If you had to tell your kids you were leaving home for a couple of months they’d probably be pretty upset wouldn’t they? And although most parents joke about needing a kid break, most would struggle if they had to leave them behind.
When I met the woman that I think is quite possibly the most impressive and least boring human I’ve ever had the honour to meet, her first words to me were “I’ve come over for a hug because I’m missing the hugs I’m used to getting at home.”
A unique opening line coming from a person I’d not even officially met as yet, but understandable given this particular woman is used to getting hugs from 400 or so little ones.
You’d know if you’d heard Geraldine Cox story because it’s one not to forget. If you aren’t familiar with her, I urge you to get a copy of her book Home Is Where The Heart Is, which is fascinating, hilarious, heart wrenching and transformational, as it documents her life from 1950’s suburban Adelaide to her life now as the dedicated President of the Sunrise Village’s in Cambodia, the orphanage she calls home.
Geraldine only ever leaves the kids out of the direct need to drum up donations by getting out there and telling the story of this troubled country and the ramifications of war and poverty it has had on its children.
“Where are you going Mum?” one of the kids said as she was announcing her departure. “I have to go get the money darling.” She laughed explaining that some of the kids were sure she was just required to fly a long way to pick up a big suitcase of money.
One of her severely disabled little boys who when asked what he’d love more than anything in the world, after countless other kids reeled off their dreams of having a bike, a new dress etc, said “I’d like Buddha to make me a good person in this life because I must have been very, very bad in my last one that they gave me this body to come back in and why my mum doesn’t want me. If I’m a good person in this life, then maybe the next one I won’t be like this and my mum will love me.”
Geraldine can’t bare to go to the Sunrise Village front gate anymore as desperate parents beg her to take their children into her care. The last time she went out, a traumatized mother turned up with her dying child in her arms, him coughing up blood, pleading Geraldine to take him. Suspecting the child had tuberculosis she declined due to the risk of infecting the other kids. His mother believed if he died at Sunrise he’d get a proper burial, as they couldn’t afford the $6 cost for cremating him. Geraldine heartbreakingly explained she’d have to take him somewhere else.
Staring into the eyes of this broken woman, she heard her sigh and as she began to turn away from the gate, she whispered “Somewhere else? Where is somewhere else?”
Geraldine’s heart and home are now in Cambodia but she still loves Adelaide and is proud of growing up the daughter of a milkman. In the days where “you could leave your milk money out on the doorstep. Dad would also pour milk from large milk tins into little Billies with a handle left on the step together with a bread tin. The bread would often be still warm when we collected it.”
She fondly remembers her love of the Star Grocery in the 60’s, which was “filled with smells and aromas. I just loved being there,” and “tadpole fishing at Brownhill Creek, carefully carrying my bottle of water and tadpoles home at the end of the day.”
These days the tadpoles have been replaced with networks and funding. Both of which I hope follow her back to her Cambodian home.
To donate or learn about the Sunrise Children Villages head to www.sunrisechildrensvillage.org