The Excruciating Fundraiser

My heart sinks in Australia whenever I get a cold call at home, or accosted in the streets by charities looking for donations.  Ditto when friends write saying they have a cause and would I donate?  It is not possible to help everyone and the phenomenon of donor fatigue is something I experience on a regular basis, particularly from Australia, where I can quickly feel disconnected from the need that I see here in Cambodia.  From within Cambodia it is quite the opposite, you could almost say I’m plagued by donor impulse here!  But I identify well with donor fatigue and I understand what my friends are experiencing when they see yet another appeal coming from my general vicinity.  This is what makes me loathe what I call The Excruciating Fundraiser.

On that note, I hope anyone reading this understands that my sharing this story is not to make you feel obliged, pressured or judged in any way.  Read it as a story of interest.  And if you are inclined to donate, then do; if not, no problem.  If you are inclined to share it with others then do; if not, no problem.  It really is interesting to know this story though, and if you click on the link you can watch a very touching video that was filmed before the family received the help that has since seen some improvement in their situation.

This project involves a single mother of 4 who broke her ankle >2 years ago now.  I talked about her in Bongs and Tycoons.  She walked on the bone for over a year because she couldn’t afford to seek medical care. This obviously did further damage. She finally sought care at a South Korean charity hospital, but has to pay to get there and for any medicines and tests – it’s just the doctor’s consultation that is free.  The surgery is much cheaper than it otherwise would be, but has (and will) still cost her. These small things have put strain on her financially and at one point, for an extended period her 13yo son was out of school in order to walk the streets pushing a cart selling clams and banana fritters.  Since getting to know this family my perception of the many similar street vendors in Phnom Penh has changed.  Where once they were mysterious, appealing and sometimes funny, now they are all these things while I also contemplate on what led to them purchasing a steel cart to wander the streets through traffic as a way to earn money.  Even more so when the seller is elderly, very young or visibly disabled, which is often the case.  No doubt every one of them has a story worth sharing.

In May this year Mum was climbing the rickety ladder from the door of her elevated wooden shack to the ground (about 2 metres high) when she slipped through the gaps to the ground, breaking the steel fixer pin holding her bone together! So now she is walking around with a broken pin in her bone.  When I visit her, I physically tremble climbing up and down this ladder with it’s rotting rungs.

We got involved when a friend shared the video with me and asked if I could find her because a wealthy businesswoman wanted to offer her some money. I met her and took the family out for a meal (pizza – if you watch the video or read the earlier post you’ll know why). Then I met her again with the businesswoman’s daughter and nephew, who gave her an extremely generous donation which is going towards the expenses of her ongoing medical consultations. She has to have repeat surgery in September and meanwhile needs to travel to consultations weekly, pay for medicines, tests and transport etc.

The doctors have told her the only hope for a reasonable recovery is if she rests her leg.  With no back up welfare system here, she has no choice but to work – except for the fact that she has since had this help, meaning that at the moment she can rest (but she has a 2yo daughter, so can’t stay off her leg the whole time). So we are trying to help by raising enough money to get her into a ground level home that is not dangerous (her elevated shack is very dangerous, the ceiling leaks during rainfall, some of the ladder rungs are rotting, the floor slopes and feels soft underfoot in places), plus have a carer for the baby during school hours when her sons cannot help her, plus replace the income she cannot earn.

We will need a minimum of $4,000 to make this possible for her, for about six months post-surgery. So far we’re only a quarter of the way there.

See the link created by my MSF colleague / housemate and watch the video if you are interested in just one of the many stories that surround me, provoking my constant battle with Donor Impulse.

The Excruciating Fundraiser

So Many Worthwhile Causes

There are so many worthwhile causes in this world.  I find myself saying “no” to requests for donations to all kinds of charitable organisations who approach via door knocking, mailouts, emails and telephone calls.  It seems overwhelming sometimes.  Only recently have I realised that the reason “we” in the western world are so inundated by requests for philanthropy, is because of the global imbalance between rich and poor.  While poverty in Australia is defined as any single adult living on less than $358 per week, elsewhere in the world 1.2 billion people continue to survive on less than $1.25 per day.  From what I saw in Cambodia, many of these people actually earn nothing at all.

There is a calculator at https://www.givingwhatwecan.org/get-involved/how-rich-am-i where you can work out how rich you are in comparison to the rest of the world.  According to my calculation I belong to the richest 0.3% of the world’s population and if I give 10% of my income away, I remain in the top 0.5%.  Amazing stuff!

Another excellent reference is this four minute video infographic displaying global inequality and outlining the causes.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWSxzjyMNpU .  The richest 2% of people in the world have more than 50% of all global wealth.  The richest 20% have 94% of global wealth while 80% of the world have only 6% of the world’s material wealth.  Is it any wonder that we, at the upper end of this scale, find ourselves being highly sought after?!

Only 200 years ago the richest nations in the world were about 3 times richer than the poorest.  Today we are 80 times richer.  This has happened mainly by material wealth being removed from poor countries, by corporations and wealthy countries, which occurs at a rate many hundred times higher than the rate of aid injected into these countries.

I’m currently visiting family and traveling in New Zealand, where the wealth of our small nation has never seemed so visible to me as it does on this holiday.  Looking at the infrastructure alone we are clearly well resourced – even the most rural country roads are almost all bitumenised, potholes are almost non-existent, roads are well marked, road signs are clear and standardised, roadworks are staffed, signposted and extremely safety-conscious, hospitals and schools are clean and organised with modern conveniences unseen in most of the world.  It’s so far removed from the world I became used to for a year, where waste disposal was erratic, sewerage leaking on the grounds of a public hospital was considered unfixable, patients often sleep on floors in walkways of hospitals, roads were mainly pothole-ridden dust tracks, schools were bare concrete buildings with ancient wooden furniture and no reading resources, etcetera.

This leads me to the reason for this blog post!  As someone who says “no” to donation requests almost daily, I recognise that this is just “yet another cause” which most will not feel able to assist with.  I also know that in order to want to contribute to a cause, we need to feel connected in some way to the cause in question.  When we are detached from the concern at hand, we are less inclined, or not at all inclined, to feel a need to involve ourselves.  Being involved as I am, is why this is a cause I want to mention.

When I first arrived home a very good friend of my mother announced that she was coordinating a fundraiser for me and that I would need to present to a public audience!  She and Mum worked together at a nursing home in the town where I spent my teenage years and the event was held at this home / hospital last Wednesday afternoon.  The audience was quite a mish-mash!

An artist of considerable talent, she donated a beautiful acrylic painting of red poppies which was raffled alongside a book written by a local nursing friend and a brass door knocker which were both also donated to the cause by separate donors.  She recruited an audience from far and wide, produced and distributed a written invitation to the event, baked cakes, enlisted others to assist with catering, networked at various social gatherings, promoted raffle tickets all over town and I probably don’t even know what else, towards hosting the event.  It was a real “kiwi” experience, reminding me of the community spirit that exists here in spades.

Mum and a couple of other family members, many of Mum’s old work colleagues, an old high school friend of mine, a boss from my first out-of-school job and various others joined interested nursing home residents and staff in the large ocean-facing lounge room of this beautiful nursing home.  I put together a powerpoint presentation titled “A Year in Cambodia” and picked some of the stories which had touched me the most to share from a large projector screen on the wall of the residents lounge.  Standing not 20 metres from the Tasman Sea which rolled and broke into white fringes out of the panoramic window beside me, I spoke for 45 minutes about my experience and my hopes to assist the Children’s Home with much-needed funds.  The assumption that I would be nervous, stemming from jitters which surfaced days prior when I gave the same presentation to a group of  aunties and other extended family in Mum’s lounge room, turned out to be incorrect.  Despite a number of the audience nodding off to sleep before me!

I also gave a similar presentation to a Year 6 class upon request of my good friend’s 11yo daughter which was a highly entertaining exercise.  After speaking semi-regularly at schools and universities in Cambodia, the small classroom with comfortable desks and chairs, a computerised presentation system, children all speaking confidently of their overseas experiences and extra-curricular activities could not have been more different to the classes I spoke to in Cambodia.  Since I’ve been home others have also generously donated, either to Phter Koma or to individuals they know of through this blog.  I am so grateful to many for their eagerness to contribute, which is not just about the money but also the big hearts of many of my family and friends.

Until now I have not named the Children’s Home I regularly mention.  But they have a public profile and the Board of Directors have farewelled me on a holiday to Australia, New Zealand and America in the hope that during my travels I might manage to raise money for the home, so I guess it’s time to name them here and outline what we do.

Phter Koma Children’s Home in Kampong Cham Cambodia currently cares for 12 children between 6yo and 16yo who are HIV+ and have lost one or both parents to AIDS.  The home is licenced under Cambodian law for 15 resident children but currently does not have the budget for more than the existing 12.  I am the only Australian member of the Board of Directors at this home which was established by a group of doctors and social workers who came to the realisation whilst working together on an HIV program, that many of their clients were dying and leaving behind HIV+ children with no one to care for them.  This placed the children at high risk of health problems related to poor HIV treatment as well as many social risks including homelessness, neglect, abuse, child trafficking and prostitution.  The children all come from families who are unable, for various and often shocking reasons, to provide them with proper care, in a nation crippled by poverty.  They are beautiful children, keen students who attend school daily and extra classes whenever possible in order to try and catch up after losing out on schooling due to circumstances including ill health, poverty and chaotic home lives.

The home is 100% Cambodian managed, with a Manager, an Educator and two carers who rotate in shifts to provide general care to the children including cooking, housework, coordinating the children’s activities and health appointments and ensuring care and routine in their lives.  In order to function at a basic level, Phter Koma needs a minimum of US$2,500 per month which covers accommodation (they rent a house near the children’s school), staff salaries, food and clothing for the children, transport, school fees and other general costs.  The carers earn around $100 per month in salary and all staff earn less than $400 per month, so most costs relate directly to the care of the children.

Cambodia is renowned for it’s “orphanage tourism” which corrupts children in care for the purposes of fundraising for personal gain/profit.  Phter Koma is a genuine, licenced and ethically managed not-for-profit association with processes in place to ensure the protection of their resident children, whose best interests are the association’s only concern.  The Children’s Home website is at www.phter-koma.org .

The role of the Board of Directors is to provide technical advice and oversee budget implementation, as well as to raise funds to keep the home functioning.  Most funds currently come from France where one of the home’s founders, a French social worker, spends exhorbitant amounts of time and energy sourcing private donations.  We have a provisional budget of US$30,000 for the following year, but currently only have US$26,000 available (almost all from French donors), so we are looking for an extra $4,000 to ensure the home remains operational into the following year.  If we are able to raise more funds we will be able to increase our resident children from 12 to 15.  There are many HIV+ children in the region who fit the criteria for admission to Phter Koma and have an immediate need for residential care to protect their health and improve their future chances at a decent quality of life.  We also have a currently-unaffordable idea that we would like to separate the children into two separate homes, by gender, as they move into their teens.

Both France and USA have tax exempt connections to Phter Koma allowing their citizens to make donations to us as an official charitable organisation.  I am currently working towards obtaining this status within Australia, which is a complicated and lengthy process.  All donations are warmly welcomed by anyone interested in contributing to a highly worthwhile cause but permanent donations which can ensure continued income for the home are most valuable as they mean we have a better chance at maintaining operations into the long term.  For more information or to make contact, refer to www.phter-koma.org or feel free to email me privately at hjtin@yahoo.com.