Wise words

Tau­ranga lawyer Denise Arnold has spent 10 years work­ing to im­prove the lives of Cam­bo­dian girls

Nadia - - CONTENTS -

Hours of vol­un­tary work go into the run­ning of the Cam­bo­dia Char­i­ta­ble Trust (CCT), but founder Denise Arnold doesn’t com­plain. The char­ity pro­vides free, qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion to vul­ner­a­ble Cam­bo­dian chil­dren, es­pe­cially girls, who might oth­er­wise be forced into sex work or slave labour.

CCT sup­plies es­sen­tial re­sources, funds and sup­port to 23 of the coun­try’s poor­est schools and 17 teacher train­ing col­leges, and works with Cam­bo­dia’s Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, Youth and Sport to im­prove the na­tion’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, which was dev­as­tated un­der the Kh­mer Rouge regime dur­ing the 1970s. The hard work is pay­ing off – the trust has re­cently shown that kids from Cct-sup­ported schools are “head and shoul­ders” above other stu­dents.

Denise’s pas­sion is matched by her 11 Cam­bo­dian staff and the trust’s ded­i­cated vol­un­teers, who in­clude CCT am­bas­sador Nadia and pa­tron Theresa Gat­tung. Nadia’s mum, Julie, reg­u­larly trav­els to Cam­bo­dia with Denise and her team, which counts many of Denise’s fam­ily, friends and col­leagues from Tau­ranga law firm Lyon O’neale Arnold (where she is a co-di­rec­tor) among its ranks.

Here Denise re­flects on the trust’s first 10 years and what they have taught her.


I’m so grate­ful to work along­side the Cam­bo­dian peo­ple. They’re very kind-hearted and try­ing hard to make their coun­try a bet­ter place. They’re very much fo­cused on the next gen­er­a­tion and do­ing their best by them.

The long game

I’m in it for the long term. Play­ing the long game in­volves de­vel­op­ing the hu­man cap­i­tal of the en­tire coun­try and to do that you have to work on ed­u­ca­tion.

Make that change

It’s im­por­tant to be clear about what you can change and what you can’t, and also what you will do to bring about change and what you won’t. It’s easy to want to make a dif­fer­ence and do good but it’s more im­por­tant to do no harm.

Back your­self

I did worry that I wasn’t the right per­son to be do­ing this, but if not me, who? There wasn’t any­one else. I went back to Massey Univer­sity and stud­ied in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment to en­sure I wasn’t mak­ing enor­mous mis­takes by not un­der­stand­ing the com­plex geopo­lit­i­cal in­flu­ences.

Lend a hand

There are im­bal­ances in the world that can­not be jus­ti­fied, be­tween rich and poor, and be­tween peo­ple who live in coun­tries that are war-torn as op­posed to coun­tries like New Zealand where we en­joy peace. I be­lieve I have an obli­ga­tion to my brothers and sis­ters to help them.

Belly laughs

Across cul­ture, across lan­guage, when some­thing funny hap­pens the sheer hu­mour of it is such an up­lift­ing and bind­ing thing. It brings you to­gether de­spite the lack of a shared lan­guage.

Child care

As a par­ent, when I think about how much care and at­ten­tion my chil­dren re­ceived as young­sters, it makes me feel sad about other chil­dren who didn’t have any­one look­ing out for them or whose par­ents were dis­em­pow­ered and didn’t have the means to care for them.


I’ve al­ways been made very wel­come, prob­a­bly be­cause my core phi­los­o­phy is to work along­side the peo­ple in Cam­bo­dia to bring about the changes they want – it’s very much a sup­port­ive role – rather than telling them what to do.

Teach them well

I hold dear the mo­ment I walked into a class­room at one of our spon­sored schools and saw the teacher teach­ing.

As a non-teacher even I could see the dif­fer­ence was trans­for­ma­tive! The chil­dren were en­gaged; they were lis­ten­ing. It’s a tiny thing that can bring about that dif­fer­ence. It’s just let­ting teach­ers know what they should be teach­ing and giv­ing the school re­sources.

How to help

Don’t be over­whelmed by the size of the prob­lem. Feel­ing over­whelmed and paral­ysed are the big­gest threats in the be­gin­ning. It seems as though you can’t make a dif­fer­ence when there’s just one of you, but you can. Be clear about how you’ll be most ef­fec­tive. It may not be the glory job, but it’s de­liv­er­ing to wher­ever the need is – not as per­ceived by you but by the peo­ple who are look­ing for help.

Do no harm

‘Vol­un­tourism’ has a lot of chal­lenges. I’m not a fan of peo­ple go­ing over and tak­ing won­der­ful pho­tos in an or­phan­age for a day. I think that’s quite dam­ag­ing; it’s turn­ing the chil­dren into con­sumer prod­ucts. Any­one who wants to make a dif­fer­ence has to put their own de­sires in the back­ground and think about what’s best for the peo­ple on the ground.

Keep grow­ing

You’ve got to con­stantly learn and be on your game the whole time. And think: how can we do this bet­ter?

CCT needs do­na­tions and vol­un­teers to con­tinue its valu­able work.

Visit cctnz.org.nz to find out more.

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