Warrnambool woman is sharing a Cambodian charity experience

A WARRNAMBOOL woman’s two decades of volunteering has helped countless people walk again.

Joy Irvine, 82, began work with the Cambodia Trust in the 1990s and on Monday will return to the country with her sister to attend a board meeting marking 20 years of the charity’s school — the Cambodia School of Prosthetics and Orthotics (CSPO).

The Cambodia Trust was established in 1989,  with a focus to make and fit prosthetic limbs for landmine survivors. 

Today the organisation helps anyone who requires prosthetic and orthotic services and runs projects in Cambodia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Philippines and Myanmar.

Mrs Irvine has witnessed the charity come full circle. Cambodian teenager Kheny Sisary was one of her first students at CSPO. Ms Kheny is now the company’s director. 

Mrs Irvine, who has travelled to Cambodia so many times she has lost count, said Ms Kheny was testament to the Cambodia Trust’s progression.

“She was one of our first students in 1997 and now she is the boss,” Mrs Irvine said. 

Ms Kheny is also a qualified prosthetist-orthotist with a bachelor degree from La Trobe University in Australia and a masters degree from Scotland.

“The results of the board and the work are people like Sisary,” Mrs Irvine said. “She has a reputation among government circles as being a very special woman.”

The CSPO trains people to become prosthetist-orthotists who provide services for people affected by conditions such as cerebral palsy, polio, club foot, congenital deformities, tuberculosis and trauma. 

Adults and children who may have had amputations due to traffic accidents, landmines/unexploded ordnance, cancers, leprosy, infections and conditions related to vascular disease will require prostheses.

“On our last trip I took my daughter and son-in-law and the first person they met was a 15 year-old who was born without arms or legs,” Mrs Irvine said.

“He got around on paddles, stumps, and he had the most marvellous smile on his face.”

Toy Sok Dong received his first prosthetic legs while Mrs Irvine and her family were present. 

“The day we were there he was fitted and he walked for the first time,” she said. “I’ve got hundreds of stories like that from over the years.”

Mrs Irvine first became involved with the Cambodian Trust when she worked as a missionary. 

She was in Cambodia for four years and later returned to complete 12 months of full-time work. 

She has been a dedicated volunteer since, visiting Cambodia at least annually. 

The Warrnambool community has donated more than $50,000 during her time with the charity.

Her sister, 75 year-old Jennifer Forrest, will be travelling to Asia for the first time.

“I’m on a stick and so is she. The two of us on our sticks getting around Cambodia will be quite a laughable sight,” Mrs Irvine said.


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