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The two of us: Cambodia


Ung Pola runs a child rights organisation in Cambodia. Loretta Bellato volunteered to help him chart its future. Here's how it worked out.

Pola:
I was born in a remote area of Cambodia, far from the city. When I was a child my life was very difficult, living in poor conditions. When I moved to study at the university in Phnom Penh, I really wanted to contribute my life to working with vulnerable families, to move them out of poverty. I was educated at a university. It is the right thing to do.

Loretta:
My mum and dad didn't get to go to school for very long; they were children in Italy during World War II and they lived in poverty and were both child labourers. When they came to Australia, they worked really hard to provide my brother and me with opportunities they never had. I've been very lucky and I feel a responsibility to use that privilege to support others.

Pola:
In Cambodia, more than half the population is under 25, and 40% is under 18. Investment in the young is the way to address poverty. If they get a good education, they can get a good job, and this is the way for everybody to have a good life.

I am the Executive Director at the Cambodian Organisation for Children and Development. We provide access to thousands of the children that do not have access to schools. They used to be child labourers. We provide support for them to go back to school and support their family with income generation.

We applied to have a professional volunteer to develop our strategic plan to support children in Cambodia who are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. It was very exciting to start working with Loretta.

Loretta:
I saw the position with Pola's organisation advertised through the Australian Volunteers for International Development program, and I applied through Red Cross. It's been one of the most satisfying roles I've ever undertaken.

The work makes a huge difference to the lives of children. I met one young woman who was issued a bike which meant that it no longer took her an hour to walk to school; and she was issued with a uniform and school books. She was just really excited and happy to have that opportunity to learn. Often young women are less likely to be able to continue with schooling than young men. It's a result of many years of involvement with that school and community, assisting parents to understand the importance of education. So that was really satisfying to see.

Pola:
After working with Loretta for about 20 months, our organisation has become one of the strongest in the area. We've come up with a clear direction of where to go and how to do it.

Loretta:
Spending those 20 months with Pola and his team has been a real privilege. Pola walks the talk of development and is a very successful leader so it was really great to be able to contribute to his work. He is one of the best leaders I've ever worked with, the way he supports and mentors his team and provides opportunities for women and men in the organisation, as well encouraging his staff to ensure that both girls and boys are given opportunities.

Pola:
Loretta has made a significant contribution to my life. She builds leadership, not only for me but also all other managers and staff. The way that I lead the organisation has changed. Now we have a 12-year strategic plan so we are clear what to do. This is not just about our organisation, but the lives of thousands of poor children in remote Cambodia that we are servicing at the moment.

I will never forget. They sent me the right volunteer.

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