Just over ten years ago, we first met Billy Gorter, Founder and Executive Director of This Life Cambodia (TLC) in Siem Reap, Cambodia. We still remember his excitement and enthusiasm when he first told us about how he was approached by members of a community just outside the centre of Siem Reap who had big dreams of starting a community centre in their village.
I held fond memories of my travels through South East Asia. The grind of city living and 9-5 was taking it’s toll on my natural state of wanderlust. I wanted to explore, adventure, learn – and throw myself in the deep end of a wild experience. My teenage dream to live and work in a developing country was still in the forefront of my mind. As a strong willed young woman, I knew I would see my dream into fruition – I just hadn’t worked out how to yet.
Flat on my back, I lay there, in the darkness, looking up on what reminded me of a bridal veil just about a meter above my head. It was slightly lit up by the bright light bulb on the outside. Bugs were dancing in the beam of light. Dogs were barking in the distance. A noisy motor boat was passing by, and seconds later the small, rapid waves hit the platform. I could hear the wings of insects that were swirling around. My nose was filled by the smell of my own sweat and mosquito repellent.
In 2009 I found myself being made redundant twice in the course of six months due to the recession in the UK. Taking what little savings I had, I hopped on a plane and started working my way around the world, working and volunteering as I went along. I was lucky enough to visit New Zealand, Australia, Japan, before landing in South East Asia. After travelling by road through Vietnam, I found myself in the beauty of Cambodia, and I fell in love with the people and the country instantly.
Siem Reap, Cambodia, has been my home for the past seven years. It is a country of contrasts and smiles. The town is booming thanks to the increase in tourism; tour buses and 4x4s are everywhere. Very different from seven years ago when the only cars were taxis doing the Phnom Penh run or World Food Programme 4x4s. But step back from the main tourist area and visit villages where bicycles and motorbikes are the main form of transport and experience how many Cambodians continue to live a life that has changed little in hundreds of years.
Epic Arts is an Inclusive Arts NGO based in Cambodia providing education and opportunities for deaf, disabled and non-disabled people and their parents.
Since it’s initial opening in Cambodia with a few workshops in Phnom Penh, they has grown to include the popular Epic Arts Cafe in Kampot and a purpose built fully accessible Arts Centre. Many of the graduates from their early projects now work for Epic Arts as staff and act as advocates for many young disabled people in Cambodia.
Back in September, Raechel, a PwC consultant taking some time out to travel, approached HOPE looking for a volunteer position for over a month. We were able to match her valuable skills with the needs of one of our Partner organisations, This Life Cambodia. She has kindly written a blog of her experience and we are delighted by her closing remark “I can only urge people to continue to support HOPE and This Life Cambodia so this team can spread their support to as many communities as possible”.
Knowing a little help can make a big difference, but conscious that the wrong delivery can have negative results, Jo and her fellow trustee, Tanya, put their heads together and set up Harnessing Opportunities through Play and Education (HOPE) as a registered charity in England & Wales with the aim to raise awareness and funds to support existing programmes in Cambodia assisting young people with their education and social development.