I think I’ve figured out who is most passionate about my ethical, sustainable and handmade products, and it’s not who I expected it to be.
Next week it will be 9 years ago since I moved to Cambodia with my (then) husband and four children. I look back at who I was back then and remember how desperately I wanted something more meaningful than our idyllic life in the Adelaide Hills.
Of course nothing could have prepared me for what I encountered once we arrived in steamy Phnom Penh in the middle of monsoon season. I had naively thought that because I had encountered poverty before in various countries it would somehow be okay.
At the time it all just felt so overwhelming and I had no idea how to process the heart breaking scenarios we came across moment to moment. Now I can clearly see that the reason I found it so hard to be there was that it was the first time that I was witnessing poverty as a mother.
I was in this constant tug of war of wanting to make sure that my kids were coping with our decision to move to a new country while at the same time seeing how good we had it compared to the people we were passing in our travels.
We ended up staying in Cambodia for two and a half years and then moved to Melbourne when my two older children just wanted to be “normal” and not live in a village anymore.
In the past six years here in Melbourne I have had countless conversations about the social enterprise I am part of. A lot of people that I meet have visited Cambodia want to chat to me about their trip there and share their experience of the country.
No matter how many times it happens, I always expect it to be these people that then show the biggest support in my project and either decide to buy the products that the Cambodian women make, or go on and tell their friends and workmates about what we do and ask them to show their support. After all, just like me they have had front row seats to the poverty there and know how critical it is to create ethical jobs. Of course it does happen that they buy something but not as often as I expect.
I have tried to figure out why a lot of them don’t make that connection. It might be that they know they hugeness of the problem and it all feels too big, so what difference could one little project do? Or maybe it’s that they are numb to it all. It’s hard to have a holiday with cheap massages and food while remaining switched on to the needs of the people who are serving you.
When I think through who I have had the most meaningful encounters with which has then resulted to some kind of action there seems to be a recurring theme.
They are about 10 to 12 years old. They care about our environment. They care what our government is doing, and they want to make sure that they are part of the solution instead of the problem.
These young fire crackers seem to just “get it” when I share about my community project. I can tell by their comments and questions that they are so much wanting to contribute to make the world a better place. They don’t seem to get hung up by how big the problems are, as long as they are doing something about it. When I speak to them what strikes me the most is their curiosity about their world and their place in it. I always come away from encounters like these feeling hopeful about the future.
We have so much to learn from this next generation of world changers. I totally get that there are so many issues out there that all feel so big and impossible to solve and in many ways it’s just easier to switch off. However I remind myself that I don’t need to figure it all out but just do what I can in my circle of influence and thankfully that message seems to have gotten through to those inheriting what we leave behind.