It’s been a tough patch for Foxglove in many ways across the first half of 2020. In most respects we’re not orphans but in the last month, we’ve had a particularly difficult and heartbreaking challenge. We’ve lost the founder of Focus Cambodia (our project in Cambodia) and Kelley’s mum, Lesley Hewett, after a very brief illness. On the 30th May, Lesley passed away unexpectedly in her sleep at the age of 82. But whilst it was unexpected for us, Lesley was ready and peaceful.
And now we have the opportunity to reflect on a remarkable well-lived life.
Lesley started travelling to Cambodia in 1995. She had always shared a passion to work in the Developing World but it wasn’t until she was widowed in her mid-50s that the idea took root. In Cambodia, she saw poverty and need in a country still recovering from genocide. Almost immediately, she could see herself investing her time and energy into making a difference. Her first project was helping to find land and build a children’s home. She gained the support of local officials which led to orphaned, abandoned and neglected children being allowed to find security, education and care. They called the centre, Sunshine House. A home that continues to flourish some twenty years later as part of Awareness Cambodia.
On her regular travels to Cambodia, she became increasingly aware of the shortfalls in the education system. Many were a result of a lack of practical resources (e.g. computers) as well as inadequate skills training and teaching expertise. Lesley responded by forming an alliance with the WA Education Department and together establishing the Angkor Project. This is a project collaboration between the Western Australian Department of Education (DoE) and the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport that builds sister school relationships to enhance the education of students in both Cambodia and Western Australia. Lesley received an award from Rotary as a result of her contribution to this work.
As she developed partnerships on the ground in Cambodia and with Australian–based entities, Lesley became more convinced that she needed to set up her own charity. With the help of a small group of wonderful women in Perth, she registered Focus Cambodia as a charity in 2008. Focus Cambodia gained significant funding to build a primary school in rural Cambodia, dig wells and provide clean water and sanitation to schools and local communities, establish a school in tip community, fund classrooms and small business initiatives for sustainability, and assist a children’s home to become registered and independent.
Lesley made a considerable impact on Cambodia, and more particularly the people of Cambodia. An impact born not out of duty but out of love. She had a great compassion for their needs but an even greater passion to help local people build their capacity and establish a better future. Lesley will never be forgotten by the many she touched in Cambodia wth her energy, ideas and love. She is also fondly remembered by men and women, as well as organisations in Australia, who she inspired to look across the globe and make a difference. They too will never be quite the same.
And the Foxglove Project is one of those organisations. Focus Cambodia Inc was the origin of the Foxglove Project. We still retain the name for our work in Cambodia which focuses on providing clean water and sanitation in the same rural area that Lesley identified 15 years ago. We share her passion, kindness and belief in the capacity of others.
In her final will, Lesley indicated she wished to be cremated with her ashes scattered in Cambodia. It is a fitting testimony to a woman who gave her all to a country who accepted her as their own.
We stand on her shoulders and feel so very proud that our roots are deep and strong.