WHILE travelling through Cambodia with her daughter, Tea Gardens resident Lee Anderson was underwhelmed at the standard of information available regarding volunteer work at non-government organisations around the country.
Having always had an interest in philanthropic efforts and what she calls “humanity helping humanity”, Anderson was keen to volunteer her time and skills but was unable to discern which projects were genuine, what they needed, and how she could help.
Encouraged by the dedicated work of altruistic foreigners and locals, Anderson began collecting stories of adversity, passion, despair and necessity from the Cambodian non-government organisations she visited.
“This is a country that was torn apart by civil war, and I was inspired by those people who are just quietly getting on with the job of moving Cambodia forward,” she says.
What started out as a small project soon grew into a mountain of promises, pressure, and pages upon pages of remarkable and often emotional accounts.
After questioning what she would actually be able to achieve through the collection of this material, Anderson reached out to her friend Kerryan Griffin who in turn introduced Shawna Hartley to the group.
“The dynamism came back into the project as I had really hit a brick wall and they brought new energies and new skills into the project,” Anderson says.
The trio quickly cemented tight bonds through their shared passion for charity and volunteer work, each having participated in a variety of projects throughout their lives.
“We all have in interest in people and what people can do regarding human rights and the management of the human spirit and human condition,” Hartley says.
Through a gruelling process of selectivity and sensitivity, the trio put together Unsung Heroes Cambodia, a self-funded non-profit guide to non-government organisations in Cambodia and volunteering in general.
While Cambodia has more than 3000 non-government organisations, Unsung Heroes Cambodia was only able to cover 43 of them, the judgment of which was unanimously considered the most challenging part of the project.
“It doesn’t mean the rest aren’t worthy, we just simply could not choose them all, so we settled on featuring as broad a range of organisations and purposes as we could,” Griffin says.
“The organisations we wanted to feature most were those we saw as functional, sustainable projects that were grassroots and had the community on board.”
“The community has to have ownership as well, because that’s when things really start changing as you know what they need, not just what you think they need, and that is what’s missing in some projects and that’s why a lot of them fail.”
The book was launched in Cambodia and Australia earlier this year, and aims to raise awareness and funds for the non-government organisations featured, providing profiles on the organisations and the people that support or are supported by them. True to the spirit of the project, Unsung Heroes Cambodia was also printed in Cambodia in support of the economy of the country, even though it would have been more financially viable to print in a neighbouring Asian nation.
“The Cambodians were amazed that we chose to do that, in fact they were amazed we were writing about Cambodia at all,” Griffin says.
“I think the most rewarding thing for us was not only the positive response from the international volunteers that have said this book greatly assisted them, but the sincere and heartfelt appreciation from the young Cambodians who can’t believe their work has been recognised.”
Alongside educating readers of Unsung Heroes Cambodia on the situation in Cambodia, Anderson, Griffin and Hartley were eager to educate readers on voluntarism in general, and have included a section on how to volunteer effectively.
“Voluntarism is becoming such a phenomena, however it is often the case that people will volunteer without having the right intent or qualification,” Hartley says.
The trio has big dreams for their book, which has already been implemented in some schools in accordance with the Year 9 geography curriculum.
“Our dream in Australia is to influence younger people into thinking about volunteering, but doing it in a more ethical and sustainable manner,” Anderson says. ‘‘No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.”