Hope springs enternal
How a volunteering stint in Cambodia sowed the seeds of change and forever changed the life of local Sydney gay man, Vin Kebblewhite. By Jason Bartlett.
Working as a volunteer in some of the most poverty-stricken regions of Cambodia has changed the life of one gay Sydneysider who has now thrown in his lot with the Khmer people through his environmentally-sound initiative, Life Project Cambodia.
The new non-government organisation is targeted directly at the most disadvantaged people in Cambodia through a series of sustainable, off-the-grid community campuses all offering child-care, education, sanitation, rural development, community services and health.
And all under the watchful eye of Vin Kebblewhite.
It’s easy to see how deeply the people of Cambodia, a country of 14 million, have touched the heart of the 29-year-old.
He flashes a beaming white smile whenever he is asked to talk about his experiences as a volunteer and the country he is about to call home.
“In 2012, I spent several months volunteering in Cambodia and that experience completely changed my life,” he said.
“I witnessed poverty on a scale that I had never seen before and it wasn’t something that I could just walk away from.
“I came home to Australia, energised and inspired to create a plan of action to help the people of Cambodia, and after 12 months of planning, Life Project Cambodia was born.
“I am moving to Cambodia in September to work on the project full-time, which is incredibly exciting!”
Kebblewhite grew up on the Central Coast but has lived most of the past decade in Sydney working in the tourism and hospitality sectors.
He has been the popular manager of Bounce Sydney – a local backpackers’ hostel – for the last three years but is now ready to spread his wings.
“I’m passionate about traveling and experiencing new cultures, and it’s this passion that has led me to where I am today,” he tells SX.
“Life Project Cambodia brings together so many of my dreams and ideas and I am so grateful that I have the support to make this happen.
“This project means the world to me; it will empower people to break free from poverty and there are no words that can explain how happy that makes me feel.”
He says the aim of the project was to create change where it is needed most.
Pictured: Vin Kebblewhite (top) and, above, with orphaned teens Samnang and Rath. Photos: Kristen Leigh/Vivid Images (main); supplied.
“Our mission is to empower Cambodian communities to create their own solutions to poverty by providing the services and initiatives required to break the poverty cycle,” he says.
“Sustainability is at the heart of Life Project Cambodia and we will utilise ‘Earthship Biotecture’ when constructing each community campus.”
Earthship Biotecture is a radically sustainable building method that will remove utility costs, provide clean drinking water and sanitation, enable year-round organic food production and will also promote sustainable development within the community.
According to Kebblewhite, it will also “have low to no impact environmentally” with buildings made from recycled materials and the provision of wind and solar power, natural heating and cooling and year-round organic food production.
Kebblewhite said he could see himself making his life in Cambodia in a decade if the project takes off.
“In ten years ideally I see myself still living in Cambodia, working to build community campuses and developing our community services and development initiatives,” he says.
“A long-term goal is to develop the community campus model in an open platform, allowing others to use, improve, and share the concept throughout the developing world.”
Kebblewhite says he is hopeful of support from the local GLBTI community, which he says is generous at heart.
“I can only go by my experience within the GLBTI community and my network of friends, and yes I think our community is quite generous when a good cause comes along,” he said.
“Many of my friends support and donate to charities and NGOs, some support several at any one time and I hope this project gets some support.
“It certainly is a worthwhile cause.”