refugee community, be inspired by this article by Caitlin Chang – https://www.sbs.com.au/topics/life/culture/article/2018/06/27/six-ways-you-can-help-refugees-and-asylum-seekers

Tackling the Gold Coast Half Marathon

F6C78A66-1FFE-423E-BE8F-C6B0DA699239In 2016 we ran the Maasai Mara Marathon in Kenya together. In 2017, we took on the Outback Half Marathon. Today, we ran the Gold Coast Half Marathon! These ladies are inspiring, amazing women that I have got to know because we all decided to challenge ourselves for charity. Well done today Team W+K!

#wherearewerunningin2019 #TeamWK #marathonefforts

A new challenge – cycling?

In my job now, I am confronted with stories of people who are forced to work against their will, through the use of violence or intimidation. They are slaves, and its estimated there are over 40 million people enslaved in society today.

40 million people is a huge number. It can make you question what one person can do to affect change. Over the years I’ve realised that one person can do a lot. There are so many amazing individuals who have started a movement, inspired others, changed the life of someone else. And so I know that I can do something to make a difference. We all can.

This October I will cycle 250kms across Cambodia with a team of 13 from Wotton + Kearney to raise awareness about modern slavery and I will raise funds for a charity that is doing incredible work freeing people from slavery and holding the perpetrators to account – IJM Australia.

I’d love for you to choose to support IJM, and the W+K team, by making a donation. A donation over $2 is tax deductible and with the end of the tax year fast approaching, it’s a great time to make a difference. 

Thanks for any support you feel able to give: https://give.everydayhero.com/au/heidi-21

#IJMAus #charity #modernslavery #fundraising #marathonefforts

From Africa to the Outback

In 2016, I embarked on a trip of a life-time, heading to Kenya to visit the inspiring charity So They Can and to take part in the Maasai Mara Marathon, a challenge which formed the pinnacle of my and my team mates’ fundraising efforts for So They Can.

The trip to Kenya and our year-long relationship with So They Can had a profound impact on us. We returned from Kenya enriched, but also conscious that there was much more we could do to support So They Can’s work.

So They Can’s mission is to work together with communities in Africa to educate and empower, so they can break the poverty cycle, realise their own potential and meet their own needs.

The rights of the child and gender equality are cross cutting issues across all of So They Can’s projects. Every child has the right not to live in poverty so So They Can designs and delivers projects to ensure real, tangible and lasting improvements to the lives of children. While inequality can impact on both genders, it is generally women and girls who are disadvantaged. Therefore So They Can’s projects have a strong emphasis on building the power of girls and women aiming to advance their rights and overcome deprivation, exclusion and vulnerability.

Whilst in Kenya we had the privilege of meeting many wonderful people – the staff and children at the Aberdare Ranges Primary School, a school established and run by So They Can; the children and house mothers at Miti Mingi Village, a children’s home for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children in the wider Nakuru area; the ladies working and training through the Sew Women Can initiative; and the many families living in New Canaan Village (previously an internally displaced persons camp). Each of them benefits from the projects So They Can operates and is on a path to an empowered life where they may escape the poverty cycle.

One person who inspired us was Ken, the cook at the Aberdare Ranges Primary School. Ken is integral to the school’s feeding program – ensuring that each child receives 2 nutritious meals a day. However, the contribution that Ken makes to the So They Can community extends far beyond his cooking. Last year he set up a run club to share his passion for running with the kids at Aberdare Ranges. The ‘So Kids Run’ program currently has 40 kids enrolled and provides a lively and fun extra-curricular activity for the children So They Can supports.

OUR CHALLENGE

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In 2017, Heidi, Hope, and Karen, and some of our friends and colleagues, Mylinh and Tom, will take part in the Australian Outback Marathon festival, pushing ourselves to new limits.  We’re doing this to raise $10,000 for So They Can. Approximately a quarter of that target will support and develop ‘So Kids Run’ and the Aberdare Ranges Primary School Sports program. The rest of the money we raise will support So They Can’s projects in Kenya.

We would love for you to support us and our fundraising efforts for So They Can through our fundraising page – https://give.everydayhero.com/au/from-africa-to-the-outback-running-so-they-can

Having been on the ground with So They Can in Kenya we have seen first hand the impact So They Can is having. The fact that we continue to champion this cause should demonstrate our belief in the work they are doing. Any donation you can make, big or small, to support So They Can’s work will have a long lasting impact on this community.

You can read about our trip to Kenya and our experience with So They Can here – http://www.wottonkearney.com.au/community-footprint/sotheycan

Thank you for your support.

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