Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

Tuesday 1 September is a day I will remember for the rest of my life. The journey to this day was a long one. It began in October 2013 when my sister-in-law Kathy got the ball rolling for us to start fundraising for ChildFund’s work in Laos in memory of Gavin, Lea, Jade and Manfred. At that stage I could never have dreamt it would come to this.

We chose to fundraise towards the construction of a new preschool because our little Jade and Manfred were of preschool age and they were so lucky in Australia to have the choice of many great schools. The total cost to construct the preschool was $81,000. Incredibly, thanks to the generous people who love and cared for Gavin, Lea, Jade and Manfred, we not only raised the amount, we actually surpassed it! It was these people who got us to Tuesday 1 September, the opening of the preschool in Pha-En village in rural northern Nonghet district.

It was with great anticipation we set off on that Tuesday morning for Pha-En village. We didn’t really know what to expect, but we knew it was going to be something special. Dad and I were accompanied by my husband’s uncle, four of our friends and Lea’s older brother, Seng, who lives in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. It was wonderful to have someone from Lea’s family with us.

The village is in the mountains near the Vietnam border, so it isn’t an easy trip to get there. It was a bumpy ride, to say the least! Being wet season, some parts of the road were a little worse for wear. I still don’t know how the drivers did not get bogged. The terrain was beautiful – so green. It was a mix of corn fields, rice paddies, valleys and beautiful jungle.

When we arrived at the village, we drove through a gate and into a large grassed area. It was here that I saw a sight I will never ever forget. The impact on me was huge. Even as I write this I get tears in my eyes just remembering the feeling.

The entire village was lined up creating a path to the steps of the preschool. First in line was the village chief, followed by the children, some of whom were dressed in their traditional clothing and holding flowers for us, then the men and women. They clapped in unison as we greeted and wandered through all of them. I think it would’ve been impossible for anyone to see this and not feel emotional. Certainly within our group, there wasn’t a dry eye amongst us.

Coming to the preschool, I felt so many emotions all at once. I felt so proud, so happy and so lucky, but still sad at the same time. Sad that even though this was all about my brother and his beautiful family, they would never get to experience this incredible greeting. I didn’t feel worthy of the welcome, if only we could’ve had all the people who made this happen along with us.

When we arrived at the steps of the preschool the first thing I noticed was the plaque on the wall with Gavin, Lea, Jade and Manfred’s name on it. I am so proud that this will always be here in their memory.

 

Lennon Maher, one of ChildFund Australia’s youngest fundraisers, has been voted Australian Fundraiser of the Year in the 2015 JustGiving Awards!

Lennon was awarded for his efforts in providing children in developing countries with a life-changing gift of a bike so they can get to school more easily.

Earlier this year, Lennon’s pledge to walk a 3.8km journey home from school, once a week for the entire school term raised a massive $5,000 for ChildFund Australia’s Dream Bike Appeal.

As a result of his outstanding effort, 50 children living in Cambodia`s rural villages now have bikes to help them get to school.

JustGiving selected Lennon as one of their best fundraisers from around the country to battle it out for this award. Each fundraiser was given a 24-hour period to secure as many votes as possible through a public vote on Facebook. The response was overwhelming, with thousands of votes being cast!

“A huge congratulations to Lennon from all of us at ChildFund Australia. It is wonderful to see that the Australian public got behind Lennon and voted him JustGiving’s Australian Fundraiser of the Year,” said ChildFund Australia’s CEO, Nigel Spence.

“We are delighted that Lennon has won,” added Nikki Kinloch, JustGiving’s Country Director for Australia. “He was up against some other great fundraisers, but I think he has captured the hearts of Australians, being so young and putting in such a great effort to help improve the quality of life for children his age in a community thousands of kilometres from him.”

Cathy, Lennon’s mum, is also overjoyed with her son’s commitment and achievements.

“Lennon never once asked what he gets out of doing the walks,” said Cathy. “Anytime I told him that we got another donation, he was so excited that another bike was being bought for the kids – even though he didn’t have a bike of his own. It made me proud… and I think he’s proud of himself too.”

And what is Lennon’s message to everyone who voted for him? Watch the video below to find out!