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Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, a magnet for tourists and corruption.

 

Extracts from the full story

"One tourist who couldn't step away from the challenge was Tania Palmer, an Australian retail entrepreneur who had read in an airline magazine of a Siem Reap orphanage in need. Straight off the plane she bought a ticket to Cambodia and within six months had abandoned her Australian business to work with Khmer children. She was driven around Siem Reap by a tuk tuk driver called Rem Poum who used the money to support his extended family while preparing to become a monk. That career path too was abandoned as Palmer and Poum married and set up the Green Gecko Project to help feed and educate orphans and street kids."

The Green Gecko facility today is an inspiringly vibrant operation with playing fields, class rooms, vegetable gardens and small shop. The children are boisterous but disciplined, articulate and engaging – nothing further from stinky could be imagined and while there's plenty of noise, it's positive not disruptive. With children ranging in age from kindergarten to senior secondary, there is a genuine sense of extended family. When the AFR Magazine visited, the winning of the first university place by a student was being celebrated. The project is also staffed by volunteers from aid organisations and groups such as the AusAID program VIDA (Volunteering for International Development from Australia).

"Our only plan initially was to get the kids off the street and give them a meal but it is that old saw 'give the man a fish…' so we try to teach them to fish," Palmer says. The fishing is pragmatic: Khmer martial arts are on the curriculum because many of the children, because of their home life and the state of Cambodia, are likely to encounter the threat of exploitation and abuse.

In teaching their children to "fish", Green Gecko's Palmer is committed to raising a generation of Khmer who won't accept corruption and can wean Cambodia off the culture of dependence on aid. Some of the kids now learning to read and write and fend for themselves might once have spent the day on a rotting boat with a python and living in absolute squalor on a raft on Tonle Sap with no hope for the future.

 



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