- Humanitarian -
I often feature people on this blog who do great work; people who leave their homeland to do such work in another country. Today I feature such a person - Geraldine Cox. Who is she? What does she do?
For the milkman's daughter from Adelaide this had a lasting impact which she carried in her heart throughout her other postings to the Philippines (5 years), Thailand (3 years), Iran (3 years) and finally America (3 years) in the Embassy in Washington DC, before returning to Australia in 1987. After resigning from the government in 1987 she worked for 8 years with The Chase Manhattan Bank in Sydney before deciding to live in Cambodia in 1996.
Geraldine makes it clear that there is very little that life has to offer that she hasn't grabbed with both hands. She wants to make sure she is never described or perceived as a bleeding-heart do-gooder. For most of her adult life Geraldine has denied herself nothing and was considered by many to be a passionate hedonist! However, she states that although she has never had less materially than she has in Cambodia, her life has never been happier. Cambodia makes her feel young, strong, stimulated, healthy, challenged, creative, needed and loved.
1996: She moved to Cambodia to live in 1996 and for the next year until the coup in July 1997, Geraldine worked as an Executive Assistant for the Cabinet Director in the Cabinet of the then First Prime Minister of Cambodia, HRH Prince Norodom Ranariddh and administered the orphanage in her spare time. Geraldine says she is proud and lucky to be an Australian, but Cambodia has stolen her heart and she is happiest when she is there with her children in the orphanage she co-founded in 1993.
The Australia Cambodia Foundation started in September 1993, following the first visit to the orphanage by Geraldine and a friend in July 1993. The helplessness and tragedy of these lost children was so moving, that it was impossible not to be motivated. Small regular monthly donations were solicited by Geraldine and a circle of friends, from individuals, to feed one child. This was how it all started...
At that time Geraldine was working in Sydney for the American corporation, J. P. Morgan. She applied for a grant from The Chase Foundation in New York, which supported the project for five years with up to US$20,000 annually.
1998: In February 1998, Geraldine's application to the Cambodian Government for the Australia Cambodia Foundation to become a recognised Non Government Organisation was approved.
1999: King Norodom Sihanouk bestowed her with full Cambodian Citizenship by Royal Decree in 1999 and she spends half the year with the children in Cambodia and the remainder traveling to raise funds.
2000: In 2000, the name changed to Sunrise Children's Villages which conjures up visions of a new dawn and a fresh beginning for the orphans and disadvantaged children of Cambodia.
Pan Macmillan published Geraldine's autobiography, Home Is Where The Heart Is in 2000 and Hollywood bought the rights to make a feature film based on her book.
Geraldine was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2000.
The documentary, My Khmer Heart, won the Hollywood Film Festival Documentary of the Year Award in 2000 and has since been bought and screened by HBO and Discovery Cable Channels. Her story has been featured on Australian Television over the last few years on Australian Story, The Sunday Program, This Is Your Life, Four Corners, Today Tonight, The 7.30 Report and 60 Minutes, Talking Heads and the 7pm Project.
2006: In November 2006 Geraldine was awarded the Circle of Courage Award from the Australian Charity, Youth Off The Streets.
Also in November 2006, The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International named Geraldine a Paul Harris Fellow in appreciation of tangible and significant assistance given for the furtherance of better understanding and friendly relations among peoples of the world.
2007: In June 2007, Australia Network, the cable television channel screened in 41 countries, invited Geraldine to be one of their Ambassadors, where she will promote the channel and its programs.
2008: To add further testament to the standing that she now has in her adopted country, Prime Minister Hun Sen, a previous enemy, now affectionately calls Geraldine his 'Older Sister'.
In January 2008, Prime Minister Hun Sen came to the house he built for Geraldine and gave a fatherly lecture to the children. A day that will be remembered by Geraldine and the children for many years to come.
2009: In 2009 Geraldine a Finalist for the South Australian of the Year Award.
2012: After nearly 5 years of planning, the Computershare Sunrise Three Village developed as a centre of excellence in Cambodia to provide a home for up to 200 HIV affected orphans, was officially opened by Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen on 3rd December, 2012. The centre also provides a home base for an Outreach program that looks after and monitors 350 children affected by the virus who are still living in surrounding communities.
The opening was a grand affair with a large entourage of Cambodia’s governing elite being present. Most importantly, around 600 children from Sunrise and New Hope were in attendance. In all, some 5,000 attended the great event. Those present appreciated President, Geraldine Cox's delivery of a speech, all in native Khmer.
The Prime Minister presented the Royal Order of Sahametrei Medal (the highest honour to be awarded to foreigners) to Geraldine and Chris Morris, CEO of Computershare. The project manager and supervisor Paul Otto, John Tucker and ACF Chairman John George also received medals. It was very encouraging to know that the Prime Minister supports our foundation and our efforts in Cambodia.
Geraldine also agrees to serve on the Board of Oasis Africa Australia
TODAY: Sunrise reaches out to hundreds of needy children in Cambodia providing a loving home, and all that this means along with quality health care and education opportunities beyond the reach of many Cambodians. Children come to us from backgrounds of abuse, neglect, abandonment, torture, slave labor, and some have been trafficked and sold into begging rings and even subjected to acid burn attacks.
"When they walk through the Sunrise gates they are suspicious and afraid with no power over their lives. I am just another adult who will hurt them as every adult in their life has done. To watch the fear and trepidation dissolve over ensuing weeks through the love and attention of our staff and the other children is a reward that cannot be expressed. When a distrustful abused child finally finds trust in their heart and limbs into your lap for a cuddle there are no words to express the joy I feel.
As a woman who could never have my own children, to experience the unconditional love of these vulnerable children brings me the joy and contentment in my life that nothing before could satisfy. I know that I am living the life that I was put on earth for and am just annoyed that I had to wait till I was 50 before I got the plot!
While you are reading this, helpless children are being sold into prostitution, slave labor in factories and fishing boats and in the homes of the rich as unpaid housemaids.
When they are old enough to understand we tell them that anything is possible and this has certainly been true for those who are now working and married with their own families in Cambodia. We have graduates in careers as such as dentistry, hospitality, IT, insurance, car and generator maintenance and repair, banking, sales and advertising to name a few. We even have Sunrise graduates studying in Australia who will return to Cambodia and use their degrees to make Cambodia a better place."
The Sunrise "rice-money" comes mainly from individuals and families, who are very important to the children. Donations large and small are warmly received and appreciated.
Back in Cambodia many more orphans are waiting to be taken in under Sunrise's wings, but more sponsors are required before they can be accepted. Geraldine says that turning children away is the most difficult part of running the orphanage. She hopes that individuals and corporations alike will want to help build new lives for these beautiful, but unwanted children, left behind after 30 years of war, by donating to Sunrise.
Congratulations to Geraldine who was awarded the Sir Edward "Weary" Dunlop Asialink Medal in December 2011.
The news in November 1999, that King Norodom Sihanouk, by Royal Decree, bestowed Geraldine with Cambodian Citizenship was an unexpected and rare honour. During King Sihanouk's reign, only 4 foreigners have been awarded this special gift - individuals from Belgium, France, Canada and now Geraldine, as the first Australian
"There are a lot of decisions that she made, by her own admission, could be deemed questionable. You always see the motives that are behind what she's doing and her first priority is the children, you know, in the orphanage and she makes no bones about that, so I think that's really admirable. She's not a saint, she's human. I was just incredibly moved by her and by her work."
Matt Damon, Hollywood
Matt Damon, Hollywood
"Her commitment in bringing awareness about the plight of these forgotten Cambodian children will never be forgotten."
Danny Glover, Hollywood
Danny Glover, Hollywood
Now, check out this video and you will learn much about this extraordinary Australian:
Clancy's comment: Mm ... have to admire her spirit, eh? Love ya work, Geraldine ... love ya work!