Written by Sally Hetherington, Advisor
In less than a month, after almost four years working here, I will be leaving Human and Hope Association to be entirely Khmer operated. It has been an incredibly challenging four years. I am not going to sugar coat things; every day has been challenging for me. Building up a team of paid staff, becoming a registered NGO, developing a mission, introducing handfuls of new projects; building our own school; it has been tough. On top of this, there is dealing with a very different culture, being let down by people, missing home and constantly worrying about money. I work six days a week at our school, and the evenings and my one-day off a week are usually spent doing work as well. It has taken a big commitment to get HHA where it is today, and we definitely wouldn’t be where we are without the dedication of our local staff. At HHA we are focused on empowerment and sustainability, and have seen first hand that these are key factors to moving out of the poverty bracket.
It isn’t just my Cambodian team who has been empowered during these times. I have also been empowered. My outlook on volunteering, charities and community development has changed considerably.
I have come to realize that it is SO difficult to affect change in a community unless you are committed to a long-term, sustained solution. I have had to learn to be patient, and to step back and allow my team to thrive. I have also realized that I am capable of achieving so many things I never dreamed to be possible. In short, I have been transformed.
The last few months will be spent ensuring that our governing board are in a strong position to mentor our team, our Australian board are fundraising for the cause, and putting all our processes into handbooks so that our knowledge is never lost. There is a lot to do, but I have never been one to back down from a challenge!
A man once said to me, “I admire you for stepping back, many of us don’t want to let go”. Whereas some people may dream about finally getting their dream job by the age of 30, I know that I will have to leave mine. What is not to love – I work with the most passionate and motivated people, I get to witness the transformation of our community and I have a direct impact on the empowerment of Cambodians. I think about every day, which makes me even more determined to give this organisation, and the staff and our students 110% of me. I would love to work at HHA forever, after all, I have a year round tan and an endless supply of coconuts at my doorstep, but this isn’t about me and my wishes. This is about taking families out of the poverty bracket and instilling a love of learning into their children so that in the next generation, things will be different for them. This is about turning villagers who once felt hopeless into leaders who are strong and hopeful. This is about empowering Cambodians to take care and empower other Cambodians so that the country can grow and thrive, which is exactly what sustainability should be about.