Spending time with Dr. Nancy Hendrie and Ann Trudeau is like being at a verbal ping pong match, with the enthusiastic pair volleying facts, figures, observations and playful banter.
The subject is serious — caring for Cambodia’s disadvantaged children.
Hendrie, a Concord pediatrician, had run her practice for 25 years when she realized she was spending more time on paperwork and less on her patients. While visiting Cambodia for a Waltham adoption agency, she saw pervasive poverty, unsanitary conditions and inadequate medical care as AIDS gripped the country.
Horrified, yet motivated, Hendrie created The Sharing Foundation in 1998 with a pediatric nurse practitioner and friend, Judy Jones.
With some generous donations, they set up a federally recognized non-profit as well as a separate agency, Adopt Cambodia, hoping to charge a nominal fee for adoptions and use the income to support their work.
After spending time improving existing orphanages near Phnom Penh, establishing immunization programs, launching clean water initiatives and building a preschool, the women decided to construct their own facility.
TSF purchased a parcel in Roteang and built an orphanage, which opened in 2000. They hired nannies, brought on a local doctor and found someone who could help the organization interact with locals and with government officials. Chan Kim Leng, a local taxi driver known as “Elephant” for his size and toughness, filled the bill. Four years later, he became TSF’s in-country director.
Hendrie accumulated 81 stamps on her passport while traveling back and forth to Cambodia to oversee improvements and building projects and tend to the children’s medical needs, bringing some of them back to the United States for specialized treatment. Though she sometimes faced what seemed to be insurmountable obstacles, such as orphanages balking at adopting TSF’s sanitary measures and difficulties procuring building materials, Hendrie said she treasured “every minute of my time there, especially working with all those babies and small children.”
The foundation has served thousands of infants, children and young adults. It has developed programs and projects in the Roteang area, including a farm project that helps local families, a farm school, a sewing center, libraries, a computer school, a dance and music program, and an English school. It also supports students pursuing vocational training or a university education.
Adopt Cambodia closed in 2001 when international adoptions from Cambodia were suspended, but individual donations, sponsorships of children and aid from foundations, corporations, and small fundraising events have helped TSF carry on its work.
Hendrie retired in 2015, but she keeps up with the work of the foundation and provides advice to Trudeau. Last summer she marked her 90th birthday, and among the party guests were TSF staff and Cambodian adoptees.
When asked about their dream for the future, Trudeau and Hendrie answered identically: “That someday we will no longer be needed.”
Trudeau, a former realtor and mortgage company owner who, with her contractor husband, Tom, owns the Acorn Deck House Company, became involved with TSF when she met a “very persuasive” Hendrie at a Rotary Club meeting in 2006. She and her husband were soon headed to Cambodia with their three children to help build a playground for the orphanage.
Trudeau eventually joined the TSF board and became its new president when Hendrie retired. “I admire Ann more than I can say,” she said.
The orphanage is now called the Roteang Children’s Center, as the number of orphans in Cambodia has shrunk dramatically due to better medical care and an improving economy. Forty-six children as young as six live and receive health care there. Others reside with their parents, but are still being supported by the foundation so that they are not a burden to their families. Some of the children are now in college receiving TSF aid and living in a dorm that the foundation created.
Those interested in learning more about TSF can go to https:/sharingfoundation.org