Read the following reflection from Makara Thach Sernett, one of the participants of Cambodia Journey 2014.
” As far as I understood from the documents and information I received, this trip has two parts: service learning and cultural immersion. The service learning portion includes working with the Cambodia YMCA on several purposes: teach digital media skills to youth in the program in a classroom-like environment, bond with the kids of the Street Children’s Project through team building activities, as well as provide clothing, food, school supplies and a monetary donation to the Street Children’s Project. The cultural immersion piece would be weaved throughout the whole experience with special visits to cultural locations such as Siem Reap (Angkor Wat), Sihanoukville, Toul Sleng, etc. All of these experiences as a whole would produce each person’s unique journey.
I remember my excitement pulsating through my whole being just before landing. Even though I have been to Cambodia before the anticipation was killing me. I was so ready to see the kids! I channeled that by recording the end of the flight, which captured Cambodia’s landscape from a bird’s eye view. I was very literally day dreaming of what’s to come.
Once we arrived, I was tired but still wanted to hit the ground running. Seeing the hustle and bustle of the city only made it harder to wait. We gathered ourselves, ate, and explored a bit. My impression of the city was strange yet familiar all at the same time. It was apparent that I was a foreigner, but at the same time there was a sense of tranquility knowing that I am from here. That thought and feeling of being both a correct and incorrect piece of the big puzzle kept coming up throughout the whole journey.
I’ve learned a lot on this trip! It’s hard to sum it into words, but I’ll try to list a few specific cases. One thing I learned is that the kids we met are highly intelligent. They learn quickly and are ready to learn new things. Even with lack of resources in the classroom, they are quick-witted, eager to please, and so darn loveable. Imagine the possibilities if their basic needs are fulfilled and have resources to learn.
The biggest eye-opener for me was actively thinking about what the kids need in order to truly succeed. I think our program was a great introduction to what kind of help is needed in Cambodia. We see that the kids are lacking in basic needs. We can help with that through our donations, but once that runs out, they are back to where they started. So beyond food, clothing and shelter, there is a need for long-term and sustainable education and resources or support systems to help them transcend poverty.
A form of sustainable giving is to contribute through a longer stay in Cambodia. By speaking with others in our group and networking with some ex-pats and foreign Cambodians, I learned that there is a big push to encourage foreign Cambodians to come experience Cambodia for longer than a few visits. This movement of sustainable giving through extended stays hopes to create a larger and longer-term impact. This type of visit will give deeper insight into problems that exist and perhaps give the visitor more time to develop a better idea of what kind of support they can provide. Giving and service doesn’t have to be just donated goods and time. Maybe it’s integrating yourself with a system or institution, or becoming a semi-permanent teacher, or developing a program or organization – the possibilities are endless with a bit of creative thinking.
Finally, as a fun bonus, I have learned a lot of haggling skills on this trip. I am still not 100% comfortable with it, but towards the end of the trip, I was able to make purchases and effectively bring the prices down. That day at the markets buying supplies for the kids was so helpful to force us to put our bargaining skills to the test early on!
One thing that has resonated with me is that Cambodia, like the kids we met, is resilient and is kind of the bomb. Just think about all the pieces we have seen, from the landscape, mass graves, farms, cities, people, history, destruction, dusty roads, rising art scene and makeshift anything! Coming from such a broken history, our people and country stand vigilant and beautiful. People from all over the world are coming to see the commotion. The best part? Cambodia will continue to grow even stronger and more beautiful because it’s only in the early stages of recovery.
I absolutely plan to continue helping the kids and Cambodia! I think this is a great program and it has potential to create an even bigger impact; and I want to be a part of that. I really believe in a longer stay to better understand how to remedy certain issues in Cambodia, especially for the kids.
I have spoken in detail with my husband and we both agree that my contribution to these kids will not stop here. All the networking on this trip has opened up my eyes to the possibilities and I shall explore them.
First of all I plan on telling everyone about my experience in Cambodia to anyone that will listen. Our networks are valuable and having conversations about these kids are a great catalyst to encourage others to help. One of the best things we can do while we are not in Cambodia is to educate others on Cambodian issues, address the issues in place that prohibit these kids and their families from transcending their situation. It will also aid in making this program more sustainable and garner more variety in participants. ”
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