Friday, August 31, 2007

Making a difference to one life

The gift of love that crosses the oceans - from This is Local London (UK)
In the land of Angkor Wat, a Wallington PA found spiritual enlightenment of a different kind.
Kevin Barnes talks to Ginette Patey about how she came to make her little contribution' to help Cambodia's abandoned kids.

Ginette Patey passed the sandstone spires of the ruined Angkor Wat temples and encountered a vision from another world.The PA from Wallington is hardly alone. Nearly a million tourists enter the suffocating Cambodian jungle each year in search of enlightenment. Her moment of inspiration diverged from the norm, though, in that it came several miles beyond the cicadas and carved stone giants that guard the city of gods. It was only when Ginette travelled south, leaving behind the idyllic ancient capital of the Khmer civilisation, that she knew her life would never be the same.

In the tumbledown rooms of Kampong Cham orphanage, the 65-year-old found more than iconography and spectacular architecture: she found the grandson she always longed for.They called him Rat Makura after the month he was found, abandoned and half-clothed at two months old.He was tiny, ragged and shoeless - dressed from head to toe in yellow. Ginette thought he looked like a "grubby little puppy in a basket".When she enquired who cared for Makura and his 70 fellow orphans, nurses told her they relied on sponsors. At this moment something inside Ginette clicked. Her own mother had died in her teens and although she had a son, James, 39, there were no signs of grandchildren. She says: "I knew right then I had to do something. If I walked away from this opportunity, I'd regret it for the rest of my life.For me, Makura embodied every little sad face you see in those adverts." I thought, well, I can't afford all the orphans, but I can afford one of them. It would be my little contribution, my way of giving him the chance to have better life."

For the rest of her air-conditioned, two-week cruise along the Mekong River she found it impossible to erase the image of Makura, his eyes brown and pleading, from her mind.Other tourists laughed at her. They told her to forget the orphanage, said there was no way her money would reach its target. But Ginette simply couldn't forget. The instant she returned home to Herald Gardens she began to send £16 each month for Makura's upkeep, and £63 to cover his education for a year. The money ensures the orphan attends a private school in the morning, where he is taught English, and a Cambodian school in the afternoon. Ginette also puts gifts in the post - most recently, a football, a toy car, a satchel and shorts. And, like all good grandmothers, she dutifully sends a card on his birthday and presents at Christmas. Barely a couple of months pass without her calling to speak to staff or to hear how Makura's English is developing."He knows who you are," the director of the orphanage told her excitedly one day." He tells everyone his mother has blonde hair and blue eyes and lives far away. "Moved by this knowledge, Ginette had little need to trawl through holiday brochures to select a holiday destination earlier this year.

In February, 18 months after their first meeting, she retraced her steps to Kampong Cham orphanage to see Makura, now aged six. When she stumbled on him, peering shyly around a corner, she nearly wept. Ginette always believed that giving the boy direct aid was a more efficient way of helping the destitute than donating money to impersonal fundraising campaigns. Her philosophy is: you can't save the world but if you can save one life it's better than none. As she strolled through the orphanage grounds with Makura, and he slipped his small hand into hers, Ginette knew her support had made a difference, knew she had been accepted. Still, she wanted to do more. Having received confirmation from the British Embassy that her sponsorship was above board, she set up a charitable account with Barclays. In an unexpected show of generosity, the bank then agreed to match her donations pound for pound. So far about 12 sponsors have pledged funds to the Cambodian Orphans' Appeal. Ginette instructs them to ask for photos, so they can see the orphans with any gifts they send. She plans to visit regularly but has all but forgotten the temples that brought her to the country. Tourist guides may fete the labyrinthine architecture in Cambodia but it has taken this "grandmother" from Wallington to build a future for the country's 3,000 orphans.
To donate money to Aspeca, the organisation that runs 14 orphanages in Cambodia, or sponsor a child, email ginette.patey.


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