Exploring the landscape, culture and temples of Cambodia was a moving experience for a CancerCare fundraiser.
Georgie Whittle, a therapy assessor for CancerCare in Lancaster, completed an eye-opening 80km trek and raised £4,000 to help people affected by cancer in north Lancashire and south Cumbria.
Georgie, 60, who lives with her husband Paul in Halton in the Lune Valley, is also a hypnotherapist at CancerCare’s Slynedales centre in Lancaster.
She said the gap between the “haves” and “have nots” in Cambodia was shocking at times and made her appreciate how lucky she was in her own life.
The experiences Georgie had on the trek from the town of Siem Reap to Angkor Wat temple complex gave her great respect for the people of Cambodia who had relatively little in terms of material things and yet they were happy, smiling and friendly.
Georgie also experienced a personal sense of achievement having trained hard for the trek and raising a substantial sum for local people facing cancer and other serious illnesses.
She paid for her own travel to do the trip so all funds raised have gone to CancerCare.
Georgie said: “The journey was an experience in itself as I had not travelled independently to such a far flung place for many years.
“On the first day of trekking we were acclimatising. It was very hot and humid. We had to take every opportunity possible to get into the shade and had to drink at least three litres of water each day with the temperature at about 30 degrees.
“We trekked through a lot of villages and got to interact with some of the local villagers.
“This gave us an insight into the local way of life. Many people lived in shacks and cooked on open fires. I was thrilled to meet the families in their own environment.
“Sunday was a day of leisure for many villagers and one household we visited they were playing music and dancing. I had a dance with them!
“We had two Cambodian guides, one of whom had been a teacher. He had experienced the days of Pol Pot and the terrible days of the Khmer Rouge (responsible for one of the world’s worst mass killings of the 20th Century). Our guide’s knowledge was impressive!”
On arrival in Siem Reap, all of the trekkers were paired up and Georgie linked up with a woman called Jane from Longridge as well as a group leader from Dream Challenges and two Cambodian guides.
“Luckily we only had to carry a day pack with our food and water. Our kit bags were taken from site to site.
“At the end of the first day we camped in little bivouac-like tents in the grounds of a monastery. We stayed in the grounds of different monasteries on the four nights of the trek.
“Our food was delivered in lidded baskets. For me, part of the challenge was not knowing what you were going to get to eat with the treat of a barbeque on the last night. Most of the meals were rice-based with braised vegetables and fruit.
“We got used to the eastern ‘squatting toilets’ and washed ourselves in water from a tank. You had to scoop up the water and pour it over yourself.
“I can be fussy so it was a challenge not to have any running water for brushing your teeth and things like that.
“One of the trekkers washed my hair one day which felt very nurturing. It was very soothing and I was appreciative of that.
“Nightfall came very quickly as it was November so we retired to sleep very early which helped with the crack of dawn starts! I was glad of the gift of a small torch given to me before I left on my trek.
“Some people suffered from sleep deprivation as the nights were not quiet. We could hear dogs barking, cockerels crowing and things like that. We set of at 7am each day which was the pattern for the entire challenge.
“We saw very little animal wildlife with the exception of monkeys in the trees on our last days towards Angkor Wat.
“We had to wear a lot of insect repellent and look out especially for ants! On one of the walks we stopped for a drink of water. I leant on a stump and in seconds I was covered in ants! People helped to brush them.
“We also had to avoid long trails of giant ants. Our guides told us to walk very quietly so as not to annoy the ants.”
One of Georgie’s favourite memories was of hearing Buddhist monks chanting: “It was 4am and we could hear the monks chanting in the monastery,” she said.
“That was beautiful. They chanted until about 5.30am.”
Georgie said she was glad she had done plenty of training with Lancaster Fellwalkers: “I’m proud that I took it all in my stride. I was smiling, calm and I literally took everything in my stride. I did keep on keeping on!
“There was one particularly arduous and extra hot climb but and I managed to keep up with the people at the front which I was proud of. This affirmed how worthwhiele my training had been.”
Georgie grew up in Morecambe and attended West End Primary School and Morecambe Grammar School.
She said she had always enjoyed walking and wanted to do a big challenge for CancerCare as it was her 60th birthday in 2018. She had also been personally affected by cancer at a younger age.
When Georgie left school she joined Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps and her first posting was at Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire. After that Georgie to a British military hospital in Hong Kong and became fully qualified as a nurse with several other UK and overseas postings to follow.
She explained: “Without a doubt, my Army experience came into play during the Cambodia trek. The training I did with Lancaster Fellwalkers group also stood me in good stead.”
While in the army, Georgie lived and worked in many places including Munster in west Germany and Inverness in the north of Scotland.
She loved the military side of the nursing corps and was involved in a lot of training at the Queen Alexandra Training Centre in Aldershot.
When she achieved the rank of sergeant at a young age she realised that there was a big world to continue to explore as a civilian and left the army after serving nearly 10 years.
She eventually settled in the village of Brompton-on-Swale in North Yorkshire and furthered her nursing career. In addition to nursing, Georgie worked with adults with profound physical and mental disabilities.
In particular, she said she was proud of setting up a project for older people who were leaving long-term mental health institutions and an outreach service for adults with physical and learning difficulties.
She said: “Then I swapped Brompton-on-Swale for the River Lune and moved to Halton in 1999. At that time I worked at a school and with adults in nursing homes.”
Georgie decided to do a hypnotherapy course and part of it included advice on business and self-promotion. She chose to work as a hypnotherapist when she qualified in 2003 and set up her practice at her home in Halton.
In 2005 Georgie secured a post with CancerCare working as a hypnotherapist on a sessional basis. All of the therapists at CancerCare are now contracted and have more autonomy. Eventually Georgie took on the post of therapy co-ordinator as well as her hypnotherapy work.
On the fifth and final day of her Cambodia trek with ‘Dream Challenges’, Georgie and her fellow walkers arrived at Angkor Wat temple complex.
Georgie said: “I thought: I’ve done it! I had a sense of achievement and it was emotional in so many ways. I had seen so much poverty and I had met people who were happy without all the modern-day trappings.
“It was also affirming of all the training I had done over the 10 months leading up to it.
“The historical aspect was very educational. We had a relatively brief amount of time to explore Angkor Wat so I would like to return one day with my husband Paul.
“I also enjoyed the camaraderie. Everyone was doing it for a different reason or charity. My reason was for CancerCare – to give something to our local charity.
“I chose this trip because it wasn’t for a specific charity. You could raise the money for your own chosen charity.”
Prior to the trip Georgie organised various fundraising events including a storytelling evening with Taffy Thomas at the Red Door Café in Halton, a Prize Bingo night at Carnforth Ex-Servicemen’s Club, book sales at Slynedales, a Caribbean Night at the Greyhound in Halton and a fashion show at Morecambe Golf Club.
Georgie added: “I feel very lucky to have done the trek. I think it was very growthful as it tested my strength in every which way – not just physical strength or stamina but emotional resilience and tapping into one’s essence.
“I would urge anyone with the opportunity to visit this wonderful area of the world, not least to support the economy but just to experience first hand the beauty of the country and its people.
“This will definitely not be my last adventure!”
If anyone still wishes to donate to Georgie’s fundraising for CancerCare, please go to: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/georgina-whittle