Seeking adventure and to step outside her comfort zone, mother-of-5 Shirley Fraser undertook the biggest challenge of her life to trek around Cambodia and raise money for CCF. Here Shirley, from the UK, shares her inspiring journey

Iʼm a 45-year-old mother and stepmother of 5 grown up children. I work as a Veterinary nurse and practice manager of a busy Veterinary practice in Edinburgh, Scotland. I love my job but since the children are now all independent adults I felt the need for adventure and travel. My husband’s business is very tying for him so he canʼt get away very often.

I came across a website called Dream Challenges. They take activity trips for people raising money for charities and I thought this was a way for me to have an adventure in a safe way, with guides, a chance to meet like-minded people and see the world outside Europe. I had never travelled alone anywhere and had never been anywhere that was tourist driven. This was an opportunity I couldnʼt resist.

I researched the various trips on offer and what I was physically able to carry out.
Trek Cambodia was the one I chose. It looked so beautiful and unspoilt by tourism. I could manage the 20km per day trekking and camping in the jungle.

The trek was marketed as a ‘Britain vs Cancer’ Trek Cambodia, so I was meant to choose a cancer charity. I know cancer affects 1 in 2 people and my own mother died from cancer a few years ago. [But] The local charities at the time I was nursing my mother were no help at all at the worst time of my life so I couldnʼt choose one of them. Iʼm sure they help many families, but I felt let down by them.
I wanted to give back to the country I was visiting. If I was going to visit their country, then they should benefit from me.

Thatʼs when I came across the Cambodian Childrenʼs Fund. I read Scottʼs story of how he became involved with the children and fell in love with the country and its people.

As an individual we often feel “what difference can one person make?” and we give up. He [Scott] didnʼt and he changed the lives of so many. That inspired me. I may just be one person but if I can make a difference in one life, and one child can have a chance at a future, have food and have opportunities, then I needed to stop saying “I can’t” and get on with it.

Training began as I wasnʼt very fit and fundraising commenced. It took me a year and a half to save enough to pay for the trip so I had plenty of time. My family was very supportive and generous, and my colleagues were excited for me.

My target was £1,000. I managed [to raise] £1,260 for the Cambodian Childrenʼs Fund. I also managed £260 for the Teenage Cancer Trust in the U.K as a friend’s son had recently been helped by them.

When the day came to leave, it hit me like a brick. I was so scared of going on my own with complete strangers, but also so excited. I couldnʼt stop crying. Iʼm not good at small talk so I find social situations outwith my family and work quite uncomfortable. But I was committed and so many wonderful people had sponsored me to do the challenge so I couldnʼt let them down.

I met up with the others on the trip at Heathrow [Airport]. 31 incredible ladies, all with their own stories as to why they were there. I immediately bonded with a fellow Scottish policewoman and a flamboyant Irish former RAF engineer but every lady in the group will forever have a place in my heart.

We journey on to Singapore then the short flight to Siem Reap. Unfortunately as it was a guided trek we didnʼt have time to visit Phnom Penh or the Cambodian Children’s Fund centre.

The first night we stayed in the city and the following morning we met our wonderful local guides and were dropped off outside the city to start trekking: to see the real Cambodia; how the locals live and farm, experience the beauty of the countryside, and the joy in all the childrenʼs faces as they ran out to shout hello and give us high fives as we trooped through the rice fields and along red dirt tracks between villages.
The people welcomed us to share their shade, rest below their houses and use their community toilet. They showed us how they dry rice and make rice wine. One village even allowed us to join in wedding celebrations and dance. The sense of community was wonderful. When one field is ready for harvest the whole village come to help them and then they help the next family and so on.

We visited a local country school with hundreds of children in their crisp white shirts. They attended the school in shifts, some in the morning, some in the afternoon and many children share uniforms with their siblings, as families can’t afford more than one.

What stuck me profoundly was the lack of old people. The more I educate myself on the history of Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge, the more I understand and I’m even more humbled at the remarkable resilience the people have.

Having seen local life within Cambodia and the poverty, I’m even more grateful that I chose to support the Cambodian Childrenʼs Fund. Not just helping the children but the local communities too. I fell in love with Cambodia and the people of Cambodia.

I recommend to everyone to go and have an adventure and open your hearts and
minds to others. Iʼve always given to various charities but to see what really goes on and what incredible changes they can make, I have no words for.

I am blessed, grateful and truly humbled by my experience thanks to the Cambodian people and the inspiring group of women I had there with me. I am just one person and I made a difference. Imagine what we can do together!

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