Liakia is a student who I’ve watch grow in the past 5 yrs. She greeted us when we arrived and then disappeared. When I asked about her, students responded that she’s working. I didn’t know what that meant. Today we trek up the mountain country side to drop off a few of our students. At the very top, hidden in the plantation, I met Laikia. At age 13, she must help the family bring in income. While her parents and extended family work the field, she is responsible for the care of younger children. She greets me with a smile. Her once sassy “hello teacher, Penh” seem to hide sadness and apologize for not being able to attend classes with us. We talked for a bit and as we started to say good bye she asked “teacher, you come back next year?” as if to tell me that she will try to make it next year to see us. I smiled at her but I wanted to tell her that understood that she has to help her family.
As I rode down the mountain side, I wanted to cry. Emotional images of my first trip to Cambodia fill my head. I’m walking out of my hotel and I’m instantly swarmed by children reaching their palm out to me. “Bpu, bpu (uncle, uncle)” they call out asking for what every money I’m willing to give. Overwhelming, I quickly ran back into my hotel and didn’t want to come out again. When I look at them, the children, I see me or what could have been me. Through a series of fortunate events, personal decisions combine with multiple social opportunities, my life took a different turn. I wonder what would become of Laikia if her life had the same opportunities that I was given.