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how we began

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Siem Reap Houses by the river
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Responding to an article she read in a Virgin in-flight magazine, Australian-born Tania Palmer walked off the plane and straight into a travel agency to book a flight. The article was about an orphanage in need. The destination was Siem Reap, Cambodia. The date was August 2004.

A month later, Tania found herself in stifling tropical heat and humidity with eyes, arms and heart wide open to the plight of the Cambodian children. Soon after, she was back home, in body but not in spirit.

By February 2005, Tania had packed up her life, home and office desk to return to Cambodia, with no plan, no goal and no idea of what the future would bring. The strength of her calling came from somewhere way beyond any reason or logic.

Her attentions were immediately drawn towards the street kids. Beggar children, who were often tiny themselves, were laden with babies on their hips in slings to attract more sympathy and more money from rich foreign tourists. The children never held onto the money for long. They certainly did not benefit from their hard work as there was always a desperate parent or older sibling lurking in the shadows ready to seize their earnings. More often than not, it was to subsidise their families' gambling, drinking or glue sniffing habits. Tania wanted to help. She wanted to give the kids something that could not be taken away from them. The simplest solution was to feed them.

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On teh Street Just Hanging Out Tania and Mong
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The children had stolen Tania's heart, and so had a local man named Rem Poum - gentle, quietly-spoken and compassionate - who was soon to be Tania's husband and the other half of the Green Gecko team.

Tania immediately directed her energies towards the street kids; the tireless dedication of this Australian woman taking Rem by surprise.

When I saw Tania wanting to help them I asked myself, what am I?. Then I said, I am a Cambodian man and this is Cambodia. I decided I wanted to help the children too and then the good luck came and we fell in love. Rem soon changed his mind about wanting to become a Buddhist monk!

What started as a single table of six on the pavement at a local restaurant grew to many tables being joined together to feed sometimes more than 30 street children. Sadly the prejudices towards the children by their own people made it more and more difficult to find places for them to dine. Besides that, Tania says feeding the kids on a nightly basis was one thing... it was nice to know their bellies were full, but it was not really contributing to their future". So with these two factors in mind, Tania and Rem decided the only sensible solution was to find a place where they could learn and eat without people shooing them out of sight.
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Where it all began Tania and the kids Rem and the gang
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They approached a local English school and asked if they could pay for the children to go to the school. The school refused the children on the basis they were dirty, stinky and noisy and that the parents of "normal" children would not like it if they were in the same class. Despite the truth of the comments, it added fuel to the fire and was the catalyst that planted the seed for the Green Gecko Project.

"Ok, fine. Let's just start an exclusive class for 'stinky' kids only then, shall we? Tania retorted. And that's exactly what happened. Tania and Rem hired one room and one teacher for one hour per day.

"We didn't have high expectations initially but the kids proved us wrong. We expected about 12 to come, but 25 did. We expected the numbers to fall but instead they grew, sometimes up to 42 per day! It was evident after the first week, that we needed to split the class in two".

"What started as a small token gesture to get the children off the streets for an hour or two turned out to be more successful that imagined. The children enthusiastically participated in learning English and enjoyed the hot meal they received after class. It was so amazing to watch it unfold", Tania said. However, the more successful it became, the more evident the limitations became. "There was no running water, there was nowhere to for them to bathe, feed them properly, brush their teeth or receive medical treatment... or even a place to just hang out and play" she said.
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First 'stinky kids only' class Classroom assistant and baby holder Babysitting and school
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After three months of high attendance and dedication, it was time for the next step. On 1 October 2005, a small ex-police station was leased, which looked exactly like a schoolhouse. The next day the children moved into the first Green Gecko headquarters. The doors opened with no teacher, no resources, no desks, no chairs, no mats and no whiteboard. What the kids had, though, was a place they could feel safe and call their own - a place to play and learn. They also had a shower, toilet and running water. It was a place where the children had a lot of pride, passion and enthusiasm.

One of the most difficult tasks was, and still is, convincing the kids' parents that education and play for their child is a worthwhile investment. The children could be out making money, and most of our parents have previously had little concept of a future beyond their immediate needs. Experience has already proved that supporting and connecting with the children's families is essential to the success of the project.

The November 2006 government crackdown on begging in Siem Reap had varied effects for Green Gecko. We shared the same aim, to get the kids off the street but unfortunately it also left the families without any source of income at all. This planted the seeds for our family outreach work, which continues to grow from strength to strength today.
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New School but no desks yet! Headquarters 'BEFORE' Headquarters 'AFTER'
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In July 2007, the Green Gecko Project became a registered NGO in Cambodia and on the 16 August 2007, we signed a 15 year lease on our current side, on 1 acres of land.

While we are very proud of how far the kids have come, we are even more excited about the potential of their future. With continued support moral, physical and financial - we are very confident that the future for these children and their families looks promising.

Although Green Gecko's work still has a long way to go, we have been overwhelmed by the support we have received and the results already achieved. Since 2005, the tide of public support for Green Gecko has taken Tania by surprise, and she is both grateful and appreciative.

Rem and I are strong believers that with the right intention you can make things happen, and for the Geckos, the ball just keeps rolling. The response from the beginning has been amazing, absolutely overwhelming. Out of seemingly nowhere has come an abundance of specialised volunteers, advice, support and brilliant ideas. We could not have achieved so much in so little time without the generosity of others.

The kids are such incredible human beings. They inspire us daily with their strength, courage and their innate ability to roll with the punches and come up with a beaming smile.

We are thankful to all the supporters - past, present and future - who share our vision and our belief in the boundless potential of these incredible children.

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