Spare time is rare for Denise Arnold. A mother-of-two, full-time lawyer and founder of a trust that aims to improve the lives of at-risk children in a third-world country through education, it’s not often Denise puts her feet up.
She’s on the go all the time. The phone at Lyon O’Neale Arnold, where Denise is a co-director, only rings once before she picks up. There’s no time like the present.
Busy or not, Denise still kindly finds time to talk to The Weekend Sun about her recent achievement as one of five 2015 Next Woman of the Year Awards finalists in the education category.
We want to know what makes this ‘woman of the year’ tick, what her hobbies are and what fuels her through her busy days. “Soy lattes,” says Denise. “That’s my poison.”
The Tauranga lawyer thinks long and hard about what she does in her spare time and comes up with: “Walks around the Mount and reading books”. She says this, but rarely finds time to do it.
Because in her own time, her ‘spare’ time, Denise fronts the Cambodia Charitable Trust, which aims to save children there from poverty, trafficking and slavery through education and community development.
Having suffered badly at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, the communities Denise works with are poor, powerless and struggling to survive, with children often targeted by child labour traffickers.
“But they’re happy,” says Denise. “They don’t know they don’t have anything. They don’t know any better than having rotten teeth.”
Working with Cambodia’s Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, Denise has designed an innovative programme that empowers the local community and teaching profession to bring about the changes needed.
In just eight years the Cambodia Charitable Trust has grown to support 6000 children in 16 schools, as well as two teacher-training colleges.
Working entirely as a volunteer, Denise pays her own way to Cambodia and uses her own holidays. She’s also reduced her profit share in the law firm to 60 per cent, in order to free up time to dedicate to the trust.
Denise has been to Cambodia more than 14 times since founding the trust in 2007.
“I love the people there,” says Denise. “I feel like I have an extended family there, an international family. I have people who I care about very deeply there.”
Although she loves being there, she’s always happy to come home. Here, Denise dresses top to toe in exquisite fashion and high heels. She’s sophisticated and sassy – all in a good way.
In Cambodia, Denise opts for T-shirt and shorts. There’s no coffee stops or any schedule to work by.
“It’s challenging there,” says Denise. “Everything’s a little bit of an edge, you have to be careful about what you eat, drink and how you’re going to travel. I get sick sometimes.
“Coming home is always so much more ordered. Life in New Zealand is so much easier.”
The finalists of the 2015 Next Woman of the Year Awards will be announced on October 8.
To find out more about the Cambodia Charitable Trust, or to sponsor a child, visit www.cctnz.org.nz