I propose that every macrocosmic or microcosmic universe has its center. A still point. A gravitational force holding in a cyclical orbit otherwise randomly hurtling objects. Even a chaotic blob can be charted and parsed to locate a 'middle' point, no? It makes sense to this less-than-brilliant-and-logical mind (a real muddle of all things sensible and reasonable diluted and polluted with the hopelessly sentimental and superstitious- I actually convinced myself that my headaches over the last two days were surely a brain tumor- ignoring the cheap beers I drank until the wee hours rolling dice and playing four in a row against the bartenders at Howies). Don't disabuse me of my insight, please. For the moment I am fond of the idea, a bit protective.
The Liger Learning Center is not a chaotic blob, though it is a little raggedy in its perambulations and foggy in its permutation; it is a grand experiment after all, and experimentation is not about repeating preordained steps from a reified text. Yet it is a complex shape, with many layers past, present, and future, whose definition/perameters I am far from understanding to date.
I can throw out that I have located its core. I am not speaking of its values (ingenuity, stewardship, determination, optimism, integrity, appreciation) though the center of which I write certainly embodies all of these. Rather the locus is a person. Not the person(s) one might expect- our munificent benefactors (profiled on my other blog www.brightuprising.com), or our highly regarded director. No, the Liger Center's Center is Dom.
Dom Sharpe, lately of the UK and originally of Australia. As one approches this spontaneous, silly, amazing, talented, intelligent, hilarious vaudevillian, one has to ask- how can such a loon be so deep? How can such an unassuming figure, never jostling for attention or power, command such universal respect? He can seemingly do anything and does. He oversees the grounds and building people, the teachers, the interns, the kitchen staff. He even has been driving the "bus" with the day students from the city twice a day. How does he do it? When does he sleep? Dom has no training in education, no riches. Likely he will not win any beauty contests, national, regional, or local. Yet to know Dom is to fall in love- man or woman, septuagenarian or infant.
Part of his gravitational force rests in the fact that he is not a single entity. Dom is a family man, which somehow neither diminishes his time or availability, but radically increases both. Dom is not Dom without Benita, his phenomenal English wife.
Together Dom and Benita ran a highly successful design firm in London. They hobnobbed with the likes of Gordon Ramsey and a slew of rock stars. They designed homes for the hoi polloi across continents. Then after the birth of their son Jack, which nearly cost Benita her life, and the subsequent adoption of their daughter, Theevey, they raised funds, moved to Cambodia, and vowed to work until they were broke. They founded CamKids, an umbrella organization that supports worthy projects with finances and governance. http://www.camkids.org/
Their original concept was to be here for a few years and work their way back to Australia, Tasmania to be more precise, Dom's birthplace, so that their family could experience life in each of their 'home' countries. Ten years later CamKids has distributed over a million dollars to Who Will Children's Center (where the very first Liger student, Dalin, was chosen), Empowering Youth in Cambodia, and dozens of other deserving projects. No one, including Dom and Benita, has ever earned a single cent for their work for Camkids. The administrative cost is zero- so unlike the many government and NGO's here. To earn a living, Benita works locally for a designer, Dom now counts on his position as program director at Liger. He was brought on early in the Liger project, simply as a consultant because of his many Khmer connections, and then permanently when it became evident that this was a man whose presence exponentially increased potential for success. My second Skype interview in the Liger application process was with Dom. It convinced me that I would have a place in the organization - if Liger would hire the Australian Bush Poet (he had a regular gig for a long time on a popular London morning radio show), if was the right place for yours truly.
Last Sunday I had the immense privilege of going with them to Who Will. This is the small pond house where we spent the afternoon, sharing the fruit Dom brought, singing songs in Khmer and English, and playing charades.
Just a small project. Just this many lives...
The young people are provided with a bed and meals, clothes and English classes and support with school and job training. The English classes are run by volunteers, who must commit to at least a month (contact me or CamKids if you know someone interested).
Much paper and thought is spent on leadership- what it is, how to do it, how to train for it. And for good reason, obviously. We need generals and directors and bosses- visionaries (I suppose- perhaps John Lennon would ask us to imagine a world where we didn't). But maybe more time should be spent on studying 'centers' and how to be one.; the platoon sergeant who actually gets his men to implement the general's orders. They say that a leader's job is a lonely one, and I don't doubt it. The center's is the opposite- all love and relationship and communication. They are the glue that binds. Who is to say which is more crucial to eventual success?
Tomorrow I travel to Kampong Speu to a new children's project deep in the countryside about which Dom is terrifically excited. I will document it and post on it next.
So here's to King Dom (as we jokingly refer to him) and Benita, energizing, uplifting, inspiring me daily.