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Lodi’s Heidi Benjestorf will travel to, raise money for Cambodian orphanage

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Posted: Saturday, November 6, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 3:15 pm, Sat Nov 6, 2010.

It's a ravaged country that's been subjected to mass murders, political instability and international indifference, but one Lodian wants to try to help. Heidi Benjestorf is traveling to the largely destitute Cambodia for several weeks to assist an orphanage and work to give those housed there better lives.

Benjestorf first became aware of atrocities in the Southeast Asia nation when her brother, Josh, befriended a Cambodian immigrant at a San Joaquin Delta Community College class.

After hearing stories about people being hacked into pieces by machetes and dumped in unmarked mass graves by militiants led by Pol Pot, she read more about the region's history to educate herself.

"I was sick to my stomach," she said after learning how Pot tortured educators and artists. An estimated 1.7 million people died during the communist Khmer Rouge's period in power in the late 1970s. "Physically sick to my stomach."

The hangover from decades of oppression and international mismanagement are still felt as children are left parentless, diseases like malaria are commonplace and landmines litter the countryside.

"Fifty percent of the population is under 21 years old," she said. Highlighting how the country basically lost a generation to violence and survivors fleeing to other nations. Noghd, the man who inspired Heidi and her brother, was in his early 30s when he met the family several years ago.

But Benjestorf wants to bring dignity during her humanitarian trip to Battambang, Cambodia from Nov. 17 to Dec. 6. The orphanage in Cambodia, operated by Sunbeam Kids International, offers roughly 30 children the ammenities Americans can take for granted, like an education or a dry place to sleep, she said.

Besides donating her time, Benjestorf uses her hands and artistic abilities to donate money. She supplements her efforts through heidisparkle.com, a website through which she sells handmade jewelry like crystal pendants and aqua marine earrings. Creating pieces has been a hobby of Benjestorf's since junior high and she only recently began selling her work.

She will buy materials or break down her own jewelry to create new pieces. Through trial and error, she learned how to soder and uses that skill in her work.

Benjestorf also resells designer handbags on heidi sparkle. While all of the proceeds from jewelry sales go directly to the orphanage, sales of handbags supplement the travel costs. During her trip, there will be regular updates to the blog on www.heidisparkle.com.

"I want to create awareness for the orphanage and help them raise money," she said. "And I want to get to know the kids and tell their story."

Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at jordang@lodinews.com.

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