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“Late 2018 I set off on my golden goddess gap years, I had lived in Malaysia in 2013&2014 and had some unfinished business , I went to Vietnam, Thailand , Malaysia and Cambodia.
I wrote a weekly blog of my travels
Rubbersolesopenroads.com and wrote my novel as I went.
I had the desire to volunteer somewhere and the opportunity arose when I visited Julien Poulsen in Kampot Cambodia. Julien was running the Kampot Readers and writers Festival .
I started volunteering October 2019 , helping the waitresses at Kama café with English, the café and art space Julien and his partner Kek Soon started a few years before.
Kek Soon had a dream , to create a space for children to come and learn skills such as cooking plus a lot of art. Soon like most Khmer over 25 had little or no education, Kek was cleaning boats and selling cakes as a 7 year old to help her family survive. She taught herself English while working as a maid in Malaysia in her late teens. Kek Soon has now had a few exhibitions of her art in Cambodia.
The festival came and went and it was time for Kama café to close for the move to Fish Island to begin the dream of creating a community Arts Centre.
Fish Island or Trey Koh in Khmer is a few kms from Kampot the island is full of salt farms and small rice farms.
Finally in Feb 2020 they opened the gates to the children of the island , I was helping the small children with English, my quest to find any sort of English reading books came to nothing , There were Khmer books available but as with a lot of the residents books are way down on the list , they barely earn enough to exist yet alone buy books. If they worked in a factory the average wage was 180 Us dollars a month. Having a basic understanding of English is very important in a place that tourism is the main employer. Of course two months in we went into lockdown and all schools were closed, volunteering was a no go. Over the next few months Kek would call in and visit and a few times I was able to go and visit . My last visit in early Dec 2020 I asked the children if there was anything they wanted that maybe I can get for them on my return to Melbourne.
Books they said , we would love a library.
So with this thought in the back of my mind I settled back in StKilda , but with lockdowns coming and going it wasn’t the time to put this into action that was until after a chain of serendipitous events I ended up volunteering for the StKIlda writers week where I was asked to take charge of the childrens section.
The festival was to be in August but lockdowns prevailed and it was cancelled , being optimistic we decided to start with chapters and do one in October as we would be free right , wrong!! It turned out the weekend we chose was Halloween, I searched everywhere to find a childrens Australian Halloween story , so I wrote one based in StKIlda . While searching for grants that were suitable for our festival I came across the Victorian Education Department Childrens week grant it just so happened childrens week was Halloween week so with the consent of my SKWW team I applied it was only then that I joined the dots to somehow turn this into a meeting of the children of FICAC and local children and somehow get books donated by the local children to send to the children of FICAC so their dream of a library would come true and I would honour my promise.
My vision was for the story to be read on live stream with children watching together, another never ending lockdown stormed in. I didn’t even think I would get the grant but early Sept Mick rang and said we have got it.
So now we are creating with the help of creatives at the Alex theatre a mini movie with the animated story , clips about FICAC from Kek Soon and some local children . to be shown on line during Childrens week.”