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GW013: Unsung Heroes Cambodia By Lee Anderson

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Lee Anderson and Shawna Hartley are co-authors of a new book on volunteering entitled ‘Unsung Heroes Cambodia’. It illustrates how people and projects make a difference, by showcasing over 40 NGOs that are helping Cambodia to recover.

Today, Lee Anderson joins us on another episode of Giving Warriors!

Lee completed her education at a Swiss finishing school and ended up running an Aussie country pub.  With an entrepreneurial streak, Lee started the Rocks Walking Tours, Australia’s premier walking tour, spearheaded a town centre revitalization project, The MainStreet Program, in hundreds of communities around Australia, and worked in Western Samoa as a journalist.

While attempting to find the right project to help in Cambodia, she came up with the concept for a book to celebrate worthwhile projects and make it easier for people to help.

Five years and numerous trips to Cambodia later, and with the help of two dedicated friends and co-authors, ‘Unsung Heroes: People and Projects Making a Difference’ was published in 2013.

Today, Lee talks about the journey that led her to writing Unsung Heroes, awareness among volunteers, key characteristics of a good NGO, and more!


~ Answering the Call to Help: On a trip to Cambodia with her daughter, Lee realized that it was difficult to seek out the chances to help, which projects suited her own skill set. Her background in journalism brought her to the perfect solution – writing a book!

~ A Labour of Love: Unsung Heroes took three years, and six trips to Cambodia to come to fruition.Its stories are diverse. They span over subjects such as wildlife, culture, and education, including stirring stories of the locals who have recovered, and are now giving back to their communities!

~ Why Cambodia? A place ravaged by war, Cambodia’s educated population was wiped out many years ago. With no education, no history, no cultural background, it took two generations for the nation to recover.

And the process of revival continues.Volunteers play a significant role. They can help the people to recover from the aftermath of devastation. They can help to rebuild the nation.

~ Discovery of Heroes – the Selection Process: Anderson tells us a few qualities that the authors looked for, in each project, before featuring it in their book. Financial transparency and regular audits are a must. The organization must know what type of volunteers are needed, and what skills are required from them.

~ Doing More Harm than Good: The most important criterion for any NGO to succeed is to make sure that they work for what the community actually needs.When an agency forgets to listen to the people, they leave a wary community behind. One that is more cautious the next time an organization reaches out to help them!

The aim should always be to go slowly, listen to the needs of the people, and collaborate with the locals.

~ Fundamental Characteristics of Effective Projects: Anderson categorically lists a number of components that make a volunteer-based project “good”.

1. A leader to whom one is answerable to – one who is in charge of the volunteer activities

2. Matching the skills of their volunteers to their placement in an organization

3. Volunteer training for specialized activities

~ Sneak Peek into Unsung Heroes: Lee Anderson shares two stories from the book that resonate with her –

The first is a local story of a young boy who overcame his disability, educated himself, and is now using his experiences to work with other disabled people in Phnom Penh!The next one is a heartwarming story of a French traveler who found out what the people needed, and then set up a café, Friends-International Restaurant, to give street children a profession!

~ No Age for Volunteering: Every age is an appropriate one. Young volunteers have the ability to connect with the children of affected regions, while older ones have more time to contribute, and can use a lifetime of their own experiences to help!

~ Expert advice from Lee Anderson to listeners who want to make a difference!


Working in Cambodia broadened Anderson’s horizons. She met fantastic people, whose stories she brought back with her.

She tells us that although there is a lovely sense of having done something worthwhile, there is a lot more that needs to be done!

The book is inexpensive, and can be shipped all over the world. Word of mouth is a wonderful tool that might even attract more funds and volunteers to Cambodia!


UnSung Heroes Cambodia by Lee Anderson, Shawna Hartley, Kerryan Griffin



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