It’s the dream of many young people, to save up enough money to spend time overseas volunteering to help those most vulnerable. Fourteen years ago, Australian Tara Winkler did exactly that and spent time in Cambodia working at an Orphanage. But what she discovered was the current model of providing care for children wasn’t working. Now stuck in Australia due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, away from her job at the Cambodian Children’s Trust, she’s discovered that all her hard work over the last decade has truly paid off.
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This is Cambodia’s Story of Gratitude for Tara Winkler
After Tara had spent time in Cambodia volunteering at an orphanage, she returned home to Australia to raise money for the children in need. But she was soon to discover something awful. Most of the children in the orphanages of Cambodia were not orphans at all. As a 2011 UNICEF study discovered, nearly 80% of the 100,000 kids being cared for in these institutions still had living parents and families. The money people like herself were donating was being embezzled and the children being kept in poverty in order to win the sympathy of bright-eyed foreigners just like her.
So, Tara setup CCT, which she established with Jedtha Pon in 2007 in order to rescue fourteen children from a corrupt and abusive orphanage. Tara has led CCT through a number of significant organisational changes, including the closure of the initial CCT orphanage in favour of a holistic model of programs and services to help Cambodian families escape poverty while ensuring family preservation. The model is based around empowering families and communities to have the resources to stay together, generate an income and provide for their own children.
Tara now speaks out against the spread of orphanages in developing countries, caused by the good intentions of foreign donors, and of harm that comes to children when they are separated from family and left to grow up in institutions. In 2011 Tara was awarded NSW Young Australian of the Year in recognition of her work with CCT, and her first book, How (Not) to Start an Orphanage was published in 2016. It can be deeply uncomfortable for any of us to learn that the way we were trying to help was actually causing more damage.
But to truly do good deeds requires that level of personal accountability and a true commitment to serving the interests of the most vulnerable. And the proof is in young women like Sinet Chan, one of the first children Tara rescued and the two are best friends. Sinet is now not only an advisor to CCT but has recently been recognised by the United Nations Development Programme as an up-and-coming media entrepreneur who is working to inspire the future of Cambodia’s media industry. She’s worked as a producer with the BBC and her short film was nominated at the 2019 Chaktomuk Short Film Festival.
Now with COVID-19 keeping Tara in Australia, the local workers are running the organisation and proving that empowering the local community delivers the best long-term results for all involved. Imagine if all children were helped in this way, to stay with their families and grow up at home if that’s where they flourish best. The Cambodian Children’s Trust is lighting the path and teaching the world a new way to do good for kids most in need.
If you or anyone you know has worked with the trust or knows a volunteer, please contact us here, as the Share Gratitude community would like to thank those involved. We encourage you to follow us for more Stories of Gratitude and invite you to share your story – or send a simple message of Gratitude to those behind this initiative, please visit sharegratitude.com