Last week leading French rider Kevin Staut went to Phnom Penh in Cambodia with Just World International – an organization for which Staut is an ambassador. Just World International acts as a catalyst for positive change in the developing world by working with local partner organizations to provide basic education, nutrition, health, hygiene, and vocational programs for children. WoSJ sat down to speak with Kevin about his involvement in the organization, and about his experiences on the trip.
“I became a Just World International ambassador as I have known the founder Jessica Newman for a long time. Already from the beginning of Just World International’s start we were talking a lot about it – and what she wanted to do. Then Jessica asked me if I wanted to be an ambassador – they wanted a French one and a younger rider, and that’s how I ended up doing it,” Kevin explains.
Up until now Kevin has been supporting the organization with a percent of his prize money – but that changed as he got the chance to do something more; “I got the opportunity to go to Cambodia. I was already thinking of going there with my sister Jade – because she has been adopted from the country. My sister left Cambodia when she was four months old, and has not been back since. It was a great opportunity to go now, she is 14 – and to be able to discover a little about where she comes from seemed great at this stage of her life.”
“So, that was really my motivation to go – my sister,” Staut smiles. “You know, as a showjumper you travel all the time and then to go 20 hours there and stay for two and a half days was maybe not on top of my wish list for a weekend off. But, then we arrived there and I must say it was an amazing experience! Now I suddenly understood why Jessica is doing what she is doing with Just World International!”
Reflecting on his experiences in Cambodia, Kevin tells WoSJ; “It is a poor country – but people were still so happy and friendly there. We have everything, and compared they have nothing – but still they are so much happier than us. You would maybe think that they would wish for what we have – the material things – but in the end I ended up wishing I had more of what they have, such a great appreciation. The children and teenagers we met were all smiles; they had food, water and education – and a chance to make it in life. And for that they were grateful.”
Kevin and his sister went to visit two schools that are operated by a non-governmental organization called PIO (People Improvement Organization), which is supported economically by Just World International. “We spoke with the teachers and pupils, and it was a great experience. About half of the teachers at the school are volunteers and the rest local – and all were so positive. The children were prepared for our visit, and presented a dance and show – it was so cute! There were children from 5-18 years old in the school, and overall it was about 1000 children in the three schools the PIO are responsible for. The schools were so clean, even though they were basically in the slum. One of the schools was very well equipped with computers that the pupils could work on – it was great to see. The second school was not that developed yet, but it was still clean and good working conditions for the kids. So the children are happy to come to a clean place, and to get food and education. PIO also ensure rice for the families throughout the week, and there was a health clinic at one of the schools for the families to visit. Unlike many European children, the kids there cannot wait to get to school! They had great respect for the teachers, and really enjoyed their learning,” Kevin explains.
“The trip really put things in perspective for me. I think we are so privileged we sometimes create problems from things that are not really problems. We have everything we want in Western Europe, but still find it hard to be happy – we have comfortable lives, but it’s not necessarily the way to a happy life. I forgot all my problems in Cambodia! I was so relaxed and stress-less when I left there – that’s what everybody there was like. Arriving in Paris I immediately felt the stress again that we create around us here in this part of the world,” the sympathetic French rider says.
“My sister already wants to go back. She experienced such a big difference between her life, and the lives lived by those her age in Cambodia. I think she would like to do some volunteer work there in time,” Kevin continues. “Next I want to visit Honduras, and I think I will do so when I am at the Winter Equestrian Festival in March – because it’s not too far to fly from there. Then next year I go with Just World again to Cambodia,” Kevin closes off.
As told to WoSJ by Kevin Staut
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