Doug Mendel Gets Fired up about Helping out in Sihanoukville
Excerpted from To Cambodia With Love: A Travel Guide for the Connoisseur, available from ThingsAsian Press.
I could not have imagined-at the tail end of a six-week trip through Asia in 1997-that three days in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap would so captivate my heart and lead me on an adventure unlike any other. The strikingly beautiful, caring, and giving people; the heat and humidity that permeated every inch of my body; the culture's simplistic, Buddhist, and bonding nature have lured me back many times to soak up everything that is Cambodia.
On my third trip in 2001, I was in Sihanoukville, a busy beach town on the southwest coastline. Walking back to my guesthouse, I saw a fire station, which caught my attention since I am a volunteer fire fighter in the United States. Returning home I had an idea that maybe I could help that one station in Sihanoukville. I talked to my fire chief to see if the department had anything that could be donated to a needy station, eight thousand miles away from the Colorado Rockies.
Two years later I visited Sihanoukville armed with three boxes of station wear shirts, pants, and boots. It was the start of a great friendship with that Cambodian fire station. During the past years, the station has received much-needed bunker gear (coats, pants, helmets, boots, Nomex hoods, gloves) so that the men are better protected when fighting fires. When the fire captain asked me for a fire truck in 2004, I told him, "Give me two years, and I'll have one for you." Although it may have seemed like an impossible request, with lots of patience and media exposure, I was able to stay true to my word. In 2006 I delivered a donated fire truck from Breckenridge, Colorado, to the fire station in Sihanoukville.
Because Cambodia was under civil war for a couple of decades, various levels of the infrastructure are in great need of assistance. Since I was a volunteer fire fighter, it was the fire stations in Cambodia that caught my attention. I started small with a few boxes of donated gear, and now I'm helping eight stations across the country. I bring up to eight hundred pounds of supplies to help the various stations on each of my regular visits. If you are as fortunate as I am to discover a cause that speaks to you-and there are many in Cambodia to choose from-you can soon find yourself making a valuable contribution that will help the country just as much as it enriches your own life.
Finding your cause
Along with supporting Cambodia's fire fighters, Doug also helps organizations in Sihanoukville that assist disadvantaged street children (M'Lop Tapang) and disabled children (The Starfish Project), by providing clothing, stuffed animals, games, school supplies, toothbrushes, and toothpaste.
Published on 11/14/10