We feel that Adrianne and Rick can tell their story better than we can. Below are excerpts from an email interview conducted after they returned to Canada from their latest work in Cambodia (December 2006-March 2007).
D&A: How did you get started with this work? Why Cambodia? What keeps you coming back?
A&R: We started doing work in third world countries about 10 months after our 21 year old daughter and only child was killed by a drunk driver in March 2000. After some chance meetings in Europe we ended up in India volunteering on an Ashram where 100 men, 100 women and 70 children lived a very basic and subsistence life. We pitched in and helped with the farming and then we took on the painting of the day care for the children.
The second year we found ourselves in S.E. Asia and Cambodia. We are not sure exactly what draws us so strongly to Cambodia. It probably lies in the fact that as we continue to work with our own emotional struggles and coming to grips with [our daughter] Danielle’s death we have found the resilience of the Cambodian people quite inspiring. In their fight to recover from war, genocide and the Pol Pot regime, the people show incredible courage as they face heart wrenching poverty and enormous losses. We continue to learn about the strength of the human spirit.
D&A: What are your main projects now?
A&R: We now have numerous projects that are directed towards helping children and families. Our focus is on providing housing, water, educational and medical supplies as well as helping individual families sustain a livable income through small grants. We also support the work that other Cambodian organizations offer such as: Street Children’s Shelter, Children’s Hospitals and Orphanages. It is our belief that the people with whom we work know best what their needs and abilities are and we provide funds and support to assist them with these needs.
D&A: What have you been most surprised to learn or discover through the course of your work?
A&R: As we sit on buses and trains and travel through Cambodia, Burma, Laos, Vietnam and India we are absolutely overwhelmed with the poverty we have seen. As we walk through villages and city slums it is devastating to see the lack of water, hygiene, electricity, medicine and food. Watching images on the TV is so detached compared with sitting on the bamboo floor with a dying child or entering a small palm leaf shack where a family of 18 live. The reality that most people on this planet live in such situations has been a devastating and disturbing discovery [for us] and has changed our lives forever. On the other hand we have also learned what the human spirit can endure and how that even the poorest and sickest of people can be so very kind and generous as well as accepting of their situation. We have also learned that there is far too much focus on collecting material wealth and far too little attention paid to easing the plight of others. We have learned that what is really important in our lives is to do something meaningful and this inspires us to look beyond ourselves.
D&A: We imagine this work offers highs and lows. Can you share and characterize some of them?
A&R: For us there is no greater feeling than sitting with a mother or grandmother in her small palm leaf house and being able to offer to build her a new larger house, where she and her children will have room to move, sleep and eat. It is a wonderful experience to see how quickly life can change for the better and to be a part of that. It is also a great feeling to do something as simple as taking a group of kids to the lake for a picnic and swim, such a simple pleasure. However for many of the children we know, this is a rare if not impossible experience. To see absolute joy on a child’s face is one of our greatest gifts. The most difficult part is being able to help some families and not others. When we build a few houses in a village it is really hard to know that there are many, many, more people who we cannot help and although no one ever complains or asks us to help them, it breaks our hearts to not be able to do more. One year while we were building a house and the neighbors were all over watching, I said to one of the people we were working with how bad I felt and asked if the other families were jealous about this family getting a new house while their house was so poor. I was told that, “the family without feels only happiness for the family you are helping and one day they too may have such good luck.”
D&A: Given your experiences these last few years, what are the best ways to help people and to help countries develop in a sustainable manner?
A&R: Each year that passes brings more insights and ideas as our projects evolve and we observe other projects and NGOs. We are focusing more and more trying to provide a whole package for a family, school, etc. In that we mean for example if we build a house for a family we try to provide the funds for one or more family members to utilize the skills they have by funding what they need so that they can earn an income for the family. As well as building the house, we also outfit it with cooking material, food, school uniforms, books and a well if possible. We hope that when we leave the family can carry on with the business of earning money without the need to struggle for the basics. We have found this to have the highest success rate and is the best way to invest the donors’ dollars.
D&A: Siem Reap is overrun with tourists. What advice can you give to tourists coming to Siem Reap who are interested in responsible tourism and giving back to the community?
A&R: We think that one of the most important things we could say would be to treat the food servers, moto drivers, beggars, etc., with the respect and dignity that each person on this earth deserves. There are many, many ways in which the average traveler could assist. Get to know your driver, waitress, and guesthouse staff, hear their stories, visit their houses and assist them. One person, one family at a time, just think if everyone that traveled took on one family and donated some funds towards helping them what a difference that would make to the world. We do it personally all the time and not only is it appreciated it feels darn good to do something meaningful with your money rather than spend it on a fabulous hotel room or an expensive meal.
Regarding buying post cards from kids, they are most likely helping to support their families. Unfortunately, that is their reality and we know how a lot of these children live; it is not pretty and they could really use the money. Begging can be a very irritating thing in Siem Reap and it is not a good thing to give children money. Although we have done this on occasion, however, we are very selective about it now. We now tend to buy a child food, clothing, books, pens, etc.
D&A: What do you recommend to someone who wants to start a community development project, either in their own hometown or across the world?
A&R: We hear from many people that they would like to do something to help the world to be a better place. If people have the will they can easily raise money and then find like-minded people that are doing good work in third world countries. If you want to do something in another country, there are thousands of people working in these countries trying to help their own people, just ask. Visit the people, visit the families, see what they need and raise some money to do the project. It is not that hard. If you raise $500.00 from friends and family you can go to a village and put in a well, the people will help you and they will be very appreciative. The following quote, from Margaret Mead, sums it up better than we can: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.“
D&A: If someone is interested in supporting your projects, how can he/she help? How can someone find out more about your work?
A&R: If someone would like to donate to our project they can feel free to contact us at K.I.D.S. or if they have questions and would like to hear more we would be happy to answer them. The most common question that we get is “do we need physical help?” We always try to employ the community that we are working in. In this way we help to create a ripple effect with money, goodwill and community sprit.