I was very pleased to attend the open meeting in Dublin recently, and I am excited about how I can play my part in the CambodiaIreland vision. In terms of my own background; I have always had a keen interest in social justice, particularly for young people. The Northern Ireland political conflict shaped my experiences growing up making me passionate about inclusive development for youth and earning me a National Award in Sociology. My research focused on the effects of the Northern Ireland armed conflict on the social aspirations of young people, recommending enterprise incentives aimed at marginalized youth as a means of enabling upward social mobility.
After graduation I launched my own ‘startup’, a specialist cake shop and within 5 years was the national market leader. Working with local agencies, we providing training and employment to young people, both Catholic and Protestant. Even though the business was successful, I thought often about what I had learned in my training as a sociologist. Could skills for enterprise coupled with a passion for social justice help youth living in other post-conflict societies? I would eventually find out; when in 2010 I sold “Crumbs Cakes” to a trainee and embarked on, what would become, five years of development work in Cambodia.
Feeding Dreams Cambodia
I am a co-founder and director of “Feeding Dreams Cambodia” a campus located just past “Psa Leu” market in Siem Reap. The day Barom (our Khmer Director), Kerry, Blaed and I held our first meeting is one I will never forget. The four of us sat round a small table with big dreams for a community that was suffering badly. We discussed the big problems with local agencies and partners, and designed the programs accordingly. The free education program would be the primary focus but would grow to encompass seven programs, one being the Community Support Program.
The Community Support Program is an incredibly important part of Feeding Dreams. The objective of this program is to keep families united and strengthen them through access to the tools and resources needed to escape the poverty cycle. The Community Support Program encompasses a multitude of services and works with local partners to ensure our families have access to the best support. For example we work with local government to issue essential identification documents (which can help to prevent human trafficking) and we work with local reproductive health clinics (RAAC) to offer mothers access to family planning services.
On the 1st of November 2018, Feeding Dreams will be six years old and we have now fully developed our campus and are ‘at capacity’ in terms of beneficiaries, with 1000 children availing of our services each day. This means we now focus our time and resources on maintaining and refining our existing programs; for example improving our curriculum and varying our school meals (even though our students would love to eat our hearty ‘bor bor’ every day!)
Our senior management team; all Khmer staff, can now run ‘operations’ perfectly, meaning Kerry and I can focus on fundraising in Australia and Ireland. It is a lot easier to fundraise to build something, but trying to secure funds for general operations is much more challenging. In January 2016, a serendipitous meeting with a donor led to a conversation about sustainability of funding. This actually led to an in-kind donation of 3000 copies of a children’s book I created which could be sold to generate income for Feeding Dreams. The title of the book is “2030 Not a Fairytale” and is an introduction to the UN Goals for Sustainable Development.
The Sustainable Development Goals
On the 25th of September 2015 the UN member states agreed to the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), unlike its predecessor the Millennium Development Goals, set standards not only for emerging and developing countries, but also for the industrialized nations.
Those working in International development are well aware of the SDGs. However, one of the promises of the SDGs is to “leave no one behind.” Therefore, I felt it was imperative that, if the SDGs are indeed going to impact every person on the planet, then the agenda needs to be understood by everyone. The official UN document is long and the wording is technical, so the aim of my book was to introduce the SDGs to children through a colorful picture book with simplistic explanations of each goal.
“2030 Not a Fairytale”
The book was originally intended as a handmade Christmas gift for my 3-year-old niece in Belfast who wanted to know why I was working in Cambodia and could not come home to Ireland to see her. I tried to explain the concept of sustainable development, in the simplest terms, but it was not easy to do.
The SDGs provided me with the framework to explain what I was doing in Cambodia. I felt that I would be doing her a disservice by not clarifying what sustainable development entailed or perpetuating the negative rhetoric about developing countries.
Since there are 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the book took more time than I anticipated, and I could be found frantically sketching in Blue Pumpkin on my lunch breaks and weekends. Friends, and tourists would ask me what I was working on and if they could get a copy of the ‘finished product’ so I knew there was an appetite for the message of the book. The book is currently available to purchase online.
I think that we have a wonderful opportunity to use the brilliance of early childhood development as a platform for shifting our values. I think it is important that all Irish and Cambodian children understand the commitments made under the agreement and the agenda their governments have ratified. Only then can young people hold their political representatives accountable and demand action.