WHEN Tori Green posted a message on a social networking site asking if any of her friends could help her out with a job she had no idea where it would lead – Cambodia.
The former charity fundraiser and marketing specialist was trying to set herself up as a photographer and needed a part-time job to tide her over when she posted the appeal for help.
She had been hoping for charity or press office work, but when a friend who owned a guesthouse in Cambodia invited her to run it for him, she jumped at the chance.
“It took precisely 17 minutes to say ‘yes’,” laughs the 41-year-old from Southampton, adding that despite her swift decision, she knew it was ‘huge’.
She had left her work in marketing and fundraising and was working as a gardener in order to explore photography more.
She had had some of her work published which had given her the confidence to explore the area further.
For the mother of one, the opportunity to relocate to Cambodia came at the ideal time.
“My daughter had left home, my mother had died and I wanted to get away and travel with my new passion – my camera,” she says.
“I needed a dramatic life change.
I’d been a young mum and had worked hard to study and create a career to support my daughter and be on hand for my mum, whose health was challenged. “I always knew that when those responsibilities changed, I would travel. When I was a child growing up in central Southampton, I would listen to the container ships down at the docks at night and dream of stowing away and travelling to where the bananas came from. Well, I got there!”
Tori no longer runs the guest house, Rikitikitavi, which is owned by a fellow former Sotonian, Dominic Walwyn-Price, but still helps out when the owners are away.
She says it was the Cambodian staff at the guest house who made her fall in love with the people as well as the country.
Tori looking for inspiration in the New Forest before her move to Cambodia. Photo by Tori Green
Today she works as an artist and photographer and also runs a community art project, Hand in HeART, which she founded.
She describes a typical day: “I may be teaching adventurous travellers how to take portrait photographs of Buddhist monks at Angkor Wat Temple, painting a community art wall with some challenged street kids, fundraising for the Hand in HeART Project and designing our new websites or chasing butterflies and unusual fauna with my camera.
“In the UK, I was in an office, driving the car or in front of a computer the majority of the time.”
Tori loves Cambodia, but says that as well as missing friends and family, she also misses the UK’s rich culture and art scene.
Tori at the Preah Khan Temple. Photo by Dave Perkes
“Cambodia suffered greatly in recent history and is still in post-war recovery,” she says.
“During the Pol Pot years, most artists, musicians and teachers were killed. More than 60 per cent of the population are said to live with some sort of post-traumatic disorder.
Now, the majority of the population is under the age of 26. A certain age group is missing, and I fit it. I believe deeply in art’s ability to provide ways to express ourselves and to provide a way of healing.
“I founded the project as a way to create some of the events I was missing and also to create space, skills and international mentorship for the challenged artists.
“I have been funding it and run it with some wonderful volunteers. I recently launched a community street arts festival, Sok San Festival, but now all concentration is on the skate park.”
The project has just been given its first arts workshop space, above Cambodia’s first skate park. It will operate as a hub with drop-in workshops in everything from film and photography to skateboarding and hip hop dance. “There are no youth clubs as such in Cambodia and the young people work hard, often having two jobs, studying and financially supporting their elders,” says Tori.
“We will have free skate sessions and workshops for street kids and are developing educational workshops. The hub will provide a space for young people to get creative and develop new skills leading to greater confidence, wider work opportunities in the arts and the chance to travel.
“We are already being invited to international arts festivals and we haven’t even got any furniture yet, so we need help!”
Tori with crew from a skate workshop. Photo by Tori Green
Tori will soon be returning to the UK temporarily with an exhibition of Cambodian wildlife photographs and is currently seeking invitations from galleries and exhibition spaces to display in.
“I come back to Southampton to visit my friends and am looking forward to hopefully exhibiting my own photographs and our Natural Cambodia touring exhibition in the UK, including Southampton if anyone is interested!” she laughs.
“I miss Southampton and England and my people there, but I do love it here very much,” she adds.
“I hope to be able to travel to the UK more frequently in the near future, but the planet is a big place and I look forward to exploring more of the rest of it too.”
Tori says that when she went to Cambodia she needed an adventure – she certainly seems to be succeeding.
For more information about the Hand in HeART project, visit facebook.com/ TheHandInHeartProject. For more information about Tori’s photography, visit greenbyname.com. Tori will be touring and fundraising in the UK this summer until mid September. She is available for exhibitions, talks/presentation regarding her photography work in Cambodia and The Hand in HeART project plus freelance photography services. If you would like to book her in UK, a tour in Cambodia between October 2014-March 2015 or make a donation to The Hand in HeART Project get in touch via her website greenbyname.com.
A trainee monk photographed by Tori in a local temple