Written by Zoe Faulkner on 11 / 08 / 2020
Gap Year Advice
Milly, co-founder of The Leap has an in-depth chat with Rachel who founded the Red Road Foundation in Cambodia where we work alongside her to deliver this incredible eco-warrior program.
Q: What inspired you and how did it all begin?
Q: What do you do out there?
Q: What is the next thing you need our volunteers to help with?
Q: How has lockdown affected you?
Q: When do you predict we will be allowed to send volunteers?
Welcome to the first official Leap Podcast with you. Today I have got the gorgeous Rachel who runs our program in Cambodia for a jungle-side chat. If you could see her you would be so impressed, she is not sweating like I would be, she clearly takes it all in her stride.
Rachel, hello and welcome.
Hello Milly, what a pleasure, thank you for having me.
What we really want to know is, you’re young, you’re American and you have taken this huge leap of faith and have set up camp in Cambodia. Tell us how did this all begin?
Wow, so I’ve been here about 7 years, I came when I was 25 and I was working in mental health for the US government for about 6 years doing in-patient and outpatient treatment and working with youths. I love my work out there but I was feeling a bit stifled and wasn’t feeling like I wasn’t making a big difference and I was craving doing something with my life, my brain and I told a good friend of mine that I was really seeking being around humble grateful people. He said you should go to Cambodia, I asked him why and he said that they are some of the most humble grateful people I have met in my life. I had a few difficulties in life and one day I just said I’m going to Cambodia.
So literally overnight you hopped on a plane?
I mean I decided within a day I was going to do it then I packed up, sold things, got my dog a passport and off I went. I really wanted my influence to help people, I wanted something in my life that I felt excited about getting up each morning. It was a lot of things to choose form, where do I want to put my energy into, my path became clear and I just said I’m going to do it.
So here we are, now you’re down in Kampot southern Cambodia in the jungle and you have created this inspiring Red Road Foundation. How long has this been growing for?
Well that began 7 years ago when I decided to move here. I just knew I wanted to do something, I wanted to build something that people who also wanted to make a difference to could also contribute to and it could be its own living breathing place where all kinds of people could come to collaborate and add their passion add their skills and at first I thought it was going to be a group home. I was geared towards the child sex trafficking; it was close to my heart and I wanted to do something and the way that things panned out I thought I could be off service to give free education to at risk kids out in the countryside. I just started each step, found a piece of land, started asking people if they wanted a school and then it was time to build a school. They asked what they wanted it to be built out of and I knew the amount of litter pollution was high, so I said let’s build it out of trash. I found an engineer that was 1 hour away, and he said he would help, get £10,000 and 25 volunteers together within 3 months and we will break ground. I didn’t have either at the time, but I said ok let’s do it and 3 months later exactly on the start date I had exactly that. We started to build the school and it’s been an incredible journey since. Our school is an Earth Ship which is a building made from all recycled and natural materials, so the school is built from recycled car tyres that have been pounded until the point of popping with plastic, dirt and rocks. Then we have glass bottles in the base, broken glass in the foundations and then cut-glass bottles into building bricks to be the face of the school.
It’s beautiful. Now you have the school, our volunteers will get involved. What is the next thing you would love a group of volunteers to come and do?
Yes, right now we always have so many things going on. Right now, we are focusing on making Moringa oil, doing organic farming, we’re up-cycling glasses, making bamboo straws, making a health line. Come January we have started an eco-movement in Kampot and one of the main goals for us is to promote this to local businesses and basically we want to transform the village that the school is in to an eco-sustainable lifestyle so we don’t want trash everywhere, we want to remove it from the houses and make it into materials we can use to build things in the village.
We have heard about permaculture, where villages grow and share their fruit and produce to vary their diet and to have a community food hub. Is that something they could do?
Yes, so right now we are in a farming community so lots of people are growing things and eating really well as far as eating local and trading with one another. We’ve had everyone starting to plant Moringa which is very healthy. Everyone eats healthy out there already but it’s just the sugars and plastic containers, all of those really fake crappy stuff that a lot of the kids eat and adults actually so that’s another part of what we’re trying to do – trying to change the local village shop snacks to healthier alternatives that are natural and healthy so we can all be healthier and rise together.
It sounds like a real community movement, a cultural movement that you are trying to create.
Exactly, we believe that if we can implement this in a small village then it could be a model that could spread to other villages and other towns. We’re really doing something amazing here. People from other villages are really impressed, they come on up and they check out the buildings and ask our team mates all kinds of questions, they love it and want to learn about it. We’re shifting the mindset and showing people what can actually be done and show them alternatives to the way things are going down.
It’s so impressive, the world needs more people like you. I’m very proud that we have volunteers who are able to come to you and help contribute and contribute from a physical point of view as well as the finances to help ease and make things happen.
So, through lockdown, what has been your biggest challenge? Is it having no volunteers and having to manage expectations for the village as everything must have ground to a halt?
Yes exactly. It has been tough; we’ve been expecting interns in May and universities coming out to make contact with the project and start partnerships and it all came to a halt. We had to close the school, all schools were shut in Cambodia, so we complied with that and that has been a challenge for sure. We’ve still been reliant on donations, we’re not fully sustainable yet so that was something we are really working towards and our internship program is really going to help with that along with our Moringa sales. We’re trying to become completely sustainable with what we are selling locally in town and running the base of our programs. Step by step working our way to fully sustainable is the goal. We’re really excited to start school up and get our interns back up and go full force ahead. We’ve been using this time to get ready and prepare. We have a new accommodation that’s being built.
It’s been a time for tidying hasn’t it! Do you have any inkling when we’ll be allowed back in?
I’ve heard that they’ve been able to open some ground borders, so I think that is a good sign. I don’t know exactly when, all of us all over the world are taking it day by day and I think after all this it is going to be so wonderful to be able to travel with so much more perspective and realise what is important in life. When we get to go out there and mingle and see the world again it is going to be with fresh eyes, and we can be more impactful than we have in the past. I’m looking forward to it.
We’ve really seen an increase in people that have wanted to do our programs and with fresh eyes. We’re really privileged in England, yes, we’ve been locked down, but we have running water, electricity, supermarkets and the government has assisted people with furlough scheme, we are very lucky. When our Leapers do go travelling, I really hope that it’s not just with us for the safety aspects but because they want to help those around the world who have much less than we do. It’s about travelling responsibility and make a mark, try and leave the place better than when you found it. It’s not about going to Cambodia for the nights out and cheap drinks, it’s about meeting the locals, making a difference to them and now more than ever it is really needed.
Absolutely, it’s about immersing yourself in a local culture.
Our bookings for Cambodia are really high for next year. As soon as your government and our government give the green light, we will be sending volunteers to come and support the Red Road Foundation and everything you do.
We’re so excited to have your support thank you.
You do what we all dream about doing. You’re going to show our volunteers some amazing things, they will have an insight into Cambodia with your language skills and your people skills and leapers going on this program are in for a real treat.
We’re going to have the best time full of adventure and things that make us feel alive. I’ve done a lot of things in my life that are ‘selfless and so kind’ but I feel so lucky and full of life and love and I love my life. Every day is full of people who want to make a difference and are doing things that are true to their heart and love to share that with people and I love to inspire people to live in a way that makes them feel excited and empowered and I can’t wait to have the leapers out here with us.
Come on Leapers! Right on that note, you know where to find Rachel, she’s in Kampot, she’s in the jungle, she’s doing amazing things and through The Leap you have a chance to go and help and participate in Red Road’s amazing project creation. Come January we will all be there; we will do exactly what you need to get this show on the road.
Leapers if you want to join Rachel and the team then head over to our website and sign up!
on 11 / 08 / 2020