Humanitarian tour opens eyes to Cambodia’s plight

Tamra CarrGeraldton Guardian
Pok Vanna, 49, is a Cambodian street seller who lost his hands in 1998. Next to him is Natalie Broad, 53, from Beresford. Natalie says Pok and his daughters were adopted by Australian families who paid for their university education.
Camera IconPok Vanna, 49, is a Cambodian street seller who lost his hands in 1998. Next to him is Natalie Broad, 53, from Beresford. Natalie says Pok and his daughters were adopted by Australian families who paid for their university education. Credit: SUPPLIED, Supplied.

Geraldton aged care worker Natalie Broad remembers meeting a man with no hands.

Soldier Pok Vanna lost them after he picked up a landmine in 1998 while training servicemen in a Cambodian jungle.

When he awoke and saw his hands were gone, he reportedly wanted to end his own life.

Ms Broad met the survivor last month, now a married man with two children, who could pick up items and operate a phone with just two stumps.

Ms Broad said he didn’t even have prostheses.

The 53-year-old joined local colleague Carissima Ellis and 25 other Bethanie Aged Care staff from around WA, on a nine-day self-funded humanitarian trip to Cambodia.

The staffers built a house using bamboo to shelter a grandmother and her granddaughter.

Ms Broad recalled a woman who had lived in a one-room shanty next to a river. A monsoon washed her house away and she began to live under a piece of plastic.

Broad said the situation highlighted how critical housing in the South East Asian nation was.

Hearing horror stories from a Cambodian friend about the Khmer Rouge, a genocidal communist party that ruled in the 1970s, inspired Ms Broad to apply for the trip.

While there, she saw the lingering impact of the regime. “Just this year, I think, six school children were blown up by landmines while they were crossing a paddock,” Ms Broad said.

“Landmines are still a huge problem there — there’s a place where they have been importing a big breed of rat from Ethiopia and training them to sniff out landmines.

“The pollution is incredible.

“There’s a lot of plastic and rubbish just dumped into the river, and the monsoon rains clean it out and wash the rubbish out to sea.

“As a cattle producer, it was definitely something to see stock knocking away plastic bottles just to get to the grass.

“But over there, managing to stay alive is the more pressing problem.”

The Beresford resident said many years entrenched in community volunteering meant she felt qualified for the trip.

According to her, working and living at Beringarra Station with her husband and former Murchison Shire president Simon Broad also helped.

“It was just my husband, myself and my children on the station,” Ms Broad said. “I’ve also renovated houses before, so I’m accustomed to building and making do with not very much.”

According to Ms Broad, building a home in Cambodia taught her that people only needed the bare minimum to survive.

She said she came home with a refreshed perspective on Geraldton.

“We’re so lucky to have an Australian passport, to live in a safe country, to have choices, to have housing, to have wealth,” Ms Broad said.

“This was such a life-changing experience. I can’t stress enough, if you want to go on holiday and do great things, choose Cambodia.

“Choose a holiday with meaning.”

Ms Broad thanked the community for helping her raise and exceed the required $1000 to be part of the humanitarian effort.

For this project, Bethanie Aged Care partnered with social organisation RAW Impact.

Send a photo and tell us about your humanitarian adventure by contacting news@geraldtonnews papers.com.au or 9956 1000.

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