Feeding the Hungry - Nourishing the Soul

It is indeed true that many of us may spend our entire lives searching for a religion, philosophy or spiritual leader to guide us upon our lifelong journey. Yet few people realize that the answer to many of the questions that challenge us, could be quite so simple.

For Les Stott, for example, the decision to open Kampuchea House became an answer to a question that would change his life forever.

In his own words, he says Ă„fter many years I finally decided to put my own teaching philosophy into practice. I was always telling my students what should happen but not doing anything about it myself.

I also looked at other organizations working with children and I found them to be less than ideal. As I reflect upon my own life, I believe I have developed the ability to identify problems and to implement pragmatic solutions to facilitate constructive change. Some of this ability has come from a process of trial and error.

As Les is about to reach his sixtieth birthday, he recalls that as a teenager during the 1960's, Australian society was experiencing a dramatic social upheaval that had had a tremendous impact upon many of the people of my generation. In many respects, we were isolated from the vast majority of other cultures of the world. At that time, there was a mass migration from the Mediterranean region, namely Italy and Greece. I can still remember the xenophobic reaction of white Australia to the newcomers. At the time, I really didn't know what to do about it. But it didn't sit well with me.

Shortly thereafter, after completing high school, Les obtained a diploma in primary education. As an idealistic young elementary school teacher, he focused upon the fundamentals of primary school education to promote opportunities for a group of Australian school children that was continuing to grow in ethnic diversity. At this point in time, his experience as an elementary school teacher allowed him to satisfy his own expectations about the person he was expected to be. Yet he always felt a need to break out of the traditional mold and achieve what he was capable of doing.

Les recalls that although the experience was quite fulfilling, I continued to feel the need to do something else. On the positive side, I found it very satisfying as many of the children were from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Allowing the children to share their experiences in a supportive environment proved to be an invaluable experience for everyone involved.

After twenty years of teaching at the primary school level, it was however, time to try something new. Les accepted a position at Wesley College, a private secondary school in Melbourne.

It was at Wesley that he became involved in student exchange programs with high schools from China, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. This experience allowed him to become immersed in the diverse cultures of the region.

Les says, the cultures were so different from what I had experienced in the past, it was a real eye opener. It was also an experience that affected my students on so many different levels.

Not long thereafter, his position at Wesley College set the stage for a specialized interest in child welfare, children's rights and child development in Southeast Asia. This interest has continued to this day. More importantly however, Les attended a history and geography conference in Hanoi in 2004. A short trip to nearby Angkor Wat proved to be a turning point in my life. It provided me with an opportunity to visit Cambodian orphanages. It also allowed me to understand where the money I had been raising was and wasn't going.

I also underwent surgery for skin cancer. This gave me the impetus to stop talking and start doing.

Since that time Les resigned from teaching. He purchased land in Siem Reap and began construction at Kampuchea House. At this time, there are fifteen orphaned or deserted children under the care of his staff.

They are now in the process of completing their third Cambodian house. As funding becomes available Les hopes to accommodate more children in need. A library is currently under construction and plans have been made to add a fence for security purposes.

Les says, I feel tremendous satisfaction when I see happy healthy children. For many of the children, it is the first time that they have had the opportunity to attend school on a regular basis.

When I think about my own personal philosophy I think about an ancient proverb that was recently called to my attention.

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.