Although we hail from different countries - four Americans, two Brits, a Hungarian and a Spaniard - we are united in our passion for traveling and our determination to help the children of Cambodia.
Each one of us has traveled extensively, but has also dreamed of attempting a trip that could directly benefit those we encountered, as well as provide a challenging but rewarding experience.
While in Cambodia we found inspiration in the work of two charities: Mith Samlanh and M'Lop Tapang. Both were founded by earlier travelers with similar sentiments to our own - people who had borne witness to the poverty and hopelessness of street children in Cambodia, and were resolved to do something about it.
On our trek through Asia we will visit other local charities striving to provide a better life for future generations. By documenting our time with these organisations we hope to reveal the challenging social and economic conditions faced by many peoples, so that others may be encouraged to help.
We hope our journey - in a car never intended for such an undertaking - will inspire others as we were inspired by the founders and dedicated individuals of Mith Samlanh and M'Lop Tapang.
Birthplace: Heerlen, the Netherlands
As a result of her parents´ position as international school teachers, Meghan was born in Holland. However, her overseas experience was not limited to simply her birthplace. The nature of her parents´ work led to an upbringing throughout Belgium, Germany and Turkey. It wasn´t until she was seventeen that she found herself living in her country of citizenship, the United States, while attending Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Eckerd provided a vast assortment of majors. While searching for one to fit, International Relations and Global Affairs leaped out as perfect for her ongoing overseas interests. With the help and guidance of professors Meghan became educated and passionate about subjects such as international human rights violations and nuclear proliferation. She was provided with the conviction that although these issues are global problems, there are ways for an individual to work towards eliminating them.
After graduating in 2005, Meghan found herself wanting to once again experience the culture shock she had become so accustomed to growing up. Having never been to Asia, teaching English in South Korea seemed the logical choice. South Korea was thrilling and provided motivation to explore further into Asia. Thus, when approached by a college friend to travel through Southeast Asia and India, Meghan promptly joined him.
While she was shocked - and at times overwhelmed - by the poverty in the region, it was specifically India and Cambodia that moved her most:
"It was incredibly difficult because I only had a short amount of time and was only able to give a couple of days in each location providing free English lessons or volunteering to work with various charities. I wanted to do so much more.
It was this desire that spawned an emphatic “yes” when approached by Samantha Rose about Trabant Trek. It is an amazing opportunity to give back to a country that showered me with warm hospitality. To be able to help provide a better future for the next generation of Khmer children is something I am proud to be a part of."
Birthplace: Washington DC
John was born and raised in the Washington D.C. suburb of Bethesda, Maryland and credits his brilliant high school history teacher as the individual that first fostered his passion for international affairs and travel. He graduated with dual bachelor´s degrees in History and Italian from the University of Arizona. Following his graduation in 2002, John set off to explore the world beyond Italy and Western Europe – and hasn´t stopped since. Recent travels through India, South East Asia and the Middle East left a lasting impression that has led to his current pursuit of an M.A. in International Education with the ultimate goal of teaching in Cambodia.
John remembers his first encounter with true, abject poverty to be entering Cambodia in the fall of 2004. Seeing these beautiful children reduced to living in squalid conditions on the streets of Poi Pet, Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh struck a chord of desperation within him. This feeling was reinforced upon returning to the country in 2006 with John Lovejoy and Tony Perez.
"The three of us witnessed the seemingly endless stream of backpackers passing through the country, convinced that there was nothing they could do on an individual level to benefit their gracious hosts. As a result, these travelers then return to their respective countries with nothing more than stories of the poverty and sorrow they encountered, which are quickly forgotten.
This trek provides the opportunity to directly benefit the children of Cambodia through two incredible organizations. Both M´Lop Tapang and Mith Samlanh are phenomenal in the work they do. In addition, this trek will seek to draw attention to other similarly-dedicated NGOs and charities in each of the countries we visit. I am truly proud to play a small part in this monumental endeavor."
Birthplace: Barcelona, Spain
Carlos was born and raised in Barcelona, Spain. In 2000 he decided to transfer to the U.S. for his last year of university and graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University (New Jersey) in 2002 with a bachelor´s degree in Marine Biology. With graduation behind him, Carlos accepted a position as a Marine Fisheries Observer in Alaska and spent most of his time on the Bering Sea. It lasted for 4 years, during which time he saved money that would ultimately fund a trip around the world that would change his life.
Carlos´ entire family works within the tourism industry and as a result of the people he has come into contact with he has always had a profound interest in the incredible variety of countries and cultures of the world. This interest persisted while in Alaska, where his colleagues -made up of varying nationalities- would relate to him stories about their home country and countries they had traveled to. This experience added to his already over-developed curiosity about the world.
Finally he decided to stop living vicariously through others and create his own personal understanding of the world. His search led him to Southeast Asia, Australia and South America.
"During my time traveling in Southeast Asia I met quite a few people. I was disgusted with the disregard many of them had to the sex industry in Cambodia and Thailand. They spoke candidly about the sexual abuse of young boys and girls. After numerous arguments with these people, during different stages of my trip, I knew there must be something I could do to change this situation. Trabant Trek and the NGOs it supports is an ideal vehicle for helping to do something to alleviate the misery these predators inflict upon the young children of Cambodia."
Birthplace: Monterey, California
John´s upbringing in a family of nine children was turbulent, moving every few years in both Europe and the U.S. As a result of this chaotic lifestyle, John has found himself with an unquenchable desire to see new places, experience new cultures and develop a first-hand understanding of the world around him.
Traveling during his time at James Madison University and after his graduation in 2004 led John to some of the more obscure locations of the globe. However it was South East Asia – Cambodia specifically– that has left the most lasting and profound impact.
He first visited the region in 2002 and passed quickly through Cambodia, seeing only the major sights. It was upon returning in 2006 that John fell in love with the country. The culture, history and most importantly the selfless nature of the Khmer people were the contributing factors to this overwhelming feeling.
"My initial plan to stay in Cambodia only for a few weeks quickly fell apart as I remained there for month and then returned later in the year for another two months. During this second time living and working there I watched as travelers made their way through the country unaware of the plight of the children they would interact with on a daily basis. Did I mention that nearly 50% of the population is under the age of 14? This prompted me to work with M´Lop Tapang to raise money and awareness by organizing beach parties in Sinahoukville.
My departure left me unsatisfied with the work I had done. I knew there was so much more that I could do if provided the right opportunity. This opportunity came to me after moving to Budapest to work as a journalist. Being surrounded by Trabants, and having driven one all the way to Paris, I soon imagined a most unique method of utilizing these little cars as the ultimate fundraising tool: this is Trabant Trek."
Birthplace: London, England
Dan spent a few weeks in Cambodia some years ago, initially on the tourist trail - Phnom Penh to Angkor Wat - a classic, sanitised journey through what seemed to be a country on the mend. It was only when he hired a scooter and drove off the beaten track that Dan realised how the brutality of the 1970s and 80s still permeates the life of normal people.
He was shocked and depressed to see children maimed by landmines begging on the streets, carrying few prospects and little hope.
"These children need the chance to pull themselves from a poverty brought about not by their own choices, but by history.
Since visiting Cambodia I have done nothing more than donate regularly to the Red Cross."
After graduating from Brighton University with a BA (Hons) in philosophy and history, Dan has spent the last two years working as a reporter in London and its leafy Surrey suburb, a million miles from the people Trabant Trek is setting out to help.
But for a trip with such an epic scope, and the chance to raise awareness of the country´s terrible state of affairs, and a formidable sum of cash for a good cause, Dan has determined that it is worth putting his career in journalism on the backburner.
"Helping NGOs on the way will let us all put something into the countries we visit, and provide an insight into the problems so many of these nations face. The opportunity to contribute, in whatever capacity I can, to a host of causes is too good to miss.
I hope this trip will help us raise awareness of the serious issues and incredible hardships facing many Cambodians."
Birthplace: Washington, DC
Tony grew up in a suburb just outside Washington D.C., but despite the proximity to the nation´s capital and one of the largest international centers of the world, he never had much of an interest in life outside of the U.S. All of that changed with a trip to Southeast Asia in 2002.
In April 2002 Tony crossed the border from Vietnam to Cambodia. He was already aware of the tragedy the Khmer Rouge had passed onto the country, but nothing could prepare him for the suffering he witnessed in Phnom Penh. Groups of children and whole families were living on the rubbish-strewn dirt roads of the city. It was distressing for him to see their general living conditions, but simultaneously inspiring to observe the staunch resilience of the Khmer people after such devastation. In the face of great adversity they remained smiling and making the best of the life that had been thrust upon them. Tony left Cambodia with a very different perspective.
Together with John Lovejoy and John Drury, Tony returned to Cambodia in 2006 intent on escaping the well-trodden backpacker trail. Their first stop was Sinahoukville. It was here that he first interacted with the street children of Cambodia. Through conversations with the nearly fluent English-speaking children working on the beach he learned that these children could only afford to attend school twice a week, spending the rest of their time on the beach hawking small trinkets to support their families.
"The very thought of one generation being ravaged by civil war, only to have the next forced to sacrifice their childhood and education to help feed their families left an empty feeling in my heart. The remainder of my time in Cambodia was spent touring the countryside by motorbike; a method I believed would allow me greater insight to the actual culture. Everywhere I turned the same thought continued to arise: ´What can I do to assist these amazing people?´
Unfortunately, my Cambodian experience was cut short by a broken ankle, but the thought remained. When I was approached by John Lovejoy about Trabant Trek I signed on immediately. I see it as an amazing method for which to inform my fellow citizens of the conditions in Cambodia and encourage them to help by providing financial support to those who are helping already."
Birthplace: Budapest, Hungary
Zsofi was born in Budapest, Hungary and has lived there all her life. She is currently studying at the University of Economics. Though fond of her studies, her classes do not fulfill her innate desire to learn about other cultures and parts of the world. Zsofi´s aspiration to travel was instilled in her by her parents´ own experiences. This has led to her graduating from a tourism school in addition to the university courses, which she hopes, will grant her the chance to better understand distant countries and cultures in the future.
"Hungary is a country that was once behind the ´Iron Curtain´. The Berlin Wall fell only a few years after I was born, however, my parents lived most of their lives under the communist regime. They were accustomed to a life where it was forbidden to do anything on their own and the penalties for straying outside the system were very strict. Even in the present day I can see how those times affected my parents and their generation.
Although conditions in Hungary never rivaled those of Cambodia, I have come to understand the effect a maniacal government can have on a country. Here in Hungary much of the population is still attempting to deal with the horrible memories that haunt their lives. I have never been to Cambodia but know the tragic history the country was subjected to under the Khmer Rouge, and cannot help but sympathize knowing their plight was in many ways more severe than here in Hungary. Thus I would like to help give the children the chance to build a new country from the ruins left by Pol Pot.
John Lovejoy mentioned this idea to me while he was living here in Budapest and I thought it was a brilliant opportunity to draw much needed attention to developing countries. Now that my country has passed through its worst years, I feel bound to help others as Hungary was helped from the remnants of communism."