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Children Of A Lesser God - Transcript

PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT: Monday, 5 April , 2010

JIMMY BARNES, PRESENTER: Hi, I'm Jimmy Barnes. Tonight's program is about someone who at the age 24
is leading a life that leaves me in awe. Tara Winkler has the heart of Mother Teresa and the looks
of a supermodel, but her real beauty is within. And she's taken on a tough project in Cambodia that
I'm proud to support. This is her story.

TARA WINKLER, CAMBODIAN CHILDREN'S TRUST: Today we're off to pick up four new kids, who have been
orphaned from HIV and AIDS, from a province just outside of Battambang in north-west Cambodia.
Whenever we are going out to pick up new kids I always have to be aware that this is going to be a
very scary thing for them, and it's going to be a big change for their lives and they really have
no idea what to expect. We had to do everything officially and in accordance with the Cambodian law
and finally when we had all that organised I turned around and see that these four kids are all in
tears and that there are another two little kids who are absolutely distraught. And I find out that
they are the cousins - and also orphaned from HIV - and very close. So right then on the spot I
made the decision with Jedtha to take home all six. I think the hardest thing is probably knowing
that there are so many more kids that I just can't reach. I see kids every day with not enough to
eat or families without a home. I don't ever pretend that I'm saving the world, but I can change
the lives for these kids that I have and I'm dedicated to doing that for the rest of my life. We've
now got 27 kids who have been orphaned from HIV and AIDS, or who have been trafficked or very badly
abused. The youngest is now two years old and right up to 22 years old. Cambodia is the poorest
country in South East Asia and has experienced a horrific genocide, and as a result of that has
left a lot of kids without families and a lot of broken homes.

JEDTHA PON, CAMBODIAN CHILDREN'S TRUST DIRECTOR: Sometimes I used to think why she comes to do
great work like this? She do very hard work to help us. Why does she not live in Australia and
have... she have good life, and why she comes to live with a very difficult life, and do very
difficult work to help us and work with me, yes?

PETER WINKLER, FATHER: For Tara, having an ordinary life, in the sense of, you know, growing up,
maybe getting a job, getting married, having children, it is not enough; that's not where she's
heading. She has a grander, much bigger picture of her role in the world and that comes out of her
search for sort of meaning and purpose.

SUE KERSEY, MOTHER: Tara's an interesting mixture of vulnerability and strength. She'd say 'feel
the fear and do it anyway'. She's always been a very determined individual. It was always if Tara
decided on a course of action, it was always very difficult to dissuade her from that.

TARA WINKLER, CAMBODIAN CHILDREN'S TRUST: I really wanted to work as a set designer. I thought the
film industry was going to be exciting and glamorous.

PETER WINKLER, FATHER: When she left school she volunteered with a film industry company. So she'd
be expected to run around town and pick up all sorts of strange props and things that the art
department for making ads, TV commercials needed. So instead of that being some sort of glamorous
development of a career, she started to find it quite disillusioning.

TARA WINKLER, CAMBODIAN CHILDREN'S TRUST: Working really hard to help advertise incontinence pads
with millions of dollars being spent on a 20 second commercial felt very wrong with my core
beliefs. For the first time in my life I realised that I didn't know what I wanted to do with
myself. I felt quite lost and disillusioned and depressed with my life, yeah. I don't know why I
didn't like who I had become. I didn't like myself very much. I felt that I had nothing to offer
anybody really. I didn't know myself anymore and I didn't know what I wanted to do and I didn't
know how to find what it was that I did want to do. It affected me enough to go and seek
professional help of a counsellor. I actually did some drawings during that time to try and express
the way I was feeling. She basically encouraged me to try and find a way to give some more meaning
to my life.

SUE KERSEY, MOTHER: It was at that time we suggested the trip. We'd always offered the girls a
choice between an 18th birthday party or a trip and Tara decided on the trip.

TARA WINKLER, CAMBODIAN CHILDREN'S TRUST: I wanted to get out there and see the real world and I
went on the South East Asian loop. So I went through Thailand and Laos and Vietnam and ended up in

PETER WINKLER, FATHER: What happened was that it was a complete turnaround. It was amazing really.
She finished the tour and on the tour one of the places that moved her the most was a place called
the Landmines Museum. Tara contacted us at the end of the tour saying she's not coming home. She's
going to go and volunteer at the Landmines Museum. We were expecting her to stay on for just a few
weeks. And to tell you the truth we were delighted. We thought oh, that's fantastic.

TARA WINKLER, CAMBODIAN CHILDREN'S TRUST: Teaching English I had picked up a few basic words in
Khmer, and I really wanted to get further off the beaten track and see more of real Cambodia. I
heard about an orphanage in a province called Battambang that was in desperate need of help called
SKO. When I first got to SKO, I had never seen poverty like that. The kids were living in
unimaginable circumstances and it broke my heart. They were living in one building, sleeping like
sardines on the floor -no mosquito nets, drinking dirty water, eating leftover scraps from a
monastery down the road. They wanted me to stay and volunteer, but I sort of knew at that time that
I wasn't emotionally equipped to deal with that. But I promised I would go home and find help.

JEDTHA PON, FORMER SKO STAFF: I thought that I never see her again, because I used to meet some
foreigner before already. They say that they would come to help us and promise, they will find some
sponsor, donor to help us. We never see again.

TARA WINKLER, CAMBODIAN CHILDREN'S TRUST: So when I got back to Australia I spoke with a couple of
friends and we decided to hold a fundraiser. We had a bunch of very generous well known Australian
artists donate some paintings and we held an art auction to raise money for the orphanage. We
raised about $20,000. It was a little stressful bit I kind of thrive on that sort of challenge.
Yeah, once I decide to do something it usually happens. There was a lot of corruption in Cambodia
and I didn't feel safe in sending that money over so I decided to take it over myself. I built
quite a strong relationship with all the kids and got to know them really well, despite the
language barrier. I worked with the kids on a lot of medical projects; we took them to the dentist
for the first time and got them all vaccinated and installed some water filters.

JEDTHA PON, FORMER SKO STAFF: Make me surprised and I'm so excited to see her again that she would
come to help us because then we really need help, you know. It's hard for me to find funding.

TARA WINKLER, CAMBODIAN CHILDREN'S TRUST : I had no idea to the extent of how bad things were, but
I had some idea that things weren't quite kosher. I knew definitely there was corruption happening.
I left a phone with one of the older and more responsible girls at the orphanage named Sinet, so
that she could contact me if there was any problems. I came back to Australia and this one night I
was out at a gig and I got a message from her. It said something like don't worry about me Tara,
I'm being brave. I had no idea why she was telling me not to worry and why she had to be brave. I
really didn't understand, but it set off alarm bells. Shortly after that I got an email from Jedtha
that there were some problems happening and he was quite cryptic about what those problems were,
but I was very concerned and jumped on the next plane back to Battambang. So when I returned to
Battambang I learned just how bad things had become; so bad that I was prevented from returning to
the orphanage. I met with the former staff.

JEDTHA PON, FORMER SKO STAFF: I report what really happen at orphanage to her. We have problem with
the orphanage founder and he try to make problem with the staff. He fired the staff, fired me and
other staff. And he make children very upset and they were scared of him.

TARA WINKLER, CAMBODIAN CHILDREN'S TRUST: I learned just how bad the corruption was; that the
director was embezzling every single cent that was coming in from the international donors, so the
kids were starving and catching mice to cook and eat. I had been told that the director was abusing
the kids really badly with physical violence and sexual abuse with the older girls. Once I received
all this news I finally realised what the cryptic message from Sinet was all about, and I knew I
had to do something.

SINET CHAN, ORPHAN: Very bad. That bad man, the director of SKO, he raped me. I still scared about
director of SKO, and always I think about he do very bad for me. And never forget.

TARA WINKLER, CAMBODIAN CHILDREN'S TRUST: So after many meetings with Jedtha, we both decided that
the only thing that we could do was to set up our own organisation and try and rescue the kids from
SKO. We had to find a house for the kids to live. We finally found one place that was perfect. It
used to be a medical clinic. And it was big enough and had enough grounds for the kids to play and
it was in our price range. It was a lucky find. I was scared. I was terrified. I hadn't... to be
honest, yeah, I knew I was naïve and jumping in the deep end with Jedtha in this, but I didn't see
any other option. So, finally the day came that we were able to offer the kids a chance to leave
the orphanage. We had the police with us and the support from the local authorities to give the
kids the option to leave the orphanage if they wanted to. It was a scary thing. It was a huge leap
of faith for them to come with me. So they didn't really know where they were going and they had to
trust that I had their best interests at heart. I was worried that they would be too scared, but 14
of them - the legitimate orphans - all got on the bus that day. So that was the day my life changed
and I became responsible for 14 amazing kids who were counting on me. I was 22 years old.

SINET CHAN, ORPHAN: We are very happy; very happy. And she tell everything about her orphanage. We
can learn what we want, we can do what we want, and she say 'Don't be scared' because not have
someone to hurt us.

TARA WINKLER, CAMBODIAN CHILDREN'S TRUST: So once we had got the kids into the centre I realised
that this was going to be a lifetime job for me. So we formed our own local NGO called the
Cambodian Children's Trust - CCT. So I made a commitment to those kids that I would provide them
with a future and that I would always be there for them.

PETER WINKLER, FATHER: One minute we thought we were a long way off being grandparents and the next
minute we felt like we had 14. She knew that they had to get quite a lot of funding to keep it
going, so she had supporters still back here and she contacted them and said, 'Well, I'm now
responsible for 14 children.' And quite a lot of them jumped into the fray and helped with
fundraising activities to keep CCT afloat. The question i asked Tara eventually was 'Why are you in
Cambodia? Do you think it is a coincidence that you're working with the children of the Cambodian
holocaust?' And she just bawled.

TARA WINKLER, CAMBODIAN CHILDREN'S TRUST: My grandmother was a holocaust survivor, and spent time
in Auschwitz. I don't think it is any coincidence that the country that I've chosen to dedicate my
life to is the only country in south East Asia that has experienced a genocide. Thousands of Khmer
people were murdered and tortured here. I was really close to my grandma Notji. Every Thursday
after school I used to go to her house and I used to sit down with her and ask her to tell me the
same stories over and over again about her experiences in the holocaust. My grandma's experience of
the holocaust has resonated very strongly throughout my life and instilled in me a deep awareness
of injustice. The parents of all of my kids lived through the Pol Pot regime and they've lost all
of their family. So in a way the kids and I are both children of a holocaust, and I have now chosen
to dedicate my life to the children of Cambodia's holocaust.

JEDTHA PON, CAMBODIAN CHILDREN'S TRUST DIRECTOR: I think we have good luck to meet her. They can go
to school. They have food. They have good care, and good medical care. And they have a better life
than before. Absolutely better life than before.

TARA WINKLER, CAMBODIAN CHILDREN'S TRUST: A lot of them are really bright and have big dreams and I
want to nurture that and give them the opportunity like any other kid in Australia would have to
fulfil those dreams. So we've developed a transition house project to enable them to continue their
studies beyond the age of 18.

SINET CHAN, ORPHAN: Tara come with the bus, take us go to CCT, that day I had new life. If Tara she
never come back, I will run out of SKO and go to work as prostitute.

TARA WINKLER, CAMBODIAN CHILDREN'S TRUST: Sinet I believe is destined for great things. She is a
true inspiration to me. She's one of the bravest people that I know. She's incredibly intelligent
and she wants to be a lawyer, and I have every intention of doing everything in my power to make
that a reality for her.

SINET CHAN, ORPHAN: In Cambodia, not have many lawyers and very expensive. And when I become a
lawyer I will help people in Cambodia and help people who have very bad life the same as me.

TARA WINKLER, CAMBODIAN CHILDREN'S TRUST: I guess I play the role of mum. But with the older kids,
I'm almost the same age so I'm like a big sister as well. Khmer people are very gentle and I try to
be very respectful of their culture, but if somebody gets in the way of my kids or threatens my
kids, then yeah I turn into a bit of a lion. Yeah, I am too busy to feel depressed these days.
Yeah, I think it's been a two-way street. The kids have helped me just as much as I've helped them;
helped to make me stronger in many ways.

PETER WINKLER, FATHER: Yes, I think one of the big rewards for her is that she knows how much she
is needed over there. The kids and the whole thing actually depends on her, not only being there to
monitor the way CCT runs along with Jedtha, but also to actually keep the funding coming in.

KELLY BRIMBLECOMBE, SPONSOR: I'm from Singapore and I've just come to meet Samui, who is the girl
that we've been sponsoring. Her and her brother were sold to child traffickers and sent to
Thailand. They lived in Thailand in abject poverty as child beggars, and Tara's come and changed
their life. What an amazing brave young woman who's just totally inspiring. None of us could hope
to do, you know, what she does in one week in a lifetime.

PETER WINKLER, FATHER: She doesn't actually think about her own needs very much at all, and that's
a bit of a problem, you know. There are times when we need to say to her, 'Come on, you know,
you've got to look after yourself as well.'

TARA WINKLER, CAMBODIAN CHILDREN'S TRUST: There have been some really, really tough times. I got
Typhoid fever for my 21st birthday. Yeah, it can be lonely.

SUE KERSEY, MOTHER: I do worry about Tara. I worry about her physical safety. I worry about her
because she's young and a woman in a patriarchal country and she has to make decisions that aren't
always respected, so she has to assert herself quite strongly.

KELLY BRIMBLECOMBE, SPONSOR: You just know that she is a real fighter. So I was just thinking where
she's got this determination and passion from, and I think it's because she's found her purpose in
life, and she's found it at the age of 23.

JEDTHA PON, CAMBODIAN CHILDREN'S TRUST DIRECTOR: Yeah, this is her family now. It's why I say she's
not lonely, yeah. She is not lonely because the children and the staff is her family, the
orphanage, yeah.

PETER WINKLER, FATHER: I don't think Tara will come back to live in Australia. It's not like a
volunteer position; she can't suddenly say 'Well, I've had enough now, you know, I think I'll go
back and live in Australia again.'

TARA WINKLER, CAMBODIAN CHILDREN'S TRUST: Yeah, they rely on me emotionally and physically. It's
always tough; it's always a struggle to find enough money to get by. And they've experienced so
much abandonment already that I would never ever do that to them; abandon them. I get to change
people's lives every day. There could be nothing I could think of that would be more fulfilling
than that.


Cambodian Children's Trust is now home to 33 children and young adults. They are also helping 3
local families and number of homeless children.