Family is More Than Blood
Love from Cambodia

It was the first of March this year I woke with a huge sense of excitement, I was heading back to Cambodia after 5 years away and I almost couldn’t believe that the day had come. I first traveled to Cambodia in 2018 and due to the impact the trip had on me, I chose to visit again the following year in 2019. Throw in a pandemic and the demands of life into the mix and 5 years had flown by in no time at all. But here I was finalising the last items for my suitcase and triple-checking my visa and passport ready to head to the airport for what I knew would be another life-changing experience.

This trip was already so different to the last, I was travelling with my husband and sons, it would be the first time they travelled to Cambodia and I was full of anticipation to see Cambodia through their eyes.

The first half of the trip was spent sightseeing, we visited Angkor Wat and the Tonle Sap Floating Village in Siem Reap. I could see it was taking my 11-year-old time to adjust to the organised chaos of the city and how different Cambodia was from Australia. We then headed to Phnom Penh and spent the first day learning about the tragic history of Cambodia, visiting the Killing Fields and S21 Museum. Visiting helped us gain an understanding of the genocide the Cambodian people were subjected to in the 1970s, killing nearly 2 million people, which at the time was 25% of the Cambodian population

Though it was utterly devastating to visit these sites, seeing the brutal ways Cambodians were killed, this history is important as it paints a picture of the impacts of genocide on the Cambodian people and the ripple effects they continue to see in their current society.

Visiting the Killing Fields was eye-opening, our tour guide shared his lived experience of the Khmer Rouge and the impacts this time had on his family. He was a small child when the Khmer Rouge ruled and the impacts on his family were felt by all of us as he shared stories of the family members who were killed, and how he was saved by his parents who taught him how to stay safe during the years to come. He shared the ongoing impacts of the trauma he and his family had survived and why he is so passionate about his work as a tour guide, as he believes as human beings we are more likely to repeat the horrors of the past if we don’t acknowledge the truth in our history.

Leaving the Killing Fields and the S21 Museum marked the beginning of the second half of the trip as we prepared ourselves to visit Sunrise Cambodia and host the Dare to Dream workshops with the team from Project Gen Z.

With the wise words of our tour guide about the importance of history in front of our minds, we met with the children of Sunrise and began to focus on hope and dreaming into the future.

Every time I have visited Sunrise the experience has been different, there are children I have never met before and some children who, after so many years away have grown so much since I last saw them. The older children I met in 2019 were now no longer children, they were young adults coming back to visit us as we began the Dare to Dream program and challenged the teams to learn business skills and launch their businesses in 3 days.

For those of you who have heard my story of previous visits to Sunrise, you’ll know that the biggest lesson I gained was a deeper understanding of family and what it can look like for a child who has been subjected to trauma. The children of Sunrise are family, they have their Mum, Geraldine Cox and treat all of the children at Sunrise like brothers and sisters. Some of the Sunrise children have family outside of the children’s home, but the Sunrise family forms a deep importance to them, a sense of belonging and an anchor point when the world outside is difficult to navigate.

Heading back this year I was reminded of the power of family that is more than blood, the family we choose, the family we create and the family we hold on to when moments are tough. In 2018, I met Senrith, who has since become our sponsor child and a part of our family. Connecting with him again this year meant so much to me. He’s grown so much, from the little 9-year-old I met on my first trip to the budding 15-year-old who I watched thrive as he participated in the Dare to Dream challenge in my team testing his business skills and practising his English.

Saying goodbye to Senrith this year was hard, as a Mum of boys, I simply wanted to buy him a ticket and bring him home back to Australia with us. He very much feels like a part of our family and I hope one day when he is a young adult I will be able to support him to visit us in Australia and go on to explore the world.

In the same way that I choose all of the people in my life that I consider family, I will forever choose Senrith.

Choosing to be family and loving him unconditionally.


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