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Supporting World Vision

Cycle Challenge Cambodia 2014(copy) World Vision - Condensed

Rose & the Cycle Cambodia Challenge 2014

For a number of years I have sponsored a child through World Vision, but when World Vision emailed periodically to raise more money for a specific cause – an earthquake here, a tsunami there – my answer was always the same. “Sorry, no. You have this set amount of money that I have committed to give. But no more.”

That was until they emailed calling for sponsors to join them on a ride in Cambodia in late-2014, raising money along the way to help with water sanitation projects in the Stong region. That resonated with me. At last, the chance to go and see where the money goes – and to meet the child I am sponsoring.

Following is my account of the trip.

And click here to see a video (filmed by World Vision, June 2017) from some of the children in the community we visited.


The reason we went


In late 2014, I travelled to Cambodia to participate in World Vision’s ‘Cambodia Cycle Challenge’. The trip had been a long time in the making, starting with an emailed invitation received a year earlier that asked sponsors to “Challenge yourself and change lives” in an area where only 16% of the communities have access to safe drinking water.

Along with two local guides, a support team that included a bike mechanic and two of the trip organisers, 14 of us Kiwis made the trip. We travelled from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, cycling nearly 300km over 5 days of the 10 day visit, stopping in villages where World Vision is working, meeting local people, eating local food – and flagging in the heat and humidity. Those of us who sponsored children in the area also got to meet them for the first time.


Each of us was tasked with raising $3500 before we went, and as a group, we raised over $60,000.

Note: with the exception of the last photo on this page (the one of me with my sponsor child, Chen), the photos below should display as a slideshow.  If they don't start scrolling automatically, hold your cursor over them to activate the scrolling arrows at either side of each pic.

Initial Impressions


The Phnom Penh airport was crazy!  There didn’t seem to be any order as one official took your Passport to issue a Visa and you were sent away to another counter to stand among the throngs waiting for your name to be called out – and hoping it would be, so you would have your passport returned.  My bag arrived on the carousel from Singapore where I’d stopped over.  My guitar, which I’d taken as a bit of an ice-breaker, did not arrive.  Thankfully, despite those initial misgivings, there was some order.  My Passport was returned and my guitar made it on another flight from Singapore, arriving at our hotel at about 4am NZ time.  I had waited up to receive it.
It is impossible to describe the noise, the heat and the smells of Phnom Penh, but these are things you notice.  As I walked from the air conditioned airport the heat nearly suffocated me.  The traffic was something else!  Did you know that in Cambodia they drive on the right-hand side of the road?  Well, sometimes, some of them do.  But they also drive on the left-hand side of the road – and you can expect to be passed by motor bikes on your left (heading into the approaching traffic) and on the right (between your vehicle and the pavement).  Blinking away the dust behind sunglasses, it was pretty thrilling.
For people who know me, I was the quietest I’ve ever been over the next few days, taking it all in.  


  • A wave of traffic forging through an uncontrolled intersection, then subsiding as another wall of cars and motorbikes took their turn, inching forward until they had the critical mass to proceed

  • Motorbikes pulling trailers overladen with produce

  • Three or four people on most of the mopeds – usually children squished in between and keeping very still

  • A market chock-full of items we would expect to find in $2 shops here and smelling of fish that hadn’t been refrigerated

  • A maze of electricity lines on every corner

  • Men sitting on the pavement during the day to play a board game

  • Tooting – all the time, motorbikes tooting as they approached (from either side) to pass the vehicles in front of them

  • Caution – instructed by the tuk-tuk drivers to keep valuables inside the vehicle – especially mobile phones

  • Contrast – status vehicles and glass-walled dealerships providing the backdrop to a woman carrying two baskets of nuts suspended from bamboo over her shoulder

It was smart of the organisers to give us this time to process the environment and to come to terms with the humidity.  For a few days we explored like tourists do.  But Cambodia isn’t all souvenirs, temples and restaurants. 

  • We visited Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum – also called S-21 – a school that had been turned into a prison in 1975 – 1979. During this time, the Khmer Rouge tore apart families, as they captured and killed people who had been educated. We stopped in front of glass-encased A4 photos of faces of prisoners who most likely died there. Thousands were killed at that site alone.

  • We went to Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre, referred to as one of the ‘Killing Fields’, a place of reflection now, but the site of many mass graves, where one million people were executed. A Buddhist stupa (monument) holds the skulls of men, women and children who lost their lives there. A mother served cold drinks from a make-shift stall as her small child slept in a hammock behind her.

  • Along with brass cow bells, the National Museum is home to weapons and uniforms used by the Khmer Rouge.

  • Estimates vary, but maybe one-quarter to a third of Cambodia’s population was murdered

  • We were told that members of the Khmer Rouge recited slogans as they expounded the virtues of a society working hard in the fields – and systematically set about killing urban dwellers who were educated – along with members of their families, so there would be no one left to take revenge

Then we started to cycle

Leaving the bustle of Phnom Penh's busy streets and hotel, we were taken out of the city to start cycling.

  • Our first ride was 63km over ‘road’ that was more like an arid farm track, rutted and pot-holed, with rocks that jerked the wheel around – and heat like you couldn’t believe! Here, my lack of preparation really paid off…! I had only been on a bike for 14.5km in the weeks leading up to this. That’s just how it had worked out, with running a business and busking on the weekends to raise my share of the donation.

  • Day 2 of cycling was even harder. After 20km I vomited. But I got drank a lot of water at our designated rest stop and got back on the bike. At the 35km mark I was beat from the heat and humidity.

  • Day 3’s cycling was a breeze. We had the option of cycling 35km or 50km – and as the road was paved and shady, 50km was achievable.

  • Day 4 – another 50km

  • Day 5 – 75km. I really didn’t think I could make this one, but with gratitude to everyone who had contributed to the cause and feeling like their representative on the ground, I set out to do as much as I could. A bus had travelled with us each day, carrying our gear, food and chilled water, so there was the option of getting on that if we had to. Lucky for me, and a couple of the other women in the group, we had Vuttha along for the ride; one of our local guides. A strong man who could ride his bike for hours, whilst pressing a hand against our back periodically – with just enough of a push to take the edge out of the peddling so we could catch up to the lead pack. Time after time Vuttha cycled back to pick up the last of us, so we all finished. Paul, from the Auckland World Vision office, had provided similar assistance on other days. He called it practice for the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge that he was to do after our return. Glutton for punishment!

Most of our cycling was through rural villages, where children lined the road to slap our hands as we passed, calling ‘hello’ in English. Much of the life and landscape was still or slow moving. Houses stood on stilts, as ready as they could be for floods. Ironic, in a country where drinking water is scarce. And cows, chickens and dogs took shade underneath the houses. The dogs were not friendly. The cats were skinny and most had facial scabs.

At one temple site a woman charged $1 to release a swallow from a cane cage. When I went to pay, she took out two. So I freed them both. But I’m told they’re trained to return; even though their quarters were cramped and a few of their cell mates had perished.

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The context in which World Vision are working in Cambodia

We got to see first-hand what World Vision is doing there – and the thing that struck me most was realising the context in which they work.

  • They spend their days in remote villages and their offices are tucked away in the back streets beside homes and rural businesses.

  • Maybe they have a flushing toilet. Maybe they don’t. In most rural places the best amenities provided a plastic bowl to be dunked in a container of water to flush a squat-style porcelain hole.

  • Flies buzzed the food as we ate with them.

  • In an environment that often looks unkempt, their school grounds are neat and the children are attentive.

  • There is considerable structure in their record keeping and processes.

  • They had charted their successes and they had posters detailing the timeline they were working to achieve various goals

  • The number of families and children in each of the villages under their care was documented on white boards at each office, along with the number of children with disabilities and the numbers associated with two measures of poverty, ‘poor 1’ and ‘poor 2’.


Their strategy

World Vision enters an area with the plan to be out of there again in 15 years.

  • In those 15 years, they work to a plan, to empower and educate, so that when they leave, the local people are better equipped to live and to lobby their own Government for the things they need.

  • In the first 2 years the team do little more than talk with the locals, building relationships with them and hearing what they would like to change or achieve.

  • At the 6-year mark they conduct a formal review of their work to date and they plan forward.


What do World Vision do?

Working with a long-term vision, to empower whole communities to build a better future for themselves and their children, I saw that they were:

  • Establishing youth groups – giving confidence to young people who may be leaders in the future and teaching them to value their heritage

  • Youth leaders were happy to assist younger children with their education; several said that they wanted to be teachers when they grow up

  • Basic meals were provided to the youth group when they met

  • Facilitating initiatives to build longer term sustainability – like getting a village savings group underway

  • Providing learning material in villages

  • Running schools - which was not without its challenges as the schools were remote and teachers sometimes just stopped coming to work

  • Building fresh water facilities and cleaner toilets

  • Providing equipment and training to young people who have had to leave the education system – like a girl making clothes with a treadle sewing machine and treadle overlocker




My sponsor child - Chen

I met Chen. As he has been in the pictures I’ve received since I started sponsoring him, Chen was quiet. We visited our sponsor children on different days as we travelled, depending on where they lived, so I didn’t get to meet Chen until the second-to-last day.


That day, three of us travelled to a remote village where we were treated like visiting royalty. The dirt under one house was covered with blue tarpaulins and we were invited to sit on plastic chairs as a youth group performed cultural dances for us. In reply, we sang Te Haranui.

At another home the locals gathered for the monthly meeting of their ‘Savings Group’. Under World Vision’s guidance, they operate a ‘village bank’. Women came forward to take a loan from two melamine dishes of cash on a table, pressing their inked thumb print into a book to record the transaction, as the village accountant and secretary oversaw the process. They repay the loan at an interest rate a little higher than banks charge, so as to grow their profits to assist in times of need. The village elder thanked us for coming and invited us to return. We sang Te Haranui again.

Then we returned to one of the World Vision offices and after a shared meal, we had some one-on-one time with each of our sponsor children. A translator facilitated communication as gifts were given and Chen politely pressed his hands together as he said ‘arkoun’ for each gift, ‘thank you’ in Khmer. Khmer is Chen’s favourite subject at school.

Communication was a bit difficult, in part because of the language barriers – and the very different lives we lead. In part because Chen seems naturally shy and he was probably overwhelmed by the experience. I showed Chen photos of home and we tried a game of knuckle bones. He was bashful when he tossed the knuckle bones and they fell to the ground. I liked him. His cousin had brought him along and she smiled and laughed.


Thinking back on it

There was a lot of laughter on the trip. We ate together every evening and ribbed each other as we settled outside of our comfort zones. At one meal we had the option of eating tarantulas (I didn’t try them) and silk worms and crickets (the latter was tasty, but its little legs got stuck in our teeth and in the roof our mouth).

It was humbling to gain an appreciation of some of the good that people are doing in the world. At times it was tough. Yet we returned each evening to enjoy high-end restaurant meals, cheap cocktails and hotel accommodation. And we returned to our homes, jobs and businesses. We returned to flushing loos, microwaves and leftovers, because we have more than we need.

A few of us have hopped on bikes since.  But I’m not sure why. I don't even like biking.

For more on World Vision, or to get involved, visit www.worldvision.org.nz


Want to support World Vision as well?

To support World Vision's work in Cambodia, click on the World Vision logo below.

Click here to see a short video clip from the Stong region where we visited.


Or click here to see a short video of how they they are celebrating the 2018 festive season - with a 2-day Village Festival.

Cycle Challenge Cambodia 2014(copy) World Vision - Condensed