Visiting Cambodia Children’s Fund for the first time made quite an impression on Gary Journeaux.
Though well travelled, he admits that he wasn’t prepared for the poverty that he witnessed in the communities where CCF works, among the most deprived in Cambodia.
“I honestly had no idea about what we were walking into,” says Gary.
“Having an insight into the background and situations of the children and families that you normally wouldn’t see or hear about, or even think about, was a whole other level for me.”
It was shocking in a way for someone growing up in a non-third world country. It made me want to help.
During the trip, Gary accompanied CCF founder Scott Neeson out into the community at night, guided by torches, to see the reality of life around the former garbage dump in Steung Meanchey.
“I had never seen anything like that before,” says Gary.
“I suppose it was shocking in a way for someone growing up in a non-third world country. It made me want to help.”
Back in Australia, Gary mulled over the best way that he could support CCF and the children and families that he had seen, deciding that he would become a sponsor.
But he wanted it to be more than just a personal involvement.
So, he decided to make it about his company, Competitive Pest Services (CPS), encompassing all colleagues and staff, so that everyone could engage and play a part.
That was back in 2012. Since then, Gary has been as good as his word and his company has sponsored several CCF children over the years.
They started the ‘One Tech, One Child’ initiative - for every new technician hired, the firm would commit to sponsoring another child through CCF.
In total, they have contributed more than $57,000 AUD through sponsorship and currently support four CCF children.
What makes this Sponsorship Program so unique is its focus on communication between children and their sponsors.
Gary has also been back to visit CCF, taking his employees with him on different occasions so they gain an understanding of just how much of a difference their sponsorship is making in the lives of Cambodian children.
Their sponsorship helps educate a child and, in turn, can lift an entire family out of poverty.
“It’s been great,” says Gary, 42, who lives in Sydney.
“What makes this Sponsorship Program so unique is its focus on communication between children and their sponsors.
“We’ve been lucky enough to have time getting to know our kids in person. We’ve seen where they live, where they go to school, we’ve met their friends and taken them on outings and shopping trips.
“We’ve taken all of our team over there and that was a great experience.”
Some CPS employees are penpals with the sponsored children, exchanging emails and sharing their contrasting life stories.
“There’s a lot of benefits from our staff having dialogue with the sponsor children,” says Gary, who is the founder and Director of Competitive Pest Services.
“It’s great to see the children growing up. We have seen the transformation in a lot of children and what CCF has done there [in Cambodia].”
As a father himself (of twins aged seven), Gary is aware of the value of education and the possibilities it opens up to a child who might otherwise never be able to go to school.
By sponsoring, his company is giving children hope of a brighter future - not just for them, but for their families and future generations.
A sponsor can follow one child from kindergarten all the way to university and be part of that journey.
So many people who join our company say ‘I really love the work that you’re doing with the charities in Cambodia and around the world’.
Gary admits that Cambodia as a country was not even on his radar before 2012. His first visit came about when he volunteered with a friend for an organization building houses for disadvantaged families.
“It was a good introduction to helping and I had never done anything like that before, so it started the connection with Cambodia,” says Gary.
Extending his stay, Gary visited CCF, which he was aware of previously from reading an article about founder Scott Neeson.
With a renewed outlook on life, Gary has been committed to raising funds for children in Cambodia ever since.
Through his business - which has staff in Melbourne, Brisbane, Northern New South Wales and Sydney, as well as an office in Myanmar (where his partner comes from) - he hopes to spread the word about Cambodia, CCF and other organisations, and the importance of giving.
In response to those who say that as an Australian business, he should be supporting those in need in Australia, Gary points out that his company does help local organizations as well, and he believes there is a case for a greater need in Cambodia, which does not have a welfare system or subsidized healthcare.
“There are parts of Australia that do need support, without a doubt, but the country does have a lot of money and a lot of wealth. I have seen what it’s like in Cambodia. I feel that if people saw that kind of poverty, they might change their mind [about only supporting charity at home],” he says.
“I appreciate that there are many people who need that support across the world - this is just one of the ways that we choose to help.
“It’s all relative to your experience. So many people who join our company say ‘I really love the work that you’re doing with the charities in Cambodia and around the world’.”
With global travel restrictions now starting to ease, Gary hopes to return to Cambodia again at some point.
“We would love to get back over. I can’t remember the last time we took the team there, it was maybe four or five years ago.
“You have an affinity with a place that you are trying to help. Cambodia is a special place and by helping the CCF community we are hopefully putting down good foundations.”