IT'S been a long time between visits to Cambodia for Chris Bergen, a man with a passion for improving the lives of those who live there.
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The former longtime owner of Porter's Cafe, and now Kelso High teacher, says "the flame's still burning bright" a number of years after he decided he wanted to help make a difference to the lives of Cambodians.
He is the president of the not-for-profit charity Made International, which aims to use access to education to relieve poverty.
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When Mr Bergen was last in Cambodia - for the wedding of two close friends - COVID broke at around the same time as he was flying back.
"So it's been two-and-a-half years since I've been back to Cambodia and, after a meeting of the board on our charity, I'm going back this school holidays," he said.
While it will only be a flying visit, he said he will be using the trip to, among other things, do some research into perhaps setting up a childcare institution, through the Made International charity, to help the single mothers the charity is supporting as they train to be teachers.
Mr Bergen said the seeds of Made International were sown six years ago.
"Myself and my wife owned Porter's Cafe and we went to Cambodia on a holiday and we ended up befriending a local there," he said.
Back in Australia, and back in the cafe, Mr Bergen said he looked at some of the complaining on social media and thought people needed to show a bit of perspective.
"I thought, god almighty, I know it can be tough for people, but we really have nothing to whinge about when you see how some people in the world live," he said.
"And from that moment on, I just found the passion for it and it hasn't left me yet."
That passion even led to Mr Bergen, when he and his wife Cathy sold the Bathurst cafe, spending a year teaching HIV-positive orphans in a school one hour out of Phnom Penh.
"I did originally say this is going to take five years of my life," Mr Bergen said of his involvement with Cambodia. "Well, those five years have gone now and the flame's still burning bright.
"But, ultimately, I do it because it makes me feel good about myself, selfishly.
"I feel we all need purpose and, for me, that's the purpose. Before, the cafe was the purpose and now this is my purpose.
"Over the years, I've formed some lovely friendships with people over there and it's just wonderful to see them grow and try to help get them out of that perpetual wheel of poverty."
He said Made International aims to help people through the power of education.
"By helping them through education, that allows them to get work, allows them to get decently paid work, and that in itself allows them to build better a life for them and their families, thus affecting their communities for the better," he said.
With the end of the financial year approaching, he said those who make a donation to Made International can be assured that the money will make a difference.
"People can go to Made International.org and make a tax-refundable donation through that, knowing that everything that we have received goes directly into the hands to help impoverished people in Cambodia better their life."
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