Peter Gray is one of those people who likes to keep busy in ‘retirement’ – not just in Australia, but also overseas where he volunteers. With a career in the medical area, he had experience of working in South East Asia. It was in that area that he has achieved some remarkable results in his ‘retirement’.
In 1963 at age 18 I joined The Australian army and served 6 years, 2 years in South East Asia.
On discharge I applied for a job as a trainee sales rep with a medical devices company in Sydney.
In 1972 I travelled to the U.K. where I remained for 3 years working for a medical devices company. I returned to Australia, this time Melbourne and now married, and in 1978 started my own medical devices company, Surgicare Pty Ltd.
I sold the company as part of a successful float on the ASX in 2004
Due to my South East Asia experience in the army I decided to visit Cambodia in 2005 to, maybe, do some volunteer work. It was then I saw the extreme poverty in Phnom Penh slums.
I sent my resume to about 20 Non Government Organisations (‘NGO’s) and was invited to work as a volunteer technical advisor for a small NGO – Cambodian Children against Starvation and Violence Assocation (‘CCASVA’). This was to be a 6 month position.
The job entailed submission writing to various entities around the world requesting we be placed on their funding list… a thankless task! The NGO primarily focused on HIV prevention education for villagers in 3 major provinces, Seim Reap, Prey Veng and Kandal.
CCASVA had a small house where children who were seen by the authorities to be at high risk of abuse, were accommodated on a 24/7 basis. I was very interested in this and soon found out they were unable to pay the monthly rent as funds were not coming from one of the institutional donors. I decided to pay the rent and then discovered the owner had increased the rent exorbitantly.
I suggested we find another house, a bigger house where we could accommodate more children. The executive director immediately agreed to this providing I paid the rent. I agreed to do this for the next 12 months or until a new donor was found. That 12 months turned into 4-5 years and eventually 11 years.
The centre then had 60 children, 60/40 girls/boys between ages 6-18. We provided 24/7 accommodation, food, counselling, healthcare and education.
We also provided vocational training for those who wanted to learn a skill. Several children went onto university and most completed year 12.
Keep in mind, ALL of our kids came from backgrounds of abuse and most were not attending school.
Rotary clubs became involved in 2010 after I joined the Rotary club of Phnom Penh and later became Club President. As costs to run the centre were increasing I hit the road and commenced fund raising via clubs and my close friends in Australia.
In 2014 I forewarned the executive director that I would be winding back my involvement on reaching age 70 and that he should now start looking at ways to fund the centre.
Unfortunately for the children (and Peter), the Centre was unable to continue, due to lack of funds. Peter says that children in slum and rural areas have a grim future without family carers.
It was very disheartening for Peter to see children return to dire circumstances. However, Peter says, ‘I am in contact with a number of the kids and I watch their progress carefully. I also return to Cambodia 3-4 times a year and I usually make contact with old staff members and some children’.
I remain a member of the Rotary Club in Phnom Penh and remain very interested in a project which began when I was president…. the MEC project. (‘Meningoencephalocele is a life threatening facial/cranial deformity occurring predominantly in rural/ poor areas of SE Asia but specifically Cambodia. The condition is operable but few sufferers have the means to access help’).
There are many rural children suffer from this terrible deformity and I would like to spread the word around Rotary Clubs informing them of the problem and how they can help.
What does retirement mean to me? At the moment it means doing very little other than work on my houseboat, catching up with “stuff” I should have done years ago.
But not for long! Peter adds: ‘It is very easy to become bored and so I am looking at volunteer opportunities in Australia’.
The benefits of volunteering? To me there is nothing more satisfying than helping those who cannot help themselves, especially children. In Cambodia, watching a child attend school and finally grow into a law abiding, educated, contributing citizen ….. is as good as it gets, so I suppose the benefit is satisfaction knowing you are helping others… particularly vulnerable children.
Retirement in 3 words?… ‘HIT THE ROAD’
Photo Credit: Jackson Hirsch