A Q&A With Carol Mortensen, ChildFund Cambodia National Director

Interview by Sierra Winston, ChildFund Communications Intern

This is one in a series of interviews with ChildFund’s national directors in honor of ChildFund International’s 75th anniversary. 

75th ChildFund logoHow long have you been with ChildFund?
I have been working for ChildFund since May 2007. I was hired to establish ChildFund Cambodia, working in cooperation with ChildFund Australia.

Where did you work before ChildFund?
I have done many jobs before working at ChildFund: When I was growing up, I took holidays jobs such as cinema usherette, postal service redirection worker, vegetable and fruit picker, toy shop and gift shop salesperson. Later on in life, I was a teacher in Australia and Africa, and I have also worked for Australian Volunteers and Save the Children.

Carol Mortensen

Carol Mortensen, national director of ChildFund Cambodia

What is the most difficult situation you have encountered in your job?
The most difficult situation I have encountered in my job is speaking to young people and hearing about the barriers that prevent them from achieving their dreams. The barriers can range from the simple, which ChildFund can address through programs and project activities, to the more challenging, systemic barriers.

ChildFund is working on challenging existing power structures in an appropriate manner, both at the local and national level, but it takes time. There are many visible improvements in the lives of children today in Cambodia, but there is still a lot more to do, especially in rural communities where the wealth gap between the rich and poor has increased at a greater rate than in urban communities.

What successes have you had in your national office?
Some of the successes would have to include establishing the Cambodia program and scaling up activities each year, responding to opportunities that present themselves. Also, hearing that the relationship Cambodia staff have with the royal government of Cambodia is highly valued by authorities.

Authorities at the district, commune and village levels now have firsthand experience of working with children and youth and understanding the value they can bring to development planning. We see members of a youth group reach into their backpacks and pull out the 5-year District Development Plan and identify the priorities that were included as a result of their lobbying. Also, we read in evaluations that youths and households have  increased monthly income through ChildFund income-generation training and support activities. A parent approached us to ask if her son could attend youth group trainings even though he is not a youth club member, because she has seen the benefit it gave her eldest daughter.

What motivates you in life?
I am motivated by hope and possibility. Even in very difficult circumstances, young people will often have ideas and want to be involved in community planning.

Cambodian girls

Cambodian girls get water from a pump.

What do you like to do in your free time?
Like so many people I know, I am often trying to have greater balance in my life. I spend time with family and friends, I read, I get involved in my local community wherever I am living, try to do something new every year. A friend and I have committed to each identify resolutions to focus on each month, but we’ve also learnt that we often have to revise or reschedule resolutions. Perhaps we’ll get better at this as time goes on.

Who is your role model?
My mother, who believed that it didn’t matter what religion you were but whether you helped your neighbor when they were in need. I am not sure if she would have called herself a feminist, but she had the same expectations of my brother and me to help around the house; only after I left home did I realize this was not a common expectation across all families.

What is a quote, saying or belief that you live by?
Different quotes have been important to me at different times in my life. Today an Australian Aboriginal proverb resonates: “Those who lose dreaming are lost.”

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