By Simone Goldsmith
In 2013, Heather Prenter sought a personal and physical challenge. She signed up to CUFA’s Cycle Cambodia trip but little did she know that this decision would be more than a two-week adventure through the Kingdom, it would take her on an ongoing journey that would force her out of her comfort zone and reward her with gratitude, empathy and empowerment.
Heather’s Cycle Cambodia Challenge began on Australian soil. Her employer, SERVICE ONE, generously sponsored her trip so the Lending Manager was just required to fundraise $3,500 and secure three Community Investors. With no fundraising experience, Heather sought advice from previous participants and as recommended, held numerous weekend sausage sizzles at Masters Home Improvement.
She also connected with the Khmer language school in Canberra, which helped her to arrange a successful fundraising dinner at the local Cambodian restaurant. Six weeks and hundreds of snags later, Heather had raised $8,500 for CUFA and confirmed two friends and a colleague as Community Investors. “I couldn’t believe how quickly the funds built up. I realised I could probably do anything if I put my mind to it”, she recalls. But this was just the beginning of Heather’s steep learning curve.
It was then time to head to Cambodia. The first five days saw Heather riding 235km through mountain ranges and around the majestic temples of Angkor Wat, a physical challenge Heather was proud to overcome. This was followed by six less demanding days on a bus. Heather visited schools in rural areas, where she watched financial literacy lessons take place and engaged with the children through budgeting exercises and games. “I found that really enjoyable because even though there was no common language, there was still the ability to really connect with the children”, she reminisces.
After the Challenge, Heather remained in Cambodia to volunteer at CUFA’s office in Phnom Penh. Although she worked closely with the local staff to further develop their Village Entrepreneur program, she was essentially living on her own in a foreign country. This experience, admittedly very different from her 4-year stint in England, strengthened her character. “It was amazing but challenging to work within a completely different culture with different expectations and a different dynamic”, she says.
Heather’s time in Cambodia and exposure to CUFA’s financial literacy classes have had a profound impact on her. Having worked in the finance industry for 15 years, she could not comprehend how people or a society could not know about the concept of money – how it works and what you can do with it. She is quick to admit her naivety in thinking everyone must understand these issues and that she has taken her education and upbringing for granted. These experiences have also granted Heather greater insight to, and sympathy for, the plight of the poor. She has developed a greater appreciation for the challenge disadvantaged people face in adjusting their mindset to save for the future. The realisation that by saving as little as 25 cents each month, they will help to generate income in the future thus bringing them closer to lifting themselves out of poverty and into relative prosperity.
Heather returned to Australia but her journey was far from over. Having seen first hand how financial literacy can inspire families living in poverty to save for a better brighter future, she wanted to continue to help. Armed with her fundraising acumen, Heather raised $1,200 in 2014 for CUFA to teach financial literacy to underprivileged street children from Anjali House Organisation in Siem Reap. Heather and her husband Nathan continued their financial support this year, again providing an opportunity to motivate more children to learn more about the concept of money and saving.
Two years on, Heather remains committed to continue making a difference. She explains that she always wanted to do something but could never decide who to support. But after she saw the inequalities that exist in rural Cambodia and the difference her fundraising and financial literacy education can make, she felt compelled to continue helping people to break the poverty cycle. But Heather too has undergone a transformation. By pushing her boundaries, she has developed a greater understanding of her own capabilities, a deeper appreciation of education and a genuine fondness for the Cambodian people and their unique culture.
CUFA’s Children’s Financial Literacy Program, delivers financial education to 12,000 children in more than 40 schools across Cambodia, funded on an annual basis by the fundraising efforts of the CUFA Leadership Challengers.Applications for the 2015 CUFA Challenges are now open – please call Keira on 1300 490 467 to find out more, or apply here!