At the end of November I flew from Melboune to Phnom Penh, where I was reunited with the Aussie volunteers; Jen Goodall and Simon Loymeyer, our project camera man from Munich.
Joining us for the project was Jake Corke who worked as the Small Steps fixer and distributor and who’s company http://www.hanumanfilms.com/ and http://www.hanumantourism.com/profile.html not only donated the use of a van for the delivery of the aid, but also an amazing driver, Mr Pon, who worked as an extra translator and helped with the distribution.
Like in the first project, we had Raksmey Chan aka ‘Mey’ as the Project’s translator and distributor, together with the new volunteers they made an amazing Small Steps team.
Small Steps Team Cambodia
Jen Goodall volunteered for the project and trained as a project co ordinator so that she, in turn will be able to train another volunteer, on the next project in Nicaragua.
Small Steps Team Cambodia
Jen has done so much fundraising for the project, raising over $3000 from running marathons and generally nagging people and posting on facebook and when she heard that I would be fundraising in Australia, she not helped with press coverage, but found and introduced Simon, our cameraman, to the project, without whom, we would never have got the incredible footage we have now. Jen asked if she could shadow me doing the next project and return to Cambodia, and ‘see what i’m doing all that running for,’ was how she phrased it.
Not being sure whether there was definitely another inhabited dump, or if there was, if we’d even have enough time to do a project well? I didn’t know, at first, whether it would be worth her coming. We would never have been able to have helped hundreds of families if she hadn’t. She completely funded her trip out of her own money and provided money for aid from the marathons she had run.
Simon also funded his own flight, provided his own kit, filmed every day from 6am and shot all the stills. I met them both at the airport in Phnom Penh and, there, together with Mey and Jake and Mr Pon we returned to the original Stung Meanchey dump where we literally bumped into the children who, were not only in the last documentary, but, they were the last children on the dump.
The Last children from the Stung Meanchey Dump
When we did the first project in 2009 we met these girls first, when we were assessing the dump and gave them out food and, mosquito nets and hygiene kits but when it came to the main distribution of wellington boots, we couldn’t find them. I had not only promised both girls some shoes, but also some clothes and, not being able to find them and deliver that promise, amongst so many other people, has always haunted me. So you can imagine that, to find them again and keep my promise, a year late was pretty amazing.
Amy Hanson and last little boy on Stung Meanchey dump
So this time we made sure that we followed through with getting them out of poverty by, not only providing the things I’d promised a year earlier, but also helping them take small steps out of poverty and into school.
Both girls are now at PSE Pour Sourire and this is their little brother when we first arrived and he was a lot more cheerful after the project had given him everything a little boy should have: some clothes and shoes and a full tummy.
So there are officially no children left on the Stung Meanchey Dump, we went back, made sure of that and filmed it, so you can all see how things can get better, in the next documentary which we are editing now, in time for a summer release.
However not everything was so easy. We then went down to Sihanoukville, where we found a settlement village of 75 families who were living in makeshift tarpaulin huts by the side of the road, they had been evicted from their village two years ago by the police after a private company bought their land to build a hotel on, they were given a few hours to move and they made it as far as the side of the road, where they still live today, many surviving off scavenging from what they find on the street and the beach.
One little girl was collecting broken glass on purpose for a westerner who was paying her $1 so that he could stick it to top of his wall to stop intruders. Why discourage a little girl from picking broken glass when you can get it so cheap that way.
None of the 75 families had mosquito nets so we provided them all with them and, while doing so, met the newest addition to the settlement; a two day old baby girl, who had nothing: no food, no clothes, no milk and her mother was desperately worried as it was clear that her chances of survival were slim.
Small Steps Project made sure that she had a chance by supplying milk and a bottle and clothes and food for her mother and a baby mosquito net as well as the smallest shoes small steps has ever given out.
When we returned with all the things for the baby, the Grandma was thanking us and weeping and it was completely humbling because almost all of my friends have babies and they all have everything they need and more, to think such small things actually changed this babies life, I can’t say I feel that way when I give out another baby grow or teddy bear to one of my friends (lovely!) babies because there is nothing that I can give them that they need or don’t already have two of.
Sihanoukville Dump was certainly not closed. In fact a big difference between Sihanoukville ‘Village of the Dump’ and Stung Meachey was that it was that hardly anyone knew about it. Having myself lived in Sihanoukville for 5 months previously I had not heard of the place, yet according to the residents, they had been there for over 20 years, isolated and hidden away in the jungle 14k outside the nearest town of Sihanoukville. Click here to find out more about Sihanoukville Dump