Lily and Isla Hearn have one trip in mind for when the world opens up again and travel returns to normal.
Top of the wish list for the sisters is to make the 4,973km trip from their home in Perth, Western Australia, to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and see in person how their donations have been making a difference in the lives of children and families helped by Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF).
Lily, 14, and Isla, 12, have been forgoing birthday gifts from extended family and friends for the past three years and instead asked for money, which they have generously given to CCF.
So far, the young philanthropic pair have raised AUD $3,000 (USD $2,240) - and will be handing over more for their birthdays this year.
What would be the best birthday present for the girls would be to see firsthand how their donations are helping transform the lives of some of the most impoverished children and families in Cambodia.
“I would love to go [to CCF], it’s one of my dream things to go to Cambodia,” says Lily, speaking from her home in Perth.
Seeing how their lives contrast with girls and boys their own age in Cambodia is something both girls are keen to experience, having an awareness from a young age how fortunate they are compared to others.
Their schooling has been mostly uninterrupted by COVID, only switching online for about 12 days last year.
In Cambodia, CCF’s students have not been full-time in classrooms since November 2020 and are studying in the community on borrowed old mobile devices or by distance learning packs.
Perth recently had a four-day lockdown due to an outbreak of a few COVID cases.
CCF children and families were placed in Red Zones under the severest lockdown restrictions in Cambodia, unable to leave their homes and reliant on emergency aid for food and other necessities, as infection rates rose.
CCF worked with authorities to deliver regular supplies for children and families in need.
We know how blessed we are…We wanted to give back and help the children in Cambodia.
Both Lily and Isla have seen videos of life in Steung Meanchey, where CCF children and families live in communities around the former garbage dump and putting food on the table is a daily struggle.
“We know that we are so privileged to live in Australia and have a good education, that’s why we want to help others,” says Isla.
Lily and Isla have been donating birthday money since they were kindergarten age - at first to an Australian charity and for the last three years to CCF after moving to St St Mary’s Anglican Girls’ School.
The school has a long established relationship with CCF stretching back to 2012.
Students and teachers from St Mary’s and Perth-based Christ Church Grammar School have been visiting Cambodia and CCF on Service in Action (SIA) trips since 2013.
“In primary school, they showed us videos of Cambodia and asked us to donate stationary for the St Mary’s service trip there and we wanted to help out more,” says Lily.
“We wanted to do something to help them with their schoolwork and give them a better chance in life.
“We know how blessed we are to go to a school like St Mary’s and live in Perth. We wanted to give back and help the children in Cambodia. We also read Scott Neeson’s story [the founder of CCF) and we were inspired by his dedication to CCF.”
Our friends and family are very supportive. They really like that we are doing it
For birthdays, the girls get presents from their immediate family, but ask everyone else to give money which can be donated to CCF.
“We felt that people needed it more than us, we don’t need anything else,” says Isla.
“Our friends and family are very supportive. They really like that we are doing it.”
Her sister adds: “It’s not a huge amount [of money] but we hope that our money makes enough of a difference to give them a meal, help them out with school, give them some space to live and an opportunity to learn, things like that.”
Lily, who is in Year 9, is hoping to join a St Mary’s service trip to CCF, which is open to Year 10 and 11 pupils, next year or 2023 if travel permits.
The school’s last service trip was in 2019 before COVID.
Through fundraising, events and parent donations, and the support of teachers and students, St Mary’s has raised an incredible total of AUD $117,804 for CCF, making a direct impact on the ground in Cambodia.
Lily and Isla’s mum, Tara, said the whole family are keen to make the journey to Cambodia and visit CCF one day.
For now the sisters - whose other passions beside helping others are dancing and netball - will be content raising more money for CCF with donations from their next birthday.
And Lily has a message for anyone - children and adults - who. might be thinking about fundraising or donating to CCF.
“Just do it because any amount of money helps them and gives them a better start in life, helps them with their schooling or gives them a meal. If you are thinking about it, just do it, because it goes a long way.
“And you get a good feeling knowing that you are helping someone else.”