ioCrew member Sputnik is no stranger to adventure. But what started out as a simple plan to visit a friend on the Cambodian coast for the weekend has now turned into a whole new kind of adventure of epic proportions. He tells us what he’s been up to and how this latest fork in the road has changed his life.
By Sputnik, Cheif Swashbuckler at Swashbuckler Adventure Tours and ioCrew Member
Like a lot of you, I consider myself a bit of an adventure junkie. Nothing too hard core, mind you, but I like to be active and outdoors and travel a bit. It’s really only later in life I’ve discovered the joys of trail running and various other adventures, but I sure am doing my best to make up for it now by cramming as much as I possibly can into what’s left of my life. We only have a limited amount of time here, right? And there’s so very many things to see and do.I’ve been fortunate enough to live a pretty good life too, squeezing in multiple adventures around Europe, the USA, Australia and South East Asia over the past five years. But it was one of my most recent trips that affected, and changed me, more than I think I even know now.
You see, I’ve been working on a few projects over in Cambodia. Nothing admirable like working in an orphanage or volunteering at a local charity though. Just corporate stuff. Then squeezing in running, riding and hiking adventures on the weekends. But last week I sent a text that changed things for me, perhaps forever. I’d been planning a trip to the coast to see Sarath, a local adventure guide friend of mine, but cancelled at the last minute as I heard there’d been some flooding. News had been minimal and I didn’t really think much of it as minor flooding is pretty normal during wet season. So it was really only an afterthought when I shot off a quick text anyway just to make sure he was OK.
The reply I got shocked me: “We need rice to eat and buy clean water, because our rice that we keep inside the house is destroyed by the water because it came at night time and really fast and we can’t save that. Our banana and papaya are destroyed as well. We really need some help. We are hungry for days and nobody help”.
It turns out he and his family, including his three year old daughter, hadn’t eaten for three days. Three days! With no food!
How could this not be in the news? How could there be no aid coming their way? It was a Sunday and I was walking through Phnom Penh late afternoon, but I managed to find a local money transfer service and send $100 down to him instantly so he could buy whatever he needed to put food and clean drinking water on the table straight away. And because getting accurate information in a country like Cambodia can be difficult, I then called work and arranged to have the following day off so I could go down there myself and assess the situation personally.
By the time I arrived, the worst of the flooding had subsided but people were still hungry. A lot of people, not just my friend’s family, but lots of families. The family next door with their three kids. The family down the road with the elderly grandmother. The family who used their boat to rescue people who were now sick from drinking unclean water. So many people. To be fair, this wasn’t millions of people homeless and hungry like some of the large scale disasters we hear about. But it was in my own ‘backyard’ and people needed help. I’m just a stupid adventure guy, but I knew I had to do something.
The weird thing is, I’d lived in Cambodia before. It’s a country with a very tough history, and a lot of poverty. I was no stranger to seeing people in need. And I’d certainly given a few dollars here and there to people who needed it. I’d always managed to keep things at a comfortable arms length though. Until now.
I knew my modest donation may have been able to help a few people, but it wasn’t going to be enough to help everyone, so I immediately posted on Facebook to see if anyone else wanted to chip in. Now, we all know Facebook can be a real time waster. Full of silly memes and cat videos, but when push comes to shove, it can also be an amazing networking tool, and this was no exception.
My friends totally blew me away with their generosity and the donations started rolling in. Now keep in mind, I’m not a registered charity. Donations aren’t tax deductible. For all they knew, I could have kept the money and run off with it. But they saw the pictures of the people we were helping, wanted to be a part of it, and started donating. There were donations from old friends I hadn’t seen in years. Donations from ioMerino HQ. Adventure buddies. Running friends. All over. $10… $20… $50… $100… one family donated $400… and one couple $1,000.
I couldn’t believe it. Still can’t actually. We all hear bad news and all the things that are wrong with the world, but it’s moments like this you remember there’s still plenty of good in the world as well. In a heartbeat I was able to not only help my Sarath’s family, but make sure anyone in the area could eat good food and drink clean water as well. Simple things we take for granted. And Sarath started sending pictures of people holding up a thank you sign he made. These people could eat and drink because of my friends. We might not be able to save the world, but we made a difference to these people.
Now, I’m not sure if you’ve ever been involved in relief efforts of any kind, but I worked out pretty quickly that while helping people feels pretty good, not being able to help everyone is truly heartbreaking. And as generous as people were, I’d never have enough to help everyone, and I struggled with the thought. I just had to focus on what I could do, rather than what I couldn’t, but even now, it’s not something that sits particularly well with me. The mind is ticking away trying to think of ways to scale up. I suppose I’m not the first person to want to help. And I know there’s plenty of charities out there. But these guys had nothing when they needed it, and that’s not OK with me. It shouldn’t be OK with anyone else either.
The immediate need for food and water may now have passed, but now I’m on a mission. My friend Sarath had also been planning on building a small home of his own. He currently lives in a small house with his wife, daughter and extended family including his ‘in laws’. He’s worked real hard over the last few tour seasons, (including doing several tours with me personally and my own own tour group), and managed to buy most of the building materials he needed to construct a modest home for his family. Sand, bricks, wood, cement and thatch for the roof. Now the cement is ruined from the water, the wood and thatch have all washed away and only the bricks remain. His dream of having his own home washed away in a heartbeat. Sarath helped me distribute aid where it was needed in the aftermath of the flood, even when he had his own family to look after. He didn’t hesitate to identify where help was needed, and then put the effort in to make sure everyone was looked after. We were like friends before, but we’re more like brothers now. So now it’s my mission to find a way to help him replace those few thousands dollars of building supplies so he can build that home he’d been planning. That’s my new adventure.
I think back now on all the stupid things I’ve spent money on over the years and I admit, I feel a bit guilty. Not because I didn’t work hard and don’t deserve to buy nice stuff. But because when I think about it what my idea of a tough day is, it’s not even close to what these people go through.
I guess adventures come in all shapes and forms. Maybe it’s climbing, trekking, skiing, snowboarding, and of course, I’ll still be doing my fair share of those things as well, wearing my trusty ioMerino along the way to keep me safe and comfortable. But now I have a new adventure – making sure other people are safe and comfortable also. Perhaps I’m being a tad starry eyed and overly ambitious, but as the old saying goes, it’s better to teach people to fish than give them a fish. So amongst other things, I’ll be working on upscaling the adventure tour options down there to make sure the people there have more opportunity to look after themselves and their families, even during tough times. And perhaps maintaining a small emergency fund so no one has to go through what they went through this time around.
I know you don’t know me from Adam, but if you want to donate or know more about what we’re doing down in Kampot to help, please feel free to email me personally anytime here. I’d be more than happy to chat about how things are going, or talk about Cambodian adventures, trail running or, yes, offer any advice about which ioMeirno clothing is best for your next adventure. And more importantly, if you’re ever planning a trip to Cambodia, make sure you head down the coast and do a tour with Sarath. He’s not only the most awesome adventure guide ever, he’s also a hell of a nice guy and really wants to build that house.