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Thursday February 17 2011

New year, new look and an inspiring story of success

Only half way through our second month of 2011 and we have already enjoyed two new year celebrations (western and Chinese, with Khmer New Year still to come!), launched a women’s vocational training centre (Grace Gecko - our first community development collaboration with our partners Grace House Community Centre), taken more than 70 young mouths to the dentist (thanks to the ever patient and generous Trudy and our talented dentist Dr Hour), won 1st, 2nd and 3rd places in the group dancing competition (at the kids’ end of year school concert) and celebrated our hens laying their farm fresh eggs (from our new little chicken coup)... but there will be more details on these events coming soon.

Today we would like to launch our brand new newsletter format (hope you like it... and share it with a friend!) with an inspiring piece written by our long term Gecko friend and amazingly creative fundraiser, Tori Higgins. Tori shares her definition of success, her adventure of skydiving and her relationship with the Green Gecko family.

We hope you enjoy the read as much as we did

As usual, there is always more that we could share, but we’ll have to save it for the next newsletter. Thank you very much for all your ongoing support, particularly to our angel donors, creative contributors and fabulous volunteers. You know who you are (and so do we!).

Much Gecko gratitude,

Tania, Rem and all the Green Gecko gang

Success: it’s all about empathy, empowerment... and skydiving!

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By Tori Higgins

As a woman working in a male-dominated industry in New York, I could say that success is measured by salary increases, accolades of professional titles, gaining work experience to outsmart fellow colleagues with ‘new and refreshing ideas’, and receiving praise and endorsement from senior management and clients alike.

After all, that’s what we’re trained the corporate game is all about, aren’t we? And it can feel good to succeed up the so-called ladder!

Coupled with this, I often wondered if the other side of success was measured by finding your soul mate and having a spectacular wedding. Climbing the mortgage spectrum and moving into an immaculately well-kept house. Continuing to have a few children along the way, nurturing and shaping them to be the best possible human beings in the world.

That was what I thought success was about in my 20s when I was embarking on my professional path, learning what life was all about and feeling bound by the subliminal rules of society that teach us how to conform.

Looking back, I was naïve. Whilst I continue to strive for all of those things and more in life, they no longer define success to me.

Now in my late 30s, slightly older, slightly wiser and definitely more assertive, success to me is less about conforming and all about reforming. It is about being confident to venture along that path less travelled, strong enough to go against the grain, and brave enough to step out for what you feel passionate about.

It’s about bypassing those milestones at the side of the road that society dictates and creating your own.

Born to British parents, we left England when I was eight months old to live in Kenya. Six years later, we moved to Dubai. On reflection, spending my formative years in such environments, surrounded by a multitude of nationalities, it is now obvious to me that success means different things in different cultures. One size doesn’t always fit all. If you’re going to succeed at anything in life, a key ingredient is empathy.

Empathy enables you to walk in someone else’s shoes for a moment, learn how to view the world from a different angle and truly understand the missing links needed to get to where you’re going. And to achieve this, you need to encourage and empower, not only yourself but others you meet along the way.

Because the essence of real success is not about the milestone, or what you achieve after all. It’s how you get there, how you engage other people, who you impact and the difference you make along the way. How did I come to think about success in this way? Through a journey off the beaten track that combines former street children and skydiving, not necessarily together!

Back in 2008, a chance encounter on the other side of the world brought me face-to-face with 70 smiling, inquisitive little faces belonging to former Cambodian street children. Children, who had been born into despair, poverty and abuse, who were sent out on the streets at all hours by their parents to beg for money. As former breadwinners, they were once denied a childhood, had no sparkle in their eyes, lacked dreams or aspirations and stood little chance in succeeding at anything in life other than pure day to day survival.

Fast forward to today and you will find these children thriving at the Green Gecko Project in Siem Reap, a safe haven for former street kids set up by an Australian woman, Tania, and her Cambodian husband, Rem. Through pure devotion, tenacity and sheer determination, they have put smiles on faces and sparkles in eyes by offering these children their first real chance of a childhood. Through routine, an education and a school uniform, lots of love and laughter and discipline and drive, they have taught the Gecko kids that success can be theirs if they work hard and dare to dream.

Just as they did themselves.

In taking action, Tania and Rem have single-handedly changed the blueprint of what being a street kid means; they challenged the norm going up against corrupt systems, deeply grained family dysfunctions and the social stigma towards street children from their own community, all remnants from Cambodia’s brutal past.

It’s not easy, there are still disappointments and life can be a daily struggle, but they rise above all of that and are certainly succeeding. How? You can tell by the excitement and chatter that greets you upon arrival at the Gecko gates, by the small hand grasping yours to tell you their dream of studying to be a doctor in Australia so they can give something back to those less fortunate, by the enthusiasm to help each other wash the pots or climb a tree.

Some have even won national awards from the Ministry of Education for the highest academic achievements in the whole of Cambodia. Not bad accomplishments for former street kids who once lacked any sparkle in their eyes and were told they could never succeed!

But this journey of success is two-fold. What could I do to help the Gecko children continue to succeed and ensure they could live their dreams? Spending time and sharing skills is one very important way, but being based in New York, I decided to focus on the very real need for raising money that Tania and Rem require to continue.

Everyone these days seems to do a 10K run or a sponsored walk to raise money. I had to think long and hard for a novel activity that would challenge and inspire people to get up and get involved and to want to part with their money. Skydiving, that was it! I had never skydived in my life, I didn’t even know if I was capable of it, but that part was irrelevant at that stage. I already had my end goal in mind, to raise enough money to help the Green Gecko kids continue to fulfill their dreams. How we got from A to B was beside the point, it just had to be spectacular!

I initially thought I may get two friends joining me in my moment of madness and we may raise $1,000 between us. I was unprepared for what happened next. The energy and commitment of others to succeed, whilst personally challenging themselves, began to snowball.

I had dared to dream and in doing so, found myself surrounded by other like-minded people.

To date, 33 people have skydived for the first time in their lives across three countries - Manhattan, Toronto and Dubai - and collectively, we have raised $24,000. Another five destinations are planned across the globe: Adelaide, Sydney, Dubai, England and Las Vegas. I’m calling on my global network. This mission is succeeding on more levels than I ever dreamt possible.

The success of this adventure could never have been possible without the ability of others to succeed, and the empathy and encouragement to convince them they can do it. I have watched friends, family and friends of friends voluntarily fall out of a plane from 14,000 feet above the clouds when they had pure fear written across their face for some children on the other side of the world they had never met in a country they had never been to. The energy was amazing.

What ultimately drove the first-time skydivers to succeed? Of course, it was in part the desire to raise money and do something symbolic to make a difference for the Gecko children. But on a personal level, some in this group had inner challenges they were fighting to beat, to prove they were capable of doing something remarkable and greater than themselves : cancer, retirement, redundancy, a near fatal car accident, the challenge to let go of control, the ability to confront a fear, a need to say ‘I did it, I jumped out of a perfectly good plane!’. And their faces upon landing on the ground; smiles just as big and eyes just as bright as those I’ve seen on the Gecko kids faces!

When I went back to Geckoland to share my 63-year old father’s Dubai skydive video earlier this year, the kids watched in pure wonder and puzzlement as he stepped out of the plane into thin air, those bright eyes darting back and forth from the screen to him stood there in person. Upon asking ‘who would like to do a skydive’ scores of tiny hands flew up in the air. These kids love a challenge!


It’s not what you achieve in life, it’s how you get there and the footprints you leave along the way.

It’s the empathy you have to empower and encourage others from all ages, genders, cultures and backgrounds to believe they can fulfill their dream.

It’s the difference you make in just one person’s life.

And I should know. I’ve experienced success first-hand with Tania, Rem and their astounding work at the Green Gecko Project. I’ve shared success with my fellow skydivers.

But most of all, I have been blessed to share my journey with some amazing children on the other side of the world who continually prove to me anything is possible in life if you first dream it and then put your mind to it.

The sky really is the limit!

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Brave enough? Crazy enough? Or simply willing to go outside your comfort zone to support a wonderful cause? You can join Tori on her next skydive fundraiser for the Geckos - April 2, 2011!

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To join in, jump or fundraise, check out the Facebook event page or email Tori at . Let her know what city you're based in, and she'll put you in touch with your local organiser on the ground.

Which city will raise the most? Who will attrach the most jumpers?

Get involved in the fun and take up your own exciting personal challenge at the same time! Check out the amazing skydive locations in each city for some much-needed inspiration.

See where you'll be jumping... Adelaide (TBC) | Melbourne | Sydney | Dubai | Las Vegas
Get involved! Email

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