We spent the first half of 2014 living in the Child Rescue Centre in regional Cambodia, in a tiny little village called Krang Lovea. I spent my days working with the children and the staff there, guiding them to be a little bit better at everything they were trying to achieve and Ashley was in charge of teaching English to the kids and the community. We loved our time there but it did not come without it’s challenges, the weather seemed to always be against us, we went through some of the most intense weather I have ever experienced – most days throughout March, April and May reaching temperatures over 45 degrees. If you have experienced this heat, you’ll know it’s suffocating and very difficult to be productive. Regardless of the ever present weather we achieved what we wanted to in our time there and then moved to Nepal for what we thought would be 4 months – we barely lasted 1 month.
After leaving Cambodia we took a little break away from it all and went to Sydney for 10 days, it was wonderful to once again feel cold air against our bodies. I wanted to introduce Ashley to my family, show her the sites and of course propose. It took me 2 days to pop the question, we landed on the 2nd June and the deal was done by the 4th – I have never felt such nervousness before, I mean I knew, well hoped, she would say yes but you really never know, do you. Well, I am the luckiest man alive because the woman of my dreams said yes. It was a wonderful day, so much happiness and love but why did it end up in the emergency room at Manly Hospital. I had not been feeling great for a number of months, living in developing nations is hard on your body, sickness becomes part of life and it plagued me on this happy day with a migraine and a stomach bug – a day that Ashley will never forget, getting engaged and then nursing me back to health up at Manly Hospital. We found out a few days later I had a hernia that needed emergency surgery so we had to put off our trip back overseas to take care of that. 6 days after the surgery we flew through Cambodia to pick up our stuff and onto Nepal. We were so excited about our time there, I had taken Ashley there back in March and the kids loved her and we couldn’t wait to see them again – such beautiful and inspiring young men and woman.
Nepal was not what we expected and life through us another curve ball or a challenge if you will, a challenge to test our relationship, our resolve and our commitment to what it is we were doing. I was weakened from the hernia surgery, from being about 10kg under my optimum weight and from the number of different illnesses I’d had over the last 18 months being in developing countries. Ashley had been lucky up until Nepal, unknown to us; we had arrived at a time of year when parasites were at a very high risk – the end of the monsoon season. Ashley was struck down by a particularly nasty parasite called E. Hostilyca just 2 days into our time in Nepal. We tried everything but nothing was working, she could not keep down anything and was severely dehydrated so we went to a hospital there in Pokhara where she was quickly diagnosed and treated – it took Ashley about 10 days to feel anywhere close to normal. During this time, I was struggling with the hernia, my stomach was playing up and I had rolled my ankle whilst going to the pharmacy to get Ashley some more drugs. It is safe to say that we were not in a good state, struggling both physically and emotionally. Why were we being tested? All we wanted to do was help, drive the charity forward and lend a helping hand to those less fortunate. It was a frustrating time and a time where we were pushed to our limits. Until this point in time, I truly believed that we could live in developing nations for 11-12 months a year and be able to perform at a level that positively affected people, I now know that this is near impossible. After much deliberation, we rescheduled some flights, found a little apartment in Manly and came home for an extended time for the first time for me in 20 months and for Ashley in 7 months.
It was during this time where I was able to rest and I mean real rest – 10 hours sleep a night in cool weather wrapped in a doona instead of waking up dripping with sweat because it’s still 40 degrees at 2am. The rest was wonderful and my body thanked me. After 2 weeks I started the rebuilding stage – slow at first, I did a lot of pilates and swimming then slowly added running and weights. After 6 weeks of working out and healthy eating I started to healthily put on weight and feel like my old self again – fit, strong and absolutely passionate and dedicated to the charity. I was able to do all the running around I had to do to finally and legally launch the charity, I changed my board and had my first AGM and even registered a travel company that will support our charity – check out our travel section under get involved on our website www.ibsh.com.au. I even finished my time in Sydney completing a 14km Spartan race out in Picton – just to prove to myself more than anything that I still had it, Thanks to Nick Forsyth and Nathan Tauro for getting me through that. Ashley’s rest and rebuilding didn’t quite go to plan like mine, 3 weeks after being back we found out we were pregnant. Amazing news and we couldn’t be happier, we feel like we are parents already to the hundreds of children we help through the charity but to have our own will be an absolute blessing. For the last 10 weeks Ashley has been dealing with hyperemesis (acute morning sickness), it again has been a tough time – my role in all of it was to be as supporting as I could be, make her as comfortable as possible, try to keep her hydrated and get food for her that she could stomach. We had one visit to the hospital where Ashley was so dehydrated it took 9 times for the doctors (yes, 3 of them) to get the IV into her poor little collapsing veins. 16 weeks into the pregnancy and I think the light at the end of the hyperemesis tunnel is starting to reveal itself.
We are now in Santa Barbara, California in Ashley’s home town and just being with her family has lifted her spirits and made dealing with hyperemesis that little much easier. We now have 6 weeks to organise our wedding, we spend Christmas here and then honeymoon in Turkey before heading back to Nepal and Cambodia for a month before we head back to Sydney to have our little baby.
My time back home has finally given me headspace to reflect on the 20 months I have been away, time to really get a grip on everything I had done, changed and created. This charity, The International Brothers & Sisters House is to be my legacy and our vehicle to really initiate positive change in both the children and communities we are dedicating our money and time to. The challenges that Ashley and I have been through over the last 10 months have been key learning’s for us and for how we plan on moving forward with the work we were born to do and with a little one on the way, how does one balance it all – I don’t have all the answers now but I know that we are dedicated to each other, dedicated to our child and dedicated to our charity and that’s all we need to know at the moment, the rest will work itself out.
I reflect often about my time in developing countries and my experiences. Knowing what I know about the 2 worlds, I constantly battle internally with myself whilst living back in first world countries, it’s hard sometimes to accept everything that we spend our time and energy focused on but I know I need to accept it because those frustrations will not move me forward as a positive and kind hearted human. I have realised the significance of my family in my life and the important role they play in everything I do and I have of course gained another family in it all – I love Ashley’s family, such a close and special bond they have and I am blessed to now be part of it. The launch of the charity had its challenges but we are underway, we had great exposure through social and traditional media and donations are flowing and I thank each and every one of you for helping us move forward towards our goals.
Until next time, peace and love,
Founder & Director – The International Brothers & Sisters House.