In January 2007, Kerry headed off from Brisbane to Cambodia, for a 2 month volunteering trip to help in a local school in the impoverished town of Siem Reap. She had spent the first half of her life as an Administrator and trainer, and after children, as a Senior Bridal Consultant and then studied for her Real Estate Agent License and was a registered practicing Real Estate Agent.

Kerry is a Mum of two adult children, daughter Kiah, and son Blaed, who all thought they would experience the ‘Real’ Cambodia together and be enlightened, and that their volunteering would only last for 2 months.

After one month of volunteering and by chance, Kerry was taken to an urban slum area of Siem Reap by a tuk tuk driver. She was overwhelmed by the poverty, the malnutrition, the filth and the sense of hopelessness, the listlessness and the hollow look in the eyes of mothers and children.

Kerry reacted by extending her stay by a month and teamed up with a local, and as Co-Director, registered necessary documentation with the Cambodian Government for a NGO, rented a deserted Karaoke Shop, and opened a free school for the illiterate children of all ages in the area.

Kerry returned home to Brisbane, thinking she would return to Cambodia a few months later, but she could not forget the images of looking into the eyes of many mothers and children and seeing such sadness. Within 6 weeks, she returned to Siem Reap.

She discovered the very poor and destitute were labeled by middle class and wealthy Khmers as worthless, unintelligent and a lost cause. Always drawn to a challenge, Kerry started to extend the school programs by developing community programs, working with families not only with education, but offering food, support and medical, reassuring all who were suffering, they had somewhere to turn in critical times, someone who cared and would do all within their power to help, no matter what the circumstances.

Kerry worked with young girls and mums who were victims of the sex trade, assisting wherever possible, offering them support with their children, treating them with the respect and understanding they deserved thus giving them strength to carry on.

She remembers times when distressed mothers who could not feed their children, would come to speak to her, after being offered US$1,000 for their daughters, asking for advice or support. They were wondering whether they should sacrifice the future of 1 child, in order to feed and educate the rest of their children. Through Kerry’s tenacity and determination that every child shall have equal opportunity no matter what the circumstances, via programs, counseling and care Kerry had put into place, many families survived these dreadful situations, and today their children are educated, well-adjusted and have a bright future.

Nearly five years had elapsed and by August 2012, Kerry’s son Blaed, who had also made Cambodia his home and working at another NGO, planned with his mother to open a new NGO. After much angst, Kerry felt the need to establish a new NGO and show the same respect and support to a whole new commune of families surviving by collecting rubbish, helping children not being able to afford schooling and support many families suffering domestic violence, discrimination, sickness, and malnutrition.

Around the same time, Arlene Gormley, an Irish girl with a heart for the people and volunteering in Siem Reap, had also been working with Kerry, had decided to join the team, and so Feeding Dreams Cambodia was born. All relevant Cambodian Government registrations and approvals were processed, and the community was so grateful of our presence in the community. Feeding Dreams opened its doors on 1 November 2012, which also happens to be Kerry’s Birthday.

One of Kerry’s lifelines is the wisdom of Nelson Mandela, and often reflects upon his thoughts and actions.

Story of Kerry’s eldest adopted Cambodian daughter – written when she was 16 years (now 20 years) Nhek Sreyneat

My name is Nhek Sreyneat nowadays am 16 years old. I have one oldest brother and one older sister, and we lived in Battambang. My mum sent my brother to live in pagoda because my mum haven’t got enough ability to feed all her kids. My dad was dead when I was 1year old and then after 5 years my mum was very sick with HIV and had to sell our house to buy medicine, but unfortunately she couldn’t get better. From one day to one day she can’t work and get sick and sick.

I and my sister haven’t been in school for 3 years cause of looking after her. Few months later we decided to take our mum to provincial hospital but at first when we arrived in Siem Reap we stayed at our uncle house but when we arrived there, no one care for us. They just were acting like we were not they relative. We were in that house for few weeks and then we stayed in provincial hospital for a year and half. All of my relatives, yet no one come to visit us. My mum was so upset but she tried to make herself happy, especially her kids. Anyway after she was in hospital for a year the doctor can’t help her so the doctor decided to send her home.

When she arrived at my Uncle’s home her eyes and her mouth couldn’t open. She couldn’t eat anything, so I and my sister just sat next to her and doing massage for her and we were crying. We slept at 11:00pm. Few hours past and we were asleep. My granny woke me and my sister up at 5:00am and she told us that our mum have gone at 3:30am this morning. We were crying and telling our mum to wake up but she didn’t. She was laving us from that day on and my brother didn’t know she die cause he was in Thailand working by then.

After it, my sister was to live with my uncle and I was to live with my aunty. My aunt had opened a Karaoke Shop. She wouldn’t let me sleep in her house so I had to live in the Karaoke Shop. She sent me to school and all her kids are going with a Moto but I am walking to school. I spent 2hours to walk to school, I usually wake up at 3:00am or 4:00am but sometimes I didn’t have a sleep. I have lots of work to do at her house and the Karaoke Shop. She used me like a slave. Never have time to sleep or rest, I have to do all works all day and then work cutting ice until midnight for customer beer. I have to wash all her clothes and her husband and including her children too. All the karaoke girls were giving money to me for washing their clothes, so I was washing their clothes too. I was 7 years old.

After it I have to clean the house and all karaoke rooms, and then I have to cook for her family and all the girls. I have to wash the dishes and look after her small boy. I do all of those works but she still is hitting me every day, especially her husband and her children are hitting me every day. They hit me 5 or 6 times a day. They never give me any money I have to earn my own money. That why I have to wash all the karaoke girl clothes to get money to buy a book for studying and I have no shoes, so I have no shoes to walk to school with the hottest weather in Cambodia.

A year later I dreamed about one lady that would come to help me out of the darkness. First night that I dreamed of my lady started from the day my aunt hit me and I was sleeping and crying and then I was asleep and I see one lady that was coming from the sky and her face look like mummy Kerry and about her age as well. In that dream she was telling me to stay calm and be happy and soon she will come to rescue me from that place.

I searched for the lady for about one year. I look at every westerner to see if it was their face. I started study in a free English school and then I met one lady that was coming from Australia. She was a really nice lady, friendly and kind.

Everything I have dreamed it was the truth. I knew it was her, but I never told her of my dream. She been in Cambodia for three months and then she had to go back to her country and I was crying and holding her. We were having the same feeling on those times. I could not understand why she have to go back to her country.

After a month later my lady came back. After she find out my story, she decided to come and meet my aunt and ask them if she could have guardianship of me, and live in the school, out of the Karaoke shop. My family agree with it but asked her for money for me. Mummy Kerry not agree so my aunt was hitting me. I was running away from her house for few weeks but she found me and take me back. A week later her kids tell me to get out and I decided to run away again. My aunt then agree, so Mummy Kerry organize papers with the government and took me to live with her and a nice Khmer Housemum. I was then 10 years old.

*Srey Neat is now attending University in Bangkok Thailand, studying International Business.