One Teenager’s Imaginative Contribution to a Cause

By Soojung Chang
October 27, 2005

Mythical creatures called “Gobbus” and horse-like beings with magical powers inhabit the Earth in “The Other Side,” an imaginative tale inspired by 14-year-old Matilda Fischer’s family vacation to Cambodia and the tsunami that devastated the region last year.

Writing a 20,000-word book would be a big accomplishment for anyone, let alone a teenager.

But the story of “The Other Side” has an added dimension—by selling 50 hand-produced copies of her first book, Matilda has raised $285.19 to buy mosquito nets for Cambodian villagers through The Cambodia Daily Mosquito Net Campaign.

“I hope that by writing my book it will bring awareness to its readers; for the more people who are aware of the conditions in Cambodia, the more they can be helped,” Matilda wrote in a recent e-mail from Healesville, Australia, a town about 60 km from Melbourne where she lives with her family.

Healesville may seem far removed from Southeast Asia, but in “The Other Side,” the two locales are connected by underground caves.

In the story, three Gobbus are separated when two of them are taken by the horse-like beings to the caves. The third Gobbu follows Matilda and her family to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, to find his two missing friends. The tsunami occurred while the family was in Laos.

Matilda’s mother, Suzanna Fletcher, 48, said she had always been interested in visiting Cambodia, so she planned the trip for her daughter and her son Joe, 19, last Christmas. Her family was particularly impressed by the way the Cambodian people get on with their lives despite many hardships, Fletcher said.

It was while reading a copy of The Cambodia Daily at a guesthouse in Phnom Penh that she told her daughter about the mosquito net campaign.

When the family returned to Australia, Matilda wrote the fantasy book as part of a special project at her school, her mother said.

“My help to Matilda was really only moral support,” she added.

Matilda’s father, Jeffrey Fischer, 49, bought materials and helped his daughter edit and produce the book—which involved cutting out covers, assembling pages, clamping and gluing ends, drilling holes into pages, stitching spines, and using a template to draw a picture and title on each book.

Each book includes a bookmark stating where the proceeds from the book will go, and lists the Web site to encourage others to make donations.

Matilda also made a presentation to her school community on her project, where she spoke about and sold her books to raise funds for the mosquito nets.

“Everyone was quite overwhelmed with the amount of work Matilda had put in,” her mother said, adding that the book has been very well received by readers. “I think they enjoyed the thought that went into the book, the fun characters in the book, and reading about our travels as well,” she added.