Community Gem: Denise Arnold

By Jo-Marie Baker

Most of us despair at problems such as world hunger, poverty and child prostitution but few people do anything about it.
Tauranga lawyer Denise Arnold admits she used to feel such issues were too big to solve. But then she realised she didn't have to fix everything - she just needed to do something.
"Eleanor Roosevelt said 'it's better to light a candle than curse the darkness'," she said.
"And that gave me permission not to solve it all. I'm not the best person or the richest person but I'm still a person who's prepared to light a candle."
The mother of two, 45, subsequently set up the Cambodia Charitable Trust in 2008 - an organisation that sponsors 133 students in eight schools in rural Cambodia. Besides securing the youngsters an education, the trust runs governance, social development, and health programmes to help the impoverished nation.
"The way I see it, if you don't do anything, then you're actually part of the problem," Mrs Arnold said.
Her passion to help others and sheer determination has won her many accolades - the latest of which was the Spirit of Aegis award for outstanding community service.
It was bestowed on her last month by a group of national law firms called the Law Alliance.
But awards are not what keep her going.
In her Willow St office, where she is a partner in law firm Lyon O'Neale Arnold, pictures of Cambodian children shine out from her screen saver. Fair-trade goods are stored wherever there is space, and piles of folders contain information on the 4670 school students which the Cambodia Charitable Trust helps each year.
Mrs Arnold spends about 25 hours a week running the trust's affairs.

She does not watch television. She does not worry about trivial matters. She puts every spare minute to good use.
She credits her charitable virtues to her parents, who led by example and always fought to help the underdog. And she hopes her volunteer work will rub off on her two daughters, aged 16 and 18.
"We do see a lot of consumerism in this world and I think it's important for the girls to see that their decision on what products they buy does impact on other countries."
The fact she was a mother of two girls was what "rattled" her into helping in the first place, after she read an article about child prostitution in Cambodia.
She was working as a law adviser for ECPAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking) but decided more needed to be done.
"I didn't want to spend my life writing reports that may or may not get read, and may or may not make a difference. I needed to do something tangible, so these children in Cambodia do not become another statistic," she said.
Yesterday she returned from a month-long trip to Cambodia and a World Justice conference in Spain, already hard at work on her next project.
The trust is about to expand its regular stall at the Cargo Shed on Dive Crescent, selling Cambodian-made goods. In July, it will join a new charity segment of the weekly craft market which Mrs Arnold has developed.
"We are going to open up an area of the market that's based on doing good. There will be a branch of Eva's Attic where fashion designers donate clothes - half the profits will go to Cambodia and the other half will go to different charities that help man the store.
"I also want to have other guest charities come in, display their products and pamphlets and have a barbecue area which schools and groups can use to fundraise."
Mrs Arnold hopes the venture will be open for business next month.
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- Bay of Plenty Times

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