Small gestures that mean the world
“There’s this room and there’s almost nothing in it.”
If you have young kids in your life, you’ll know that when you drop them off at kindergarten, you’re met with a mass of colour, toys and tools to help them create, explore and encourage their curiosity. We now know just how important that is to help little minds grow. On a trip to Cambodia to visit a kindergarten supported by Plan International, it was this stark contrast that struck Rosanne McMahon.
“It was so sad to see these toddlers who have nothing in comparison to what we have and yet they probably had so much more than the next village. The kids were still learning to write on slates with chalk, and tiny little stubs of chalk you know, right down to the end,” she says.
Rosanne and her husband Brian have supported Plan International for 20 years. They currently sponsor 10 children as well as supporting our Youth Economic Empowerment program in Cambodia. Brian's support predates when the couple first met when they were both working in real estate.
“I think at that stage I would have been in business about seven years,” Brian says. “We’d been through the recession, it had been an incredibly tough time, it was a trial by fire period. We were coming out of that period and it was time to give a little.”
Two year ago, the McMahons went to Cambodia to visit Plan International’s projects in Siem Reap.
“It’s a place that touches our soul,” Rosanne says.
“The Cambodian story is such a challenging story. I think it really resonates with us, the history of the country and the fact that a huge percentage of the population is under 25,” Brian adds.
While there, Rosanne and Brian met young people taking part in our Youth Economic Empowerment project, which they support.
“We met some girls who were doing dressmaking,” Rosanne remembers.
“They were in a tiny little cottage, and there was someone’s home at the back I suspect. There were probably six or eight people in one room all with their sewing machines. They had only recently started there, they were showing us what they did and how they progressed from this to that and how it won’t be long and they’ll be able to make the whole outfit. It was lovely to see.”
“And these three boys that we met were doing electrical apprenticeships,” Brian adds.
“They were typical teenage boys,” Rosanne laughs. “They didn’t say much.”
“It was hard to get a word out of them. And when we were talking to them they were standing against the wall in a line. The lady who was escorting us, said after that ‘actually three is an unlucky number and having three of them together wasn’t good luck.’ That was probably part of why they were a little reserved!”
The McMahons also visited a training college where teenagers from country areas took preliminary education classes to get them to the point where they could progress out of schooling and into work. It was an example of Plan International’s commitment to support children as they transition into adulthood.
Education is an important part of Plan International’s work. We invest in a child from birth through to adulthood by understanding the challenges facing kids at all ages and the importance of nurturing them right from the beginning. Here in Australia, we are well aware of the crucial early years before a child starts school. Plan International reflects that in its work overseas.
Rosanne and Brian were able to see the transition from kids attending kindergarten through to vocational opportunities for young adults, first-hand. They were struck by how a seemingly small gesture could make such a difference. For the kids in the kindergarten with their tiny stubs of chalk it could be something as small as a box of chalk.
“When you see things like that, it makes you realise just how fortunate we are and how a box of chalk would be such an exciting gift. To have their own long stick rather than these tiny little stubs,” Rosanne says.
When they visited the local school they asked if there was something they could give the school. The staff there went away for an hour to think about it before they returned with an answer.
“They said: ‘We’ve got 10 orphans here at the school and they don’t have school uniforms. If you could buy them school uniforms, that’s what we would like.’” Brian recalls. “So we went with the lady who was escorting us there. And she took us to the markets where we bought ten school uniforms, which cost — what did they cost us?”
Rosanne answers: “60 dollars.”
Brian nods, “60 dollars Australian, 10 uniforms.”
“I mean, it makes you cry,” Rosanne says. “You wouldn’t even buy a blazer for 60 dollars here. And there they were, they were so happy with these new uniforms, because otherwise they would have had old hand-me-downs.”
The headmaster had another request. A bike for the cook, who left at four in the morning every day to prepare breakfast for the students as part of the School Feeding Program so it would be ready at six in the morning when students arrived. She lived five kilometres from the school and a bike would save her walking each morning. Brian and Rosanne were staying with some friends at the time who were eager to help.The pair bought the bike on behalf of their friends and gifted it to the school.
“It cost $35 for a bike.” Brian says.
“A bike with a basket and a bell and lights.” Rosanne tells us.
“She was rapt to get her bike.”
“And our friends often say: ‘you know I still think about that bike, it makes me feel so good that I did that.’”
“We have no doubts that we’re giving our money to a good cause that is being well used and creating a lot of benefit for the people,” Rosanne says, of her experience with Plan International and visiting our projects.
As they made the journey to the school and vocational training centres, the Plan International team who escorted the couple pointed out newly built wells in the villages.
"They pointed out the health centre that was just about to open, they pointed out an early childhood centre and at each of those there were also public wells provided by Plan International with fresh water,” Rosanne says.
“The impression we got from the people we met was they had really bought into the process themselves, it wasn’t just a job,” Brian adds.
“Having seen it work at the coal face, we weren’t left in any doubt as to how worthy a cause it is,” Brian continues.
“I gather there’s more of a focus on girls now which I think is really good. I think women are the salt of the earth, they’re the strength of most communities, so the education of girls and getting to bring out the strength of the girls in those communities can only be a good thing.”