Charity drive to Cambodia


While many of us prefer to fly to an exotic destination on a holiday, Mr Kevin Raja and his family hit the road on a charity drive.

They recently drove 5,403km over 12 days to help needy children in Cambodia.

Leaving Singapore on Nov 28, Mr Kevin, 53, travelled with his wife, Mrs Selvarani, 51, and three of their children - Sacshi, 20, Ussha, 15, and Gobinesh, 12 - in a Mazda3 sports car. The eldest child, Sakthi, 24, could not go because of work.

"I like long drives. Initially, I wanted to travel with my friends and make stops in Malaysia and Thailand for goodwill work. But because they couldn't make it, I decided to travel with my family," said Mr Kevin, who works as a regional data protection officer at Ace Stallion Consultancy.

After driving six days through Alor Setar, Krabi, Surat Thani, Prachuap Khiri Khan and Bangkok, they reached Siem Reap, a town in northwestern Cambodia, on Dec 3.

It was a gruelling journey. "My car tyre went flat just an hour after entering Cambodia," said Mr Kevin. "It was about 5pm, and the sunset was at 6pm. Since there were no street lights, my biggest fear was to stop at the roadside at night."

Stranded 70km off Siem Reap, he tried to repair the car with his tools but gave up as it took too long.

He contacted Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and got in touch with Mr Weng Aow, a Singaporean warden in Siem Reap who volunteers for the Singapore embassy in Phnom Penh.

"When I got the call from Kevin, I was worried about the safety of his family. I advised him to stay in the car, keep the doors locked and the hazard lights on," said Mr Weng, who speaks both Khmer (Cambodia's official language) and English.

"The embassy had contacted mechanics to repair the car. I rushed to the spot, arriving earlier than the workers. It was good because I could bridge the language barrier and guide the mechanics."

Said Mr Kevin: "Mr Weng consoled us in that stressful situation. After our car was repaired, he guided us to our hotel."

Mr Weng also referred them to a non-profit Cambodian charity, Feeding Dreams Cambodia.

The organisation supports more than 800 poor children and families living in Siem Reap's slums and runs a community school.

On Dec 5, they visited the school and interacted with a class of about 30 students. "I wanted to make the children smile. We gave them two bags full of English storybooks," said Mr Kevin.

Mrs Selvarani said the children were inquisitive and asked her about her "pottu" (a red dot worn on the centre of the forehead by Hindu women).

A nurse at the National University Hospital, she explained the significance of the "pottu" and put it on the foreheads of the girls. "I cried when I heard the stories the teachers told us about the children," she said. "Some are orphans, some are picked up from rubbish chutes. You can see some are underdeveloped from malnutrition."

Mr Kevin and his family donated US$1,000, including money from their friends. They also presented a plaque to Feeding Dreams Cambodia.

"Besides providing basic education, the organisation teaches work-related skills, such as in hotel management. Since Siem Reap is a popular tourist destination, it helps the students find jobs," said Mr Kevin.

He and his wife intend to continue supporting Feeding Dreams Cambodia. They returned to Singapore on Dec 9.

"The roads in Cambodia had potholes and were sandy. Although the journey was tough, we felt fulfilled.

"It has encouraged me to drive farther to other countries like Myanmar and India to spread goodwill," said Mr Kevin.

"I cried when I heard the stories the teachers told us about the children. Some are orphans, some are picked up from rubbish chutes. You can see some are underdeveloped from malnutrition."

- Mrs Selvarani, a nurse at the National University Hospital


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