Tessa’s Story – A donor’s perspective

Tessa's commute to work

By Tessa Anderssen

When I turned 30, I made the rather unorthodox decision to quit my job, sell all my stuff and move from Sydney to Cambodia.

There were some altruistic elements of my decision to volunteer in a developing country for a year, but if I’m honest, I was really motivated by the thought of an adventure and a completely different lifestyle.

It might seem odd, but I hadn’t thought at all what it might feel like to live in a place where poverty is a fact of life for such a high percentage of the population, including so many children.

Arriving in Phnom Penh, I became part of the expat community and 99% of my new friends worked for NGOs. While there were lots of $1 beers, weekends away and laughs, there was also discussion about the complex issues of development, poverty and child protection in Cambodia. A lot of these issues I had never even considered before and I certainly didn’t have answers to.

I lived in a pretty nice part of town, but the disparity between my life and those of my neighbours was stark and sometimes really hard to fathom. The longer I lived in Phnom Penh, the harder this contrast became, and at times this felt quite depressing.

One thing I learnt about in particular was the issues that impact so many families in Cambodia, including the harm caused by the orphanage system.

For my part, I knew there were small things I could do to ensure I was not contributing to this system – for example by choosing to not visit orphanages, not buying things from children on the streets and eating at training restaurants like Friends the Restaurant and Jaan Bai.

When it came time for me to leave Cambodia, I honestly felt quite helpless about the system I had encountered. Even though I had a fantastic time in Phnom Penh and had done some important work, I certainly didn’t feel like I had made any lasting change.

Back in Sydney, I decided that there were things I could do to continue to support the country that had come to hold a huge place in my heart. Some of these were simple, like reading Tara’s book and supporting organisations like Project Futures. Others were bigger – like returning to Cambodia when I could to spend my money locally, and also studying a Graduate Certificate in International Development, during which I focussed on Cambodia in all of my assignments.

Recently, I decided to become a regular donor to CCT. This was a big decision to me, because seeing behind the veil of some NGOs and learning some of the complexities and roadblocks in the sector can be a huge disincentive to donate. With CCT, I was confident that the ways of working and overall mission was one I could confidently support.

I am proud that by supporting CCT I am able to back families in Cambodia in ways that I think are meaningful, impactful and respectful. I believe that CCT is an organisation that is not only deeply committed to communities, but is actually part of communities.

I look forward to learning more about CCT’s future projects and being part of an organisation bringing about real change for
Cambodian families.