Lead a vivid life that does good

Tag: Cambodia Lessons

How do you give warnings?

TukTuk Siem ReapOne of the first things you notice when you take a Tuk Tuk ride in Cambodia is the way they use their horns.

They beep as a warning.

Not out of frustration or anger, rather to let the scooter in front know they are there. To avoid a collision. To keep them both safe. They use the horn the way it was originally intended to be used. And it works really well.

In the west, we often sound our horn after the fact. In frustration and in anger. To show people how annoyed we are.

Same sounding horns.

Same form of communication.

But a radically different feeling.

I find it interesting that in our personal interactions we have a couple of choices in how we communicate warnings to people.

We can either provide gentle warnings, prompts, small beeps, to guide our teams and make sure we don’t collide. Or we can wait until everything comes crashing together and react after the fact, in frustration and anger.

Whether driving or communicating, loud bolshie statements really only give you the opportunity to vent.

They do little to guide or encourage the other person.

And therefore are ineffective.

2 lessons about leadership I gleaned while being driven through Phnom Penh.

Those of you who have travelled through parts of  Asian know how mad, crazy, radical their driving can be.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/54691916 w=500&h=282]
If you haven’t, watch this short video of a normal intersection at 6:30 at night.

At first we described it as ‘Organised Chaos’ and soon realised that it was best described as “Disorganised Order”. Everyone headed were they needed to go, in an orderly yet apparently disorganised way.

The drivers themselves were probably the most fascinating part of the driving experience. They’re a paradox of determination and grace. They wanted to get there first and fast, but were gracious as others pushed and squeezed their Tuk Tuk’s into gaps that moments before didn’t exist.

Disorganised Order,


Determination with Grace.

Disorganised Order, you don’t see that much in business or law in New Zealand. I wonder if it isn’t the essence of being truly entrepreneurial.


I have met plenty of determined people, and I have the privilege of knowing a lot of gracious people. Sadly, most often the determined people are not characterised by grace.

Determined with Grace, describes the leader I would like to be.

We are all horrendous and beautiful.

As I stood motionless at the Killing Fields, what seemed like millions of tear drops landed on my umbrella. The bleak wet day only added to my somber mood as the horror of humanity played out in my mind. Men, women, boys, girls & babies slaughtered by their fellow countrymen on a scale I will never grasp.

Looking intently at a single skull I am repulsed by humanity. This skull is just one of thousands lining the shelves, that represent up to 1.4 million murder victims in Cambodia. At the height of the killing in Cambodia I was 8 years old and I heard of how boys as young as 11 were conscripted to the Khmer Rouge to become killers. Boys then, who are now men in their forties, murderers.

It is easy to stand divorced from the moment and think we would have behaved differently.

But we all have deceived others. All been deceived.

When faced with the choice of kill, or be killed, few of us really have the strength and courage to choose anything but life.

Humanity at its core is desperately dark.

We are all horrendous.


As I traveled Cambodia every person I saw or spoke with was beautiful.

Some had bodies disfigured in ways I have never before seen, but they are beautiful.

Our Tuk Tuk drivers, beautiful.

The beggar and her child, beautiful.

Poor children playing in the water from a good well, beautiful.

Often the stories and circumstances were heart breaking, but the people …


Only senior officials of the Khmer Rouge will be brought to justice, which means tens of thousands of murderers now live ordinary lives in Cambodia. Is it possible I met some of these killers and thought they were beautiful? Yes, and I now understand that in the right circumstance we are all capable of the horror of the Khmer Rouge. (That doesn’t make it right.)

You are capable of these things.

You are horrendous.

Yet I just think … you are beautiful.

Lesson 4 from Cambodia visit 2012: We are all capable of horrendous things and we are all beautiful people.

One reason why education in New Zealand is fantastic!

Imagine a 10-year-old student you have known. Now pause, and think about their schooling and what they have really learnt at the age of 10.

Consider how little they really know in mathematics and english.

Their drawing is good, but they are no designer.

They have creativity but their cognitive skills are lacking.

Now, imagine the 10-year-old finishing school for good. Then you discover they have no access to books or libraries or the internet and you realise the child’s lifetime intellectual learning is over.

Gone is the opportunity to learn more about science or maths or design or art. Gone is the opportunity to seek a University degree.

I have just described the average student in Cambodia. Most rural children have access to a basic primary education, at which point the distance and cost increase to attend high school is so great, that the children finish school and start working on the family rice fields.

If most people you knew finished school at 10, how much opportunity to develop, invent and improve would your community have?

How much opportunity would exist to improve the efficiency and productivity of your family land?

At a very basic level, how much opportunity would you have to improve water quality, sanitation and health, if your education finished at 10?

The unfortunate answer is at best, ‘very little!

As I toured rural Cambodia recently and heard that most children finish school at the age of 10, all I could think about was my 10-year-old daughter finishing school at the end of this year. She is smart and has learnt heaps, but hasn’t yet learnt anywhere near enough for a lifetime. And if her access to books and teachers and even the internet disappeared, her future learning would be unthinkably limited.

As I thought of the implication of finishing school at 10, I realised how incredibly blessed we are to have the education and resources on offer in New Zealand.

It offers our children a lifetime of learning.

It means our children’s children will learn even more, and develop more cure’s and create more truly great things.

Education offers hope for our future!

Oh, and the one reason I think education in NZ is fantastic? Because my children continue in school until at least 16 and even then their opportunities aren’t limited. Too often we forget that.

Lesson 3 from Cambodia visit 2012: Education is pivotal for the future of communities

So the water that comes from the Well is not 100% pure?

Mid sentence Jim exhaled an audible groan and instantly we burst into uncontrolled laughter. The groan just reflected the thoughts echoing in our heads as we bounced, banged and rocked our way along the red clay road in a remote rural area of Cambodia. Our hosts were taking us, no, bouncing us to a village where BioSand Filters where in production.

We had come to Cambodia to see the good.water wells that Good Trust had funded and our partners Samaritans Purse have installed. Once at the communities we saw the wells, turned the handles to pump water, took photos and asked questions. It was incredibly satisfying to see clean water pouring from a hand pump on a well that we had enabled. Yet after watching them pump water, they promptly poured it into these bizarre looking concrete containers that trickled forth clean drinking water.

To be honest, before seeing Bio-Sand Filters (BSFs) in action I had not appreciated the importance they played in providing clean water. I very naively thought that we put a Well in, and the water was fresh and ready to drink. It is close, and infinitely better than drinking brown dirty water directly from the rice fields, which is what they did before, however when the water is filtered through a BSF is is 99% free of the germs and ugly stuff that causes sickness.

They are awesome!

Once we arrived at the village where BSFs were being built, we saw how actively involved the community was in constructing them. SP provided the molds and materials, and the people set about building almost a 100 BSFs for each home in the area. BSFs are very low maintenance and last up to 15 years. (If you want to know more about how BSFs work click here).

And the cost of the materials to provide clean water to a household for 15 years?

$30 !

Personally what struck me most as I left the communities we visited was not that they had clean water, but rather how incredibly fortunate we are.

To get clean water they hand-pump water, carry it back to their home and pour it through a BSF. I on the other hand not only shower in drinking water at the turn of a tap, but water my lawns with drinking water in the summer.

And, for the price of feeding my family of 5 takeaways on the odd occasion, I could provide a family with clean water for 15 years!

Lesson 2 from Cambodia visit 2012: Bio Sand Filters are awesome value and worth the investment.

2 tips for being more generous and compassionate.

On a wet humid evening we sat outside on the bustling street corner, in the heart of the action, waiting to enjoy our meal. The restaurant we chose, our clothes and the colour of our skin screamed to the locals that we were wealthy foreigners to Phnom Penh, and almost immediately we were confronted with invitations to purchase or give. Girls the age of my daughters selling bags, young men selling books and a Mother with a young child simply begging. At first we engaged with them, then quickly learnt it was easier to ignore them and their need.

Later as we meandered along the streets we saw a young child (12 – 18 months) standing on the footpath. I glanced down to see her mother bent over a rubbish bag scavenging for food. As I walked past I realised it was the women who had begged from us at dinner. The woman and child I had ignored. I returned and gave her some money, she thanked me, and went back to scavenging in the rubbish.

I learnt some lessons that evening, learnings that have implications beyond the poverty encountered in Cambodia.

We must be prepared to give:
When I hit Cambodia I hadn’t formed this thinking, which meant each situation I encountered required me to make yes/no decisions. Soon the answer just becomes NO.

You can’t fix everything you see, so being prepared means having the forethought to know what you believe in giving to, and how much. And to whom.

This applies equally back home. Knowing what we will give to, helps when people knock on the door or telemarketers call. Importantly knowing what you believe in giving to, means you will give. If you’re not prepared the answer quickly becomes NO.

We must be ready to give:
If being prepared is a state of mind, then being ready is practical. For us it meant having small amounts of money available for donations. Whether running in the morning or on a Tuk Tuk, we had money to give without hesitation to make a small difference.

At home, I barely ever carry money, and therefore it is significantly harder for me to give without hesitation to make a small immediate difference.

I know a lot of people like me have a heart to give, to be compassionate and yet miss opportunities. So may you prepare your hearts to know when and how you will give. And then may you be ready to give without hesitation.

May you encounter the joy of making a difference.

Lesson 1 from Cambodia visit 2012: Being prepared to give.