No, I didn't get lost on the way to Alaska. This blog entry is out of sequence, for reasons that will become evident when you read it. I will return to the Alaska adventure with the next post.
I recently ate breakfast with a group of pilots, one of whom was preparing for a trip to Cambodia in order to do volunteer work. "Wow!" said I, and trained my shark-mounted laser vision on him to demand details.
Cambodia, as I knew only vaguely, is a country in Asia, between Thailand and Vietnam, which suffered a Communist takeover in the 1970s and then a Vietnamese occupation and a civil war in the 1980s. In an attempt to have only a gullible proletariat to rule, the communists set out to kill the intelligentsia, eliminating everyone with the education to mount an effective opposition. This meant statesmen, teachers, doctors, and masters of the cultural arts. The frenzy came to the point where people with glasses were subject to imprisonment or execution, because everyone knows glasses are a symbol of smartness. Many who weren't executed starved to death in the disruption. Look at the people who are leading first world countries today: the politicians, corporate leaders, senior civil servants. They were probably all educated or mentored in the 1970s and 1980s. Cambodia hasn't got those people. Cambodia also has one of the highest proportion of amputees in the world, due to the legacy of land mines from all the conflicts. This doesn't put their infrastructure or agriculture on a firm footing. There's no reason they can't be a self-sustaining nation again, but they need some help.
What is being done to help?
Canada delivers a lot of foreign aid around the world, including Cambodia. Janne Ritskes, a woman who worked with a Canadian government programme delivering aid became frustrated with the organizational inefficiency. Like so many people frustrated with the management of their organizations she said "I could do a better job." Unlike most people she quit the inefficient job and set up shop to prove it. She runs Tabitha, a non-profit organization entirely operated by Cambodians. The organization is Christian, but not evangelical. I suspect many of the staff are Buddhist. A lot of what they do is just encouraging people to save money in order to make incremental improvements to their lives. That may seem obvious to you, but you probably grew up in a society where people were doing that. There is hardly anyone alive in Cambodia who remembers the 1970s, but I can't see that people today have much in the way of role models for long range planning. It takes savings of $960 to build a house, but for some families who have absolutely nothing, Tabitha will build them a house after they have saved a token amount, just to get them into the programme. This group from Vancouver is going to build homes.
Who is going?
The core of this group are members of the Vancouver Police Department, but I don't have to be affiliated with the police in any way in order to join them.
When are we going?
The latter half of November 2010.
What skills or experience do volunteers I need to have?
None. I know how to hit a nail with a hammer, at least nine times out of ten, but apparently even that is in excess of minimum qualifications.
Is it safe?
You know the pilot is going to ask that. The guy who invited me went on a previous trip and he didn't get mugged or sold into slavery. We will need a tonne of vaccinations and precautions against tropical diseases, and not step anywhere there isn't already a path. If you're going to go to a country where conditions are unknown, going there surrounded by police officers seems like a good bet.
"You want to go, don't you?" he asked me. Well, yeah, I do. It was pretty obvious. I've never been to Asia. I've never been anywhere in the third world, unless you count Nunavut. I've never built a house. But as you probably figured from the first person pronouns above, I'm going. I signed up as soon as I checked with my doctor to make sure that all the vaccinations were okay for me.
Originally the group thought that they would get a grant from the Vancouver Police, as in previous years it had been a team-building effort for the force, but this year they didn't receive the money, so I just found out participants have to fundraise for the materials necessary to do the building. Right now the people in Vancouver are busy organizing pub nights and silent auctions and the like to bring in the cash. But I'm not in Vancouver, and I can't be a freeloader. The more we raise, the more houses we can build. The whole housebuilding project is a crafty way to spread awareness of the organization and to get North Americans with enough money to go on foreign trips to raise some money. How will I do my part?
So far this is the best idea I have:
Would you please donate some money? To make it not something for nothing, I'll send donors a postcard, from Cambodia or from somewhere on my travels for work. I can also offer you a blog entry that's not on the blog, perhaps one of the ones that was too emotional, or gave details of an emergency that could be used to pinpoint my company. If you are a new reader and weren't around in 2006, you should probably request the northern smoke saga. I also have some bloglike accounts from before I started the blog of my own initial flight lessons, and of learning to fly a Twin Otter. Maybe you have a special request for a blog topic. Let me know what you would like in appreciation of your donation. You will receive a Canadian tax receipt; sorry if that's not useful in your country. Everyone, whether you donate or not, will get an account of the trip, via this blog.
How to Donate
This is slightly trickier than one-click ordering, so please read carefully to make sure the money is credited on my behalf, to the right team. I've left out the obvious instructions like "click Donate Now" and "enter your donation amount." I'm figuring that Cockpit Conversation readers are all smart enough to be targeted in an anti-elitist purge. Or at least have your glasses on.
1. Go to the Canada Helps website.
2. Search for "tabitha" and select Tabitha Foundation from the results.
4. Opposite Fund/Designation choose 2 - Housebuilding - "Vancouver House Building Team Nov.2010". [This is a change: it was #17 before].
5. Opposite Dedications and Gift Options choose Yes, as a gift in honour/on behalf of and put "Aviatrix" there.
6. Either choose the e-card option, or just e-mail me to let me know what you've donated, so I can know I'm successfully raising funds and awareness, and figure out how many houses we can assemble. My e-mail address is still firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you very much for anything you choose to donate. Note that your donation is going directly to Tabitha and is used exclusively for building materials which I and the group will use to build homes for brutally poor Cambodians. My airfare, spending money and living expenses for the trip come out of my pocket.