WITNESSING extreme poverty in Cambodia, from the lack of education to negligible healthcare in the wake of the Khmer Rouge regime led by Pol Pot, was life-changing for Glen Forrest resident Dr Gary Hewett.
He tells of the stoic acceptance of pain of a four-year-old boy, and other experiences, which made his attempts to put his dentistry skills to good use seem like just a drop in the ocean, compelling him to do more.
Within a year of touring the country with his brother in 1995, he founded the charity Awareness Cambodia and was on a clear mission to improve lives in the rural province of Kompong Speu.
“It is the poorest in an impoverished nation, where one in 10 kids do not make it to their first birthday,” he said. “What I saw was the start of something, as I came home and said to my wife ‘I can’t just walk away’.”
Dr Hewett’s efforts to help Cambodians emerge from poverty, through medical and building teams, an orphanage, health centres, training up local doctors and working to meet community needs, are making a real difference. They may also make him WA Australian of the Year, as he was one of four finalists announced on Monday.
“I was completely shocked, but love how this recognition raises awareness of what we are doing,” Dr Hewett said.
“I tell people it is great to enjoy living in this fantastic country, but remember not everyone can, so let’s share some of what we have.”
Fellow Hills resident June Butcher, founder of Kanyana Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Gooseberry Hill, is one of four finalists for WA Senior Australian of the Year.
The citation describes her dedication to caring for sick, injured and orphaned animals, and involvement in the Department of Environment and Conservation endangered species captive breeding program, Western Shield.
Both local finalists have previously been acknowledged through the Australian honours system. The four WA category winners are announced November 21, and go into the running to be Australian of the Year.