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Cans for Cambodia: Kamloops broadcaster an avid bottle collector

Many folks in Kamloops have heard the name Shawn Pooley. 

The longtime broadcaster (formerly Radio NL, now K 97-5) has been on the local airwaves for more than 20 years. Chances are you've probably run into him at Andre's Electronic Experts or at City Furniture on a Saturday or Sunday, when he's on remote. 

Pooley also has what he calls a "second part-time job." 

In his spare time, he collects bottles. It's a gig he started six years ago, but it's not for his own piggy bank. The money he gets from his bottle drives is sent overseas to friends and family in Southeast Asia. 

"It started out as an idea to help one family, and then after a couple of years, it morphed into helping many families," Pooley tells KamloopsMatters.

During his first visit to Cambodia in 2007, Pooley met Salorm Tak during a "chance meeting." Hungry, he walked into a café where Tak was working.

52914697_772207436483326_2889287537254203392_nSalorm Tak with her new bike. (via Contributed/Shawn Pooley)

"She sat down with me for two hours to practice her English," he says. "I learned then that her salary was $20 USD a month. I knew then, I’m going to help this person as much as I can. I basically started sponsoring her from that day, meaning I would send a little bit of cash here and there."

In March 2013, Tak needed a motorcycle.

"In Cambodia, that's the main source of transportation. She didn't have one and she needed one bad."

Pooley, knowing he couldn't afford to hand over $2,000 USD, began fundraising by collecting bottles. 

"I thought, 'OK there’s no timeline on this. I’ll just collect as many bottles as I can and when I have enough money, I’ll send it to her.' That original project took exactly one year."

After the motorcycle, Pooley continued the bottle drives. He helped pay for schooling for Tak's brother, transportation and medicine. In 2015, Pooley raised enough money to purchase a second-hand motorcycle for his tuk-tuk driver, James. 

Other projects include funding a semester of university tuition for a woman in Cape Town, South Africa and private English classes for daughters of friends. Pooley also settled a $2,000 USD hospital bill for a Vietnam family (that one took six months of bottle drives).

To date, Pooley has raised more than $13,000.

"These are all families, friends I met during my travels," says Pooley, adding he's been to Southeast Asia almost every year since 2007, with three trips to South Africa between 2011 and 2015. "I’ve been in their homes, they’ve had me there for dinner. I visit them at their workplace... I know all their children. Their children all see me like an uncle."

He admits he keeps his bottle driving on the DL, as he doesn't want to bother people for their cans. Most of his earnings come from his regulars, who have been with him on this journey since day one. 

57154390_383881735787687_5400558943904727040_nShawn Pooley with Emmy and Ruby Yin. The little girls were able to attend school thanks to bottle drive money. (via Contributed)

Asked what he gets out of it all, Pooley says "it's knowing people I care about are being taken care of."

"It’s nobody’s fault they’re born in a developing nation. Nobody can help where they’re born. They work harder than we do here with far less to show for it. Basic things, like going to the hospital, can cost a month’s salary. Even if it’s just in and out, boom, a month’s salary is gone."

Through his travels and helping others, he's gained a different perspective on life, he adds.

"Whenever a first-world problem hits me, I just laugh and think about my friends, and I don’t think about it anymore. I recommend everybody go to those places, if they can. They’re beautiful countries, the people are friendly… They’re extremely happy but sometimes they need help because they can’t get the help there, from their support system."

Though many of his friends speak broken English, the message of thanks always comes through. 

"Last week, I paid for (a friend's) daughter’s schooling, and she’s extremely thankful and she even joked and called me the family’s Superman. That’s what makes it worth it; when I see how happy they are. Not once have they taken it for granted."

As for future projects, Pooley is hoping to raise enough money to help his tuk-tuk driver raise his house (two months of the year James' house is in a foot of water). That initiative calls for $1,800 USD.

Anyone interested in donating their bottles can reach out to Pooley through his Facebook page (Canbodia, a play on words) and request a pickup. Pooley also has an account set up at General Grant's depot on Camosun Crescent. People can request their refund be put into Pooley's account. 

KamloopsMatters goes for a ride-along

It's Friday night.

After our sit-down interview, KamloopsMatters jumps in Pooley's car for an evening bottle drive. 

IMG-5350General Grants at 963 Camosun Cres. has a special account for Shawn Pooley. Anyone who wishes to donate their bottle refund to his cause can ask staff to put it in his account. (via Tereza Verenca)

The two-hour endeavour takes us all across the city: we start in downtown and work our way up to Aberdeen, Valleyview, Batchelor Heights and Brock (in that order). 

We have 10 stops to make. Pooley is confident we'll have to cut it after stop four or five because his Mazda hatchback will fill up. 

Pooley's prediction comes true. Too many bags and not enough space. 

To avoid a second trip the following day, we jump in the KamloopsMatters vehicle and finish off the route. 

Some of Pooley's regulars include Coun. Mike O'Reilly and Bryce Herman.

"Those bottles are not going to make a massive amount of difference to me in the big scope of life," says Herman. "But to another family, that’s huge. Anytime we can give in any small way I’m happy to be a part of it." 

At one point during the drive, Pooley shares a funny story from a few years back, when he was bottle driving in his 2005 Mitsubishi Lancer. After picking up a friend from the North Shore (Pooley agreed to be the designated driver), he went through a police road check. His car stunk so bad that the RCMP officer thought he was driving under the influence.

"I got a breathalyzer test," Pooley says with a laugh. "The police didn't believe my story, about me bottle driving." 

We've put together a video of the April 5 bottle drive (see below). A total of $104.55 was raised.


Tereza Verenca

About the Author: Tereza Verenca

Tereza Verenca is a multimedia journalist who covers all things Kamloops!
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