In 2012, Riviera designer Joe Firley boarded a plane for the first time bound for Thailand, a trip that would ultimately change his life.
After a difficult year which left Joe heart-broken and feeling as though he had lost everything, he realised there was much more to life than materialistic things and the devout Christian felt it was his calling to volunteer his time helping at a children’s home in Thailand.
During his six months there, Joe met an inspirational woman who ran a home in Cambodia for boys aged between 18 and 25. This home provides free accommodation for young men who have fled their poor families and homes in the villages to pursue an education in the city.
Joe said he was touched by their plight so he returned to Cambodia 10 months later to help the home become self-sufficient.
“The young men at the home are poor farm boys and their villages are an hour or two bike ride out of town, so they get the basic primary education in the villages but if they want to do high school they have to come into town,” Joe said.
“When they come into town they live on the streets in tin sheds with no electricity or plumbing just so they can go to high school. They really value education and would forego food to buy books.
“Their families would want them to continue working the farm but the boys see education as a way to get ahead. From the age of eight they would work 12 hours a day on the farm for a bowl of rice. Most of the boys don’t have mothers or they come from a broken home – it is not a nurturing environment.
“When I first met Val Matthews (the woman who runs the home in Cambodia) in Thailand I had this strange feeling come over me, urging me to meet these boys and I was fortunate to get the last bus ticket to Siem Reap in Cambodia. After the 30-hour bus trip I spent three days in Cambodia documenting and interviewing the boys and I could see they really needed my help. I set up a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/SiemReapStudentsHome), organised sponsors, and gathered supplies to take back with me.”
Joe returned in December last year and spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve at the home. He brought Christmas presents for the boys as well as Riviera and Belize hats and shorts and some T-shirts that he had been given by Riviera and the boys wore them with pride.
“I bought books and toiletries and for half of them it was the first Christmas present they had received. They didn’t know what to do with the toiletries such as mouth wash and ear cleaners so it was a totally new experience for them.
“When I told them about Riviera they were amazed that people owned such big, beautiful boats. They thought they were mansions and asked how many people lived on them.
“I spent three weeks in Cambodia helping at the boys’ home. We built a chook house to stop the snakes and dogs killing the chickens and we built a small garden area at the back of the house.
“The chook house has helped them become self-sufficient because they get about $5 per chicken if they sell them at the markets and the chickens provide them with eggs. The average wage in Cambodia is $50 per month and given the size of the chook pen, I believe they could generate $50 per month from selling the chickens and their eggs so this can off set their food budget.
“Val could only afford to give them $4 per day for food so they weren’t eating much more than a bowl of rice a day, but thanks to sponsors and being self-sufficient with the veggie garden and chickens they can now eat more nutritious meals.”
When the three weeks was up, Joe was sad to leave because he felt he had gained 10 brothers.
“I have made such good bonds with them because I am a similar age and I was able to be a mentor to them because they don’t have any male role models to look up to in the home,” Joe said.
“They call Val mum because she is the only mother figure in their lives, she gave them a roof over their head and food while they studied, so when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer last month and had to return to Australia, it was a very emotional farewell because they knew they would never see her again.
“Unfortunately, it looks as though the home will have to close because there is no one to run and fund it so these boys may end up back on the streets unless we can find someone willing to continue Val’s work.
“I would return in a heartbeat if I had the funds because it was the most amazing experience. As a Christian I believe it is important to do God’s work first and helping these boys was very rewarding for me.”For more information click here »
Just prior to publishing, Experience was informed of Joe’s decision to relocate to Siem Reap in October where he plans to continue the work of the home’s founder, the late Val Matthews.
Before her passing she handed Joe an envelope with the remaining funds for the home and gave him her blessing to continue running the home.
Joe’s ultimate goal is to buy a block of farmland outside Siem Reap and build a children’s home, school and self-sustaining farm to help the surrounding villages.
Joe is seeking help and donations to build the children’s home. Since it is not a registered charity, the donations are not tax deductible but every cent donated goes to the people in need.
If you would like to contact Joe:
Account Name: Josef William Firley
Account Number: 5209-36806
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