It’s not what you’d call a holiday for Yorng Dul. The co-owner of Gordonton’s Food Connection has just returned from a three-week trip to Cambodia where she spent time in Pilan (or Pailin).
It is Cambodia’s poorest region: the average salary there is just $1 a day – and with husband Mich she owns six hectares of land on which poor families can try to support themselves.
They have also bought land in Battambang, Cambodia’s second largest city where they intend to build an agricultural training centre where families from nearby slums can be taught skills to help them find employment or be self-sustaining. Eighty-five per cent of Cambodians hold no formal job, and 28.3% live on less than $1.25 a day.
“Our dream is that people will study and learn how to work,” Mich says. “Education is important, it is the future for the country and the hope for the children.
“Every time we go to Pilan, the children who live nearby in the slum always come to see us. We give them dragon fruit and energy drinks. But they are not going to school. We need to work on that.”
The couple came to New Zealand from a Cambodian refugee camp in 1986. They took over Gordonton’s fish and chip shop about three years ago and very soon started to sell second-hand clothes and items to raise money for their projects, including a children’s home for orphans and abandoned children in Battambang.
“We have struggled in the past, and people are struggling now. In Cambodia there are so many poor, so many orphans, not so much education. New Zealand has been so good to us, we want to help others,” says Mich.
Every year Mich and Yorng travel separately to Cambodia to work towards their goals.
During her most recent trip, Yorng helped oversee the building of new ponds in which people can farm tilapia, a freshwater fish from Africa.
“These grow quickly and are easy to look after.” They are also very good to eat.
She also helped plant dragon fruit trees – a tropical fruit which tastes a bit like kiwifruit, and grows on cactus-like vines. They can sometimes have five or six harvests a year.
“One tree lasts seven years so every year we plant more.”
This trip she also brought back various crafts from Cambodia, including bags and scarves, to sell in the Gordonton shop.
“People can also bring in their unwanted clothes and other items, whatever they can, we are very grateful for anything,” she says.
Another way to help is to buy a dragon fruit tree for $10 – which will be planted in Pilan – a living gift.
To find out more, email here.