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Balclutha's Joan Hasler got a first-hand look at Cambodia's poverty and its slums last month.
Ms Hasler was one of five members of the Balclutha Rotary Club who went to Cambodia from September 26 to October 12 on the club's first international aid mission to help that country's poor.
Balclutha dental surgeon David Tait asked how the club could do some international aid work, and he and international projects co-ordinator for the club Peter Buxton found One-2-One Charitable Trust, which provides dental and medical care to vulnerable children in Cambodia, Ms Hasler said.
Stuart Holgate, a paramedic, and Ms Hasler's sister Ngaire Pannett, an intensive care nurse, joined the team and the five New Zealanders tried to make a small difference, working in eye-opening conditions for 10 days in the chaotic squalor of the slums of Phnom Penh, she said.
They worked with people living in tiny shacks surrounded by rafts of plastic bags, their lives ''stabbed our hearts'', Ms Hasler said.
''You really can't change anything, but every little bit you do must help,'' she said from her Balclutha home this week.
Ms Hasler and Mr Buxton read to children and tried to expose them to English at a One-2-One SOS (Save Our Students) school.
Mr Tait worked in the One-2-One dental clinic, where orphanages would bring children daily for treatment. One day, every patient he saw had HIV, Ms Hasler said.
Her sister and Mr Holgate ventured into the slums with a Cambodian nurse, Linda Bahn, who grew up in the slums but escaped. She acted as an interpreter, but she also introduced the pair to a young boy who would leave a deep impression on all of their hearts, Ms Hasler said.
''I just can't stop crying - it was so horrible,'' she said.
The little boy had HIV and a name the New Zealanders could not pronounce but his story still moves her to tears.
The boy they called Diamond was HIV positive, as was his mother, his father was in prison and his younger brother had not contracted HIV.
When Ms Bahn first took the 8-year-old Diamond to hospital, he ran away, back to his mother, she said.
Ms Pannett and Mr Holgate visited him daily.
''They took him clothes, and a sleeping mat, and mosquito netting to hang over his bed,'' she said. Their aim was to get him into care.
''That was the whole thing: to try to get Diamond and his mother and little brother into the hospital.
''This little boy who didn't want to leave his mama, his mama was always crying because she wanted him to be treated.
''This wee boy: we took him on to Stuart [Holgate] and he hugged and hugged and hugged and hugged Stuart.
''And his mother, she just hugged and hugged and hugged my sister. They were just so happy that someone was taking care of them.''
Since returning from Southeast Asia, Ms Hasler has seen photos of Diamond receiving care.
While she had toured through poor areas of India and witnessed poverty in the past, she said she had never before been engaged with such difficult living conditions. Ms Hasler noticed plastic bags were strewn everywhere. Families would live crowded into hovels perhaps a metre back from the railway tracks. In one area the group visited, flimsy haphazard walkways connected homes above dirty water.
Defecating into plastic bags was the norm there, she said, ''which I guess is better than just doing it on the railway tracks''. She cherished children's smiles and was impressed by the humanity and people's clean clothes: ''I've never seen so much washing hanging around. I don't know ... [how they paid for] washing powder.''
Ms Hasler said she didn't know if she would return to Cambodia, but she was sure her sister firstname.lastname@example.org