Interviews & Profiles

Kevin Staut: “Cambodia Changed My Life”

France’s Kevin Staut is an Olympic team gold medalist (2016), a World Equestrian Games team silver medalist (2014) and an individual European Champion (2009). He also saves children in impoverished countries. Here the 2010 world number one shares how his work with JustWorld International continues to inspire his life and career. As told to Carley Sparks.

I’d like to say I was driven to help the world’s poorest children by some deep seated desire to do good. But the truth is I was drafted by JustWorld International.

Jessica Newman, the founder, contacted me in 2005 and asked me to be an ambassador.

For me, it was an honor. I was not a good rider at the time. I don’t say I’m a good rider now, but at that time I was really young and inexperienced. She said she needed new blood, a new generation of rider in Europe to help her develop the project, so I agreed.

For the first eight or nine years, I spoke about JustWorld to European people and did my best to help Jessica. But I wasn’t working hard for it. It wasn’t a passion project.

Then Jessica asked me to come visit the JustWorld project in Cambodia in 2014. I have a younger sister from Cambodia my father adopted her when she was nine months old. She’s 17 now. Around the time Jessica invited me on the trip, my sister wanted to go back and see her birth country, so I mixed the project and a family goal.

Again, it was more seizing an opportunity presented.

I’m not sure what I expected but I didn’t think it’d be a joyful trip. When you go to a third world nation like Cambodia, you think you’re going to feel pity. I travel a lot for my sport and have been to a lot of poor countries—you see bad things.

But it wasn’t pitiful at all. It was amazing!

To see the project and all these people working hard to help give these children an education, how it helps them and maybe helps the country in the future. To see the hope it gives them. The drive. You realize how happy they all are! I think a child there is sometimes happier than in my own country because they still have dreams, they still have motivation.

I couldn’t imagine that before—I had to see it to understand it.

Photo courtesy of JustWorld International.
Photo courtesy of JustWorld International.

The next year I went to Guatemala to see another project. I am completely part of JustWorld now. Having experienced it first hand, I have real feeling when I talk about it. I feel it in my blood. I can explain it better than if you’re just showing someone the numbers and millions used for food and education.

Now when I go, it’s just a lot for myself. If I’m not happy because I had a bad show or I had one down in the Grand Prix or I didn’t win and I feel against myself, I remember my time in Cambodia with all those kids and how they are really motivated to do something with their lives. It makes you think more positively, it makes you think about what you can do better.

It was a life changing experience for me.

Photo courtesy of JustWorld International.
Photo courtesy of JustWorld International.

I think for my sister it was a really important trip, too. In France, many of our youth are depressed and not motivated. They don’t go to school anymore. They are not working hard or having a goal in life. I think we lost ambition in Europe and that’s a pity. We are really pessimistic, really negative at the moment.

In Cambodia, my sister saw all these kids who have nothing—no iPhones, no computers. Just the capacity to make something of their life and the motivation to do it. It changed her way of thinking. When she went back to Europe, she was really motivated, going to school, working hard. I think it really helped her.

We all need hope. We need to have a goal in life.

Me, I had the chance to find this passion for horses and the capacity to do my sport at the top level, so I have something fantastic! I imagine it’s difficult for everyone to find a line to follow, to find a passion in life. There is enough work, enough sports, enough ambition for everyone. We just have to motivate them to find it.

JustWorld taught me that.

The 14th annual JustWorld Gala is coming to Belle Herb Farm in Wellington, Florida on January 13th, 2017. Find out how you can get involved in the Gala at gala.justworldinternational.org and in the JustWorld organization at justworldinternational.org.

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