It been almost 15 years since my first visit to SE Asia – to Thailand and Cambodia. I had romantic images of lush, green rice fields filled with water buffaloes with a child riding on its back slowing vanishing off into the sunset. A land filled with wonder which would allow me to find a connection, that sense of belonging, which I longed for as child growing up in the corn fields of rural, white Iowa. What I experienced deeply sadden and confused me. I couldn’t find the words to describe my emotions.
I was younger then, less refined and very ignorant about the cultural, social and political complexities of SE Asia. I only looked with my biases and assumptions. Over time, after several more trips to Cambodia, this land of contrast opened my mind and heart to its wonder, its complex social challenges and its resilience… 32 days before we depart. Another ordinary journey, another ordinary process, another ordinary day but filled with extraordinary moments…
We’re getting ready for another services, another long flight, another stressful time in preparing and coordinating schedules. Another this, another that, another… (pause) Life can get noisy. This current reality of mine demands time and attention but in the noisiness life, I know I have to pause and reflect.
As I glance through the pictures from previous trips, it all comes back to me. My why for engaging in this type of work. We are all connected and as life presents challenges for us, we have to pause so we can find our center, that core that drives to do our part in this world. It takes heart — a sense of purpose – align with persistent action…
As I’m writing this our oldest daughter, Savannah, walks in. She smiles at me, grabs face and gives me a kiss. If she could talk, I know she would want to hear about the stories and lives of the children we impact. Yes, I will miss her when I’m away. But the journey in returning home starts with the journey of being of service…
Singing in the showers, really reminded me of the time when I was in Cambodia singing to my students everyday. They really liked it when I sang even though I wasn’t the best, they always wanted me to sing. I miss those times, where I would sing to them and they would sing back to me. I was so afraid to open up to my students at first, but soon enough they made me very comfortable with the care and love they give me and it was one of the most amazing feelings ever. To live in the moment with them and just hug them and hold their hand. It was a very special moment. One that I’ll cherish and they will too. A moment where I just wished I had one more day to spend with them because it was so heart breaking to say goodbye. Their smiles always made my day, their laughter always made happy, and the tears were so irresistible to say goodbye. Today I as I look back at the pictures I will always see the beautiful smiles and laughter on their faces and remember to not be afraid to just let go and live in the moment.
Teaching my students was a challenge. I really thought that teaching would be much easier, but it wasn’t. Through out my time with my students I’ve learned to be patient and I tried to help my students understand the meaning and the content of the questions and and statements I taught rather than just having them repeat after me. What I loved most about my students was the smiles they bring into my class room. It really makes my teaching experience a lot more comfortable. Even when class is over, my students are constantly asking questions and eager to learn more English. It has really shown me how much they love and care for my time with them. My students make time go by super fast and before I knew it, it is time to take them home.
December 28, 2013
We traveled to Battambang after our stay in Phnom Penh. There was a subtle difference between the 2 cities in my eyes as it was a little bit more calmer in Battambang, especially traffic-wise. The poverty in Battambang was more visible as well as there were more beggars that’d come up to us. That has been one of the tough aspects of this journey: looking those people in the eyes and trying to decide whether or not if we should give them some money while also trying to be mindful of the surroundings in which we find ourselves in with that person in that moment. It’s definitely a hard balance because there is no right answer… you just try for the best, but then again, intent doesn’t always equal the impact you make.
During our time there though, we got bikes for ourselves (and ultimately, the kids) for the Khmer Heart Center in Singha Village. When we went to test out and buy bikes, I was reminded of how I needed to be actively & intentionally seeking out to experience the world as it is through various accounts of events/opportunities that present themselves to me on this trip. With that humbling reminder, it was exciting knowing that we were getting closer to finally meeting the kids after purchasing the bicycles! Just one more stop until Singha Village… and we get to meet at last!
December 27, 2013
Our crossover to Cambodia went smoother than expected as there was anticipation for some difficulties. Last year’s travelers had a rough time crossing over from Thailand, so we thought there would be some troubles coming through Vietnam’s border into Cambodia. Rest assured though, we eased through it safely and made our first stop in Phnom Penh. It’s a beautiful place with its faults, as would any place (though manifested in different ways). More importantly though, it’s filled with beautiful people. We actually were in the midst of a political protest as well. Factory workers were out in the streets marching & protesting for better living conditions. I got the chance to see what conditions were like for some factory workers as we stayed in the city. It wasn’t the worst, but neither the best I’ve seen. And it’s not my place to judge such a thing, but I could get a feel of why so many underpaid factory workers who work through worse working conditions would fight for such rights. Overall though, our time in Phnom Penh was enjoyable as we got the chance to stay with Penh’s family, who were very welcoming of us. Much thanks to them for being so hospitable to us in our time there. Onwards the journey continues!
Today my peers and I took our kids on a walk to the temple. It was a very long walk probably about 3 miles. It was a very hot day, but despite the heat, my students made me smile all the way to the temple. It meant a lot to connect with a new student, even though I just met her she helped me live in the moment that we have. She held on to my hand and didn’t let go the whole way, she also held onto to me in the dark caves and on the stairs. I come to realize how much our students cherish our time with them, everywhere we go, they go. It really shows me how much this moment means to them to have us come to their home and teach them. Teaching the students have really thought me to be understanding of how they learn and interact in the classroom. I’ve learned to be very humble when I am teaching them. I also visited my student’s home, it is very nice to see and learn the way my students live and the hard work they do everyday. Only a two days left with the children and I am unsure how I will feel when we depart, but I hope to continue living in the moment with the students.
Sorry for the long break from posting!
Many, many, many things has happened since I’ve last posted. I’m not even sure where to begin. I write in my journal daily. If I was to update everyone what’s been going on these past few days, this blog would be a book! So I will try to keep this blog current.
My mentality coming into this trip was thinking that I came to be of service for the locals and help them, but its really me who they’ve helped! It’s difficult to explain with words, it’s only something that can be understood by feeling.
The students and strangers I’ve encountered have been truly insightful. Tomorrow is day 6 of teaching. Teaching basic conversational English has been a struggle. The language barrier is the greatest obstacle, but thankfully the students are smart and eager learners. They crave knowledge. They arrive to class earlier than expected and stay longer than needed. These students are simply amazing.
I’m beginning to get comfortable in our little hut in Singha Village but the time here with them is already coming to an end..
P.S. – I love how we are constantly surrounded by so many animals.
It has been about a week since we arrived at Singha Village. Coming with past experiences with teaching, I thought it would be pretty easy teaching English to the students. But it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Teaching was so hard especially with a language barrier. It was hard trying to explain what a word meant in English when I don’t know how to translate it in their language, Khmer. But we manage to find a different way to communicate without needing to know the same language. My partner and I did a lot body motion and drew pictures to tell the students what we are teaching. The students learn really fast and are dedicated students. We will ask them if they understand and then ask the students what it means in Khmer. We teach the students English and they teach us Khmer. My peers and I have learn so many useful Khmer phrases and words. We all can count pass 20 in Khmer! We have GREAT teachers that encourage us to learn and if we get it wrong, we get punish. Seeing the students so eager to learn and to change up the roles as being students to teachers makes me so happy. They are truly great young people that I will miss when the journey ends. I can’t believe that our time is almost up with them but they have taught me so much. With very little of what they have, they have not forget how to share with others. When they have money, they don’t spend it on themselves or their family, they decide to buy us, teachers, gifts and fruits to share. Truly great people. I have met really great people along this journey. I don’t want to say good bye because I feel like this is already home.
December 26, 2013
A lot is going through my mind as I ponder upon my privileges, realizations, and humbling reminders in encountering the bustling capital of Vietnam. I’ve only seen a glimpse, yet the journey so far has awakened something within me that I can’t even describe at this moment. I’m anxious as to what’s to come and eager of what I will learn along the way.
Cambodia is so close! But I cannot forget the imprint this place has left upon me in my first venture into its city. This place has connected with me in showing what more harsh realities this world has to offer, but even more so in allowing me to see in my encounters of how such struggles make some individuals more kind-spirited & strong-willed against such odds. There’s nothing that could have prepared me for this… I can only just immerse myself into this experience for what it is.
This week has been a roller coaster for me! We reached our destination on Sunday. Singha Village is such a tiny village with such beautiful people. At first, I was unsure if I wanted to be here due to the fact that it was somewhat similar to southwest Minnesota and at the same time, it was very, very different–maybe I was expecting more or had higher expectations. But as soon as we began to interact with the kids Monday afternoon, I was amazed by how smart they were. I have never seen kids so eager to learn or so happy to receive a notebook and pen/pencil. It’s not everyday we see that kind of reaction in America. Now that I think back, I have no idea why I was feeling homesick when now, I do not want to leave Cambodia! This trip so far has tested me and my comfort zone because being so far from home has made me a little insecure and scared of the world. This trip has opened my eyes and made me become a little more selfless, putting other needs before mine.
I remember first going into Singha Village and then entering through the center to see the beautiful children, it was just a lovely scene. The children all looked so happy. I felted so loved and welcomed, even though I had just met them, they grabbed my hand and hugged me and told me to play with them, it made me feel so happy to feel like I have been with them for longer than just a few minutes. It was such an amazing feeling to experience their love enough though I didn’t understand what they were saying. I am so grateful to have met such beautiful kids and to see how thankful they were for receiving something as simple as a pen and a notebook. I could see in their faces how much it meant to them and it filled my heart and also opened my eyes to see how a something as simple as a notebook and a pen do so much for one person. I really cannot wait to continue this journey with the children and live in the moment with them.
We are in Battambong anxiously waiting for morning invite us to Singha Village to see our students again. I’ve been to Cambodia over 10x & each time I am humbled by it’s people – everyone just trying to do the best they can to provide for their families. Glance 1 way, everyone’s seems to be in a hurry. Turn your head slightly & everything fades off like a slow-motion film. I find myself lost in its organized chaos & yet humbled in knowing I am just a drop in its ocean…
Before I start my blog, I want to thank all the support and donations everyone placed towards this service learning trip. From the bottom of my heart, Thank You!
“Sometimes we have to take that leap of faith, and trust will come later.” – Penh S. Lo
(A little quote I remember from our talk on the plane ride)
The group is currently in Singapore!
(Here’s a link to the world map if ya didn’t know where it was!
We have been on the plane for TOO LONG. My legs are aching to do something productive! Good thing the airport in Singapore is HUGE (and very beautiful too). Pictures will be posted later, sorry!
The time left until we reach Cambodia is drawing so close. It’s currently 5:35 AM here in Singapore and a few of the travelers haven’t slept, including me. I will try to utilize the next few hours of free time to plan a few lessons for class.
Thanks for staying posted. Let me know if you have any questions, suggestions, or thoughts! Happy Christmas and Merry New Year. Lol.
It’s been almost 13 yrs since my first trip to Cambodia with my partner, Lyna. This land of contrast called and connected me to an inner spiritual awakening. I did not have the luxury of flipping the channel or turning the TV when confronted with images/news of social inequities. I had to find my balance and immerse myself in the many dualities of the Kingdom Of Wonder ; it’s tragic past, current struggles and hopeful future. I was captivated and in awe of it. Even within their daily hardships and struggles, its people somehow find ways to welcome and share what little they have with strangers…Cambodia! I long hear the hypnotic sound of your monks’ chant echoing in the country again. We are on our way…
We only have 8 more days until we leave to Cambodia! I am so excited to meet the people along this journey and to get to know my peers better. This will truly be a life changing experience. I am super excited but I’m also nervous because this will be my first time travelling outside of the country. But I know that as soon as I get there, I will be fine.