Transforming the lives of people in Cambodia

8 Nov 2016   |   Blog   |   Long-term Development   |   Education   |   Disability   |   Health and HIV / AIDS   |   Cambo

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Paul O’Callaghan with some of the young men training as barbers as part of the Deaf Development Program

Caritas Australia CEO Paul O'Callaghan is currently visiting communities in Cambodia that have been impacted by our programs and our local partners. Here, he details the joyful journey he has experienced so far.

On the first day of my first visit to Cambodia, I was privileged to spend time with a number of people who have transformed their lives from abject poverty and marginalisation with support from Caritas Australia. It was truly humbling to realise that, despite an exceptionally hard life journey, they were so hopeful about the future and appreciative of the support from Caritas donors.

One community we have worked with intensively over the last decade are those with HIV. Through a productive collaboration with the Maryknoll and Habitat for Humanity, we enabled 30 people to own their own very modest homes and to start small businesses.

Paul O’Callaghan and Caritas Australia's South East Asia Manager, Kath Rosic with the two women they met during the visit

Yesterday we met two remarkable women whose good planning based on our small grant and great diligence over many years created viable small businesses. They told me that this Caritas support had not only improved the material well-being of their families but that, for the first time in their lives, they had felt hope and confidence. It had also enabled them to send their children to school.

We also met with the staff and students at the Deaf Development Program, with which we have been partnering since 2008. I have rarely entered as joyful a place in my whole life. The students are so happy to be doing this two-year program because they had never been able to communicate with their own families or others. Now they have sign language and feel hope for the future. The excitement shown towards me, as we conducted a conversation through sign language with a translator, was truly amazing.

One vocational part of that program has also literally transformed the lives of many young people. In addition to undergoing basic education and skills training, a group of the male students learn to be barbers. One young man gave me a haircut with such a professional touch that I am sure he will succeed in his plan to set up a small business after graduating next month.

In all these meetings, I kept finding our guiding Catholic Social Principles were manifested in a fulsome way. I am sure that our first Caritas director in Cambodia, Onesta Carpene, would be happy about what has transpired since her arrival as the first overseas aid worker in 1988.

- Paul O'Callaghan

Read Part Two of Paul's trip to Cambodia

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