Cambodia and our Real Impact at Kampuchea House
9 August 2018

Recently we held the Cambodia Community Night at Westbourne. This event was a chance for the sixty staff and students, who this year joined one of the two school trips known as the Cambodia Challenge, to present on their experiences. It also simultaneously served as the launch night for the 2019 trips to Cambodia and those interested students, and their parents, currently in Years 9 and 10 were invited to attend. In all, around three hundred people attended this event.

During the night the students presented on their memorable experiences and spoke eloquently about the people of Cambodia with whom they worked. They talked about the time spent with the children of Kampuchea House and the work they did building houses and teaching English. It was evident that the money raised by the Westbourne community is having an incredibly positive impact on the lives, and particularly, the educational opportunities, for the children and young adults of Kampuchea House. Given our support has been across ten years, some of the initial young Cambodians have now graduated and started careers in areas like accounting, jewellery-making and hospitality and two brothers have moved to study medicine at University in Phnom Penh.

Given that Westbourne has now had more than ten organised visits to Kampuchea House it was wonderful on this night to hear Belinda Lightfoot, Vice-President of Kampuchea House, read out some thoughts from the local children. Most of them have been at every one of these visits and their English skills have improved dramatically in this time. Here is an extract from Belinda’s moving speech – including some of the children’s quotes:

First, I would like to acknowledge the wonderful relationship we have with the students and staff of Westbourne Grammar School. We have been able to care for and educate around 45 children thanks to your support. We are truly grateful.

The annual Westbourne visits are a highlight for our children. The anticipation during the week prior to the visit is palpable as they view Westbourne students as an extension of the Kampuchea House family. The visits have been a constant in their lives for the past ten years and they find this comforting. Knowing that a group of students from another country care enough about them to raise funds for their well-being and education and then to actually come and visit with their amazing gift boxes is truly very precious to them. For me to stand at the gate of our house and see the anticipation on our kids’ faces as the convoy of tuk-tuks arrive and then the warm mutual greetings that follow is absolutely fantastic.

I would like to share a few comments from our kids after the most recent visit:

  • we love the students visiting as they are so friendly, kind and behave well…
  • sometimes when we are playing soccer and one of the boys bumps me they always say they are sorry — it is really nice.
  • the gift boxes are so exciting, and I have never seen some of these things before.
  • we love the visits and hope they come forever.
  • their singing and dancing is great.
  • it is great to talk to the girls and see they are different from the ones in magazines — I mean they are normal like me.
  • I am not scared of foreigners any more.
  • they make me so happy when they visit
  • I like how they use tuk-tuks and not buses and eat our food and like talking with us.

Our kids have benefitted from these visits in many ways. They now regard your students as friends rather than foreigners. Recent visits have seen the students singing and dancing and this has encouraged our kids to sing Cambodian songs and dance to Khmer music during the visits — something they were not confident to do previously. A chance to practice their English is always keenly sought and receiving a personal letter from each student and then writing a thank-you letter is something they cherish as well. Our house mothers, who are older ladies from rural villages, are so proud to cook Cambodian food and love the positive feedback. Leng, who is our Director, enjoys chatting with the accompanying staff about their work and lives in Australia. I really cannot overstate what a positive experience each visit is.

Belinda Lightfoot and Andrew McGregor