9 August 2013

I can’t believe I’ve been back for 3 weeks already. I owe AAW an update on my amazing trips to visit my communities in Cambodia and Sri Lanka.

Part of my challenge is – that much of this trip forms chapters of my book. So, whilst giving you a taster I hope you’ll forgive me if I save much of the good bits for the “main event” – the publication of Accidental aid worker. Here’s my offering to you about my trip to Cambodia with Sunrise.

CAMBODIA- coming home

This trip back to Sunrise and Cambodia is my 5th in 7 years. It is an honour to be invited back and for me it truly is like coming home. Particularly when Geraldine is home, and we are able to spend some quality time together. Geraldine is not only a dear friend, she is a mentor, gal pal, mother figure and “mother of my children”. We do mix business with pleasure – and how can you not.

It’s Saturday afternoon and I arrived to my Cambodian home, doors flung open wide, as wides as those embracing arms of welcome. Children all around – most familiar to me but bigger than last time – and many new little kids to hug, kiss and tickle.

The table is set for two for a lamb roast by Geraldine. She’s cooking for me because she knows that I’m a single woman with no mother to cook me a roast.  I could barely hold back my tears. Such welcome and care that is sorely missing in my life back at home. And there’s plenty of cooking, caring and sharing over the days as I find comfort in “sisterhood” and understanding by spending time with Geraldine and long-time supporter Tracey. We are like-souled creatures, we know it and see that we bond over our common love for these (many, many) children.

On the first day – I did a MASS cooking activity with about 15 kids in shifts in Geraldine’s kitchen. We made over 150 honey joys which involved 4 large packets of cornflakes, 1kg of butter, honey and sugar. It’s the first time the kids had an opportunity to do anything like this, and I only had to show them once and they were off and running cooking  4 batches! They were a hit! And the kids know that if they want to make them again – they just have to ask Geraldine to go get cornflakes – the BIG BOXES.

The main purpose of visiting during this time was to accompany the 3 Sunrise’s staff and children, coming together for the very first time on an annual trip to the beach at Sihanoukville. There are over 300 of us. You’d expect chaos and mayhem. That was so far from reality.

Amazing organisation, incredibly well behaved children – small to big and excitement to boot, building sand-watts,  banana boating, ducking and diving in the waves, piggy backs for the small and disabled – all under the watchful eyes of staff decked out as lifeguards with whistles – keeping watch over everyone as they swam between “the flags”. The Flags by the way – an Australian flag at one end, Cambodia’s flag at the other.

And resplendent in her signature bright orange cossie, Geraldine was able to do what we all would like to do at the beach – recline, read a book, eat some snacks and watch her brood play and have happy “free time” for these two precious days of the year. It IS a lot of work for the staff ie: it aint no restful holiday.

What I saw, was a BIG family day out Cambodian style. Smiling, relaxed and happy faces in sea and on shore enjoying different food, sights, smells, playing in the sand, getting photos taken, buying trinkets, dancing and playtime –  just as much as the kids. The bonds between children and staff were made and strengthened and everyone had a great time!

Back at Sunrise 1 on the Sunday, there’s music lessons, dance rehearsals, art classes, tennis tuition, swimming lessons, laundry to be done, sweeping and cleaning, rubbish to be collected and homework. Geraldine is busy with last minute packing for an upcoming trip in between trouble shooting issues with misbehaving teenagers, accidents and mishaps, welcoming visitors, supervising electricians and plumbers, mentoring and advising her young adults from outreach house and making decisions about this, that and everything.

It’s busy, and chaotic – “You will have 120 children living under your roof” I said to her at one point. And we just smiled at eachother because, she wouldn’t have it any other way, and I’m so proud be part of THIS family.

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