When Masterton chef Drew Johnstone left his job to travel in Asia, he never expected how much poverty he would come across on the journey, writes Emily Norman.

 

Armed with his camera, Masterton’s Drew Johnstone set off on a solo Asian adventure at the end of September, not expecting how much it would change his life.

The Great Wall of China. PHOTO/DREW JOHNSTONE

The Great Wall of China. PHOTO/DREW JOHNSTONE

He spent seven weeks travelling through Beijing, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Cambodia, taking snaps of scenery, monuments, and everyday life.

And though beautiful, it wasn’t long before Drew saw the extreme levels of poverty just outside the tourism centres.

“When I saw the poverty I saw, it hit me quite hard,” he said.

“In Cambodia, there was a lot of poverty, a lot of people with literally nothing, no access to fresh water, very little access to food, no electricity at all, no healthcare, children growing up with just a pair of shorts, no shoes, no shirt.

“It really affected me.

“Seeing two or 3-year-olds running around without parents and without clothing was heart-breaking.”

Instead of turning a blind eye to the poverty, Drew, took to the markets to feed a village of about 40 people who lived an hour-and-a-half tuk-tuk ride from Siem Reap.

“I took a lot of my spending money that I had for my trip, and just used that to buy them food and water.”

He went around a market with a translator to buy big bags of rice, bottles of fresh water, school books, pads, pens, fresh fruit, and he took that out to the small village.

“It was all dirt roads, and it was very out in the sticks, so to speak – miles away from everyone and everything, and a long way away from the tourist buzz.”

He said most of the villagers had never seen a white person in the area, and so they were “very surprised” to see him, especially with a couple of tuk-tuks carrying school supplies, and a month’s-worth of food and water.

“I thought, I can actually do something to help these people, and change their lives.

“Even though it is for a short period of time, at least it gives them what they need to move forward.”

Drew said the entire haul cost him “only about $250”.

“It wasn’t much at all, but it was enough to make a change to people in dire need of it.

“When I saw what I saw I knew I could make a change.”

His advice for people wanting to make a real change was to “just do it”.

“Get out there and actually do it. Talk is cheap. Anyone can talk about it. If you want to do it, just go do it.

“Until you actually see it, you don’t realise how lucky we are in New Zealand.

“They get no help from anyone, and we are in a position where we can help, and it only costs a couple of bucks.”

Drew said photography is his next passion after his job – he now works as a sous chef at The Grill at Solway Park Restaurant.

He plans to return to Cambodia in the future and “do a similar thing, but this time on a much larger scale”.