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Hunsaders spending holidays in Cambodia

MANATEE -- A local college professor is leaving Sunday with her husband and four children on a plane to Cambodia for a beach holiday with 308 orphans.

Patricia “Tricia” Hunsader, 48, an assistant professor at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, and her family will land at Phnom Penh, the capital, and then join children and houseparents from 11 different orphanages on a bus ride to a beachside village.

“It’s a big party,” Hunsader said of the affair, which is arranged through a charitable organization called “Asia’s Hope.”

“This time, the focus of our trip will be helping kids of Asia’s Hope celebrate Christmas,” said Hunsader, who mostly teaches math courses at the USF College of Education.

Accompanying her will be her husband, Mike, 50, a co-owner of Hunsader Farms in East Manatee; and four of her five children, including Jared, 23; Zach, 22; Tyler, 18, and Alyssa, 17. Her son, Johnny, 20, is unable to leave his job, she said. Zach’s fiancee, Kayla McCoy, is also making the trip.

The Cambodian children are looking forward to their holiday jaunt, she said.

“They live in a predominantly Buddhist culture that does not celebrate Christmas, so it’s the kids’ second year of experiencing a Christmas celebration,” she said. “The leadership thinks its good to gather the kids together for that time.”

She explained that Cambodian culture is very social.

“When you’re in the town at night, everybody is in the streets, on the balconies, on the roofs,” Tricia Hunsader said. “People enjoy being together, kids getting together is kind of the ultimate celebration.”

“Our family will be putting on a goofy field day of games, competition between the different houses, each with 20 kids or so,” she explained.

It will be the second trip for the family, but the fifth for Mike, who was impressed with the aid the organization provides to destitute children, so vulnerable to economic and sexual exploitation.

Mike Hunsader began traveling to Cambodia as part of the Campus Crusade for Christ ministry.

The kids come from jungle villages on the Cambodian-Thai border and are without parents due to AIDS, tuberculosis, or abandonment.

“Life expectancy is extremely low in that country, and people die of things that are treatable here,” Tricia said.

“But because women don’t have much opportunity in the villages, if the man of the house dies, the woman has no way to support her family, and if she remarries, she will relocate and leave her children behind.”

The whole Hunsader family is fond of the kids, she said, adding, “It’s been little-by-little taking over our world.”

Half of the Cambodian girls would otherwise go into the sex trade; many have experienced miserable lives of scrounging for food and trying to stay alive, said Jared Hunsader.

“Every girl you’re bringing out, you’re saving her from the worst thing on the earth,” he said. “It’s important for people to open their eyes and understand what’s going on in the rest of the world.”

“I give what I can over to them, I give beyond my means because I know it’s going to such a great cause,” he added.

The family will be sitting on a plane for more than 30 hours, and then will travel five hours by bus to the beach village for a three-day holiday with the orphans.

But no one minds the inconvenience.

“Our kids fell in love this summer, and absolutely cannot wait to go back and spend more time with them,” said Tricia.

“What’s so different over there is, you can’t imagine how completely unspoiled kids can be,” said Tricia. “And how much they look after each other.”

“They have nothing, but whatever they do have, they’ll gladly give it to you.”

“We are loved so completely, it’s unlike anything any of us have experienced before.”

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.