Three young men in Cambodia
Reflections from Osai, Dwight and Bruce, who were able to spend 10 days in Cambodia in July. The boys are deeply grateful for this life changing opportunity. Thanks to the trip organiser Phil Muir and mentor Andrew Patterson who helped them to understand and reflect on all the learnings experienced along the way. Special thanks to sponsors Mainfreight, The David Levene Foundation, Manurewa High, Hynds Group and Mr John Hynds, and Westmount Schools which all contributed financially to make this trip possible.
DWIGHT HARRIS DEVERON
This trip has really made me appreciate all the little things that I used to take for granted: fresh drinking water out of a tap, flushing toilets and daily showers. For the people of Cambodia, these are all luxuries.
Most of the population, particularly in the rural areas we visited, live in places where there is not a lot of wealth and poverty is all around you. I’ve always considered myself to be a humble person and showed respect for others or towards them but the little things like a glass of water I now think of very differently. Before going on the trip I wouldn’t really care that much about such a simple thing. I would often drink half, tip the rest out and not even give it a second thought. Now I finish the whole glass! The same goes for when I’m taking a shower. I used to stand there and sometimes just enjoy a nice hot shower on a cold morning but now I’m just in there, wash and then out. As for a flushing toilet, I’ve certainly learned to appreciate that ever since coming back from the Outward Bound Course I did earlier this year. But this trip made me realise the people of Cambodia would think New Zealand is a paradise.
When it comes to education so many students just take it for granted. I hear it all the time. I know people that have said to me “man, I just want to drop out” or they say they hate school and just give up. But every kid I saw and met over in Cambodia were all truly making the most of their education and appreciating it so much more than we do. Often they worked in hot, stuffy classrooms with no air conditioning and barely any resources yet they were all paying attention and doing their work without any disruption or students mucking around. For many of them getting to and from school is another example of how different things are between Cambodia and NZ. I thought walking 4.7 km from home to school was tough but that’s nothing. There were kids my age and also much younger over there that walk up to 16 km a day! It made me realise I really don’t have a lot to complain about. Mad credit to them; they have my total respect.
In terms of wealth, some of us say we’re poor but I learnt that the definition of poverty is different in each country. Poverty in NZ could never compare to poverty in Cambodia. I met people who lived off a few bowls of rice a week and some of them had to provide for their kids as well. And the thing is they can’t leave their current situation because the only thing they have been taught to do is to fish or tend their small rice paddies and to scavenge for food were they can. I even discovered some kids have been taught to hustle and to beg for money from tourists. I found it hard to just ignore them but it’s also bad to give them money because it encourages them to keep coming back. But I also noticed they never give up. They just keep at you. They’re smart and I thought how different their lives would be if they had the same opportunities as me. It’s sad because we can’t tell them to stay home because their parents will force them to keep earning money for the family. In Cambodia you do whatever you have to do just to survive.
One memory from the trip that really sticks in my mind was when I went into a market and we crossed this wooden bridge. I saw this lady breast feeding her baby and about to put it to bed – if you can call a piece of dirty cardboard on the ground a bed. We were walking around the market for an hour or two then we made our way back. As I got closer to the bridge I noticed the baby was asleep and the mother had spread the baby out and it made me think well “all of us bystanders are just walking past” and perhaps even thinking her baby is dead. It really freaked me out and I felt my heart racing and I had this sad feeling churning through my stomach. It was so powerful it was capable of making me cry. I was going to give her all the money in my pocket but I asked Mr Muir if I should and he said “NO it encourages them to come out another time to beg for money.” I felt this vibe come over me like listen to him he’s right, which I did, but it was so difficult to just ignore her.
This trip has had a huge impact on me. Thank you to everyone who allowed me to experience this awesome opportunity, particularly our sponsors. I really appreciate the investment you have made in me and promise to pay it forward in the future.
I do hope I get the opportunity to return to Cambodia in the future. It really is an amazing country to visit.
Before leaving, I had my own thoughts and opinions about this unfamiliar place and in my head I had imagined what it would look like. What I didn’t expect was how powerfully this trip would impact me and even change me in the way it has.
The 10 hour, overnight flight from Auckland to Singapore was amazing as all I did was watch movies and sleep! Once we arrived we had to move quickly to another terminal in order to board our next flight which was from Singapore to Siem Reap; a city in the northwest of Cambodia where our 10 day adventure would begin.
As soon as I got off the plane I felt a huge wave of heat hit me. At first I thought it was from the aeroplane itself, but as I continued to walk towards the terminal I began to realise that this was in fact Cambodian weather in the summer. It was 31 degrees and very humid!
After getting through customs we were then introduced to Seila, our tour guide. I liked him straight away. He gave us a very warm welcome and greeted us nicely. From the airport we travelled to a local silk farm to see silk being produced by silk worms which we were able to observe in their natural state. Witnessing this was really eye opening for me because these ladies were working 12-hour shifts, with very little to eat and only earning a few dollars a day. Some of the patterns they weaved were extremely intricate.
Lunch at a local Khmer restaurant was quite interesting because I tasted frog for the first time! It had a very unique texture and taste but overall I really enjoyed it. It was then decided that we would go see a local water village. I was quite anxious because I had never seems one of these before. I thought it was a village that lived by the water and lived off the water but it was totally the opposite. A boat took us out and I discovered that these villagers had created houses, shops and even a school that all floated on the water itself.
Then it was on to the River Hotel which was to be our home for the next few days. The hotel itself was beautiful and as soon as we checked in it was off to the hotel pool for a swim right away. It had been a long day so it was very easy to fall asleep that first night.
Our first few days in Cambodia were spent as tourists so that we could acclimatize and explore the wonders of this beautiful kingdom. The temples of Ankor Wat, Banteay Srie and Bayon were breath taking and got me thinking about how the ancient Cambodians managed to create such beautiful monuments considering the lack of resources they had back in the 10th century to build them. Sadly, many heads of statues in the temples had been stolen by other nations which upset me because those statues rightfully belong to the Cambodians.
I was also exposed to a really clever initiative which took local students off the streets and put them in a working environment where they learned hospitality and catering skills from “teachers” who were chefs. I thought that this was a really smart idea and I wondered whether it could be implemented here in New Zealand.
On the second night we discovered that we were to cook our own dinners. At first I was unsure because I knew I was not a very good cook, but then the chefs of the restaurants offered their help and as a result I felt more comfortable. To my surprise my food actually tasted pretty good but I had to give credit to the wonderful chef that helped me every step of the way. It was a great way to learn more about Cambodian cuisine by cooking it ourselves.
We were also very fortunate to have the chance of witnessing the Phare circus show, which I thought was so amazing. The story line of the show was really touching because these were also former street kids who had been taught how to be acrobats. But what made this experience all the more thrilling was that the circus performers had to complete all their flips and tricks without any safety nets or harnesses which was incredibly gutsy in my opinion. This also meant that there was absolutely no room for error. They certainly turned on an incredible and at times heart-stopping performance for us.
In Siem Reap, once the sun had gone down, it was like the entire city just lit up; bright lights everywhere, hundreds of scooters occupying the streets and large groups of people roaming the huge night markets.
When it came time to check out of the River Hotel in Siem Reap, the boys and I felt pretty sad as we had gotten pretty comfortable there, not to mention their amazing breakfasts each morning, but we knew that we had more important work to complete in Pursat.
The primary and high school we visited on route allowed us to interact with some local children and have some fun doing so. For me it also raised further awareness about the lack of resources these schools have. I only sat in one classroom at the high school for less than 30 minutes and found it very hard to focus. It was hot and humid with no air conditioning and I struggled to understand how the students were so focused despite having been sitting there for the entire morning. The desks were in really bad shape, the classrooms were quite dirty and in one class there were more than 40 students. This really made me think because I could see the potential of these students but they were being held back due to the lack of resources. This further reinforced to me about how fortunate students in first world countries really are.
Before arriving in Pursat, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant named Jaambai. A restaurant created and run by CCT (Cambodian Children’s Trust). It was used as a way of gaining income while at the same time training CCT employees. The level of poverty in Cambodia has decreased slightly but overall Cambodia’s poverty is still quite bad. Instead of children being in classrooms, many of them are roaming the streets persuading customers to buy cheap souvenirs. I discovered the average income of families is $1 to $2 per day which is not a lot for a family to live off. Although something I witnessed was that they are very good at using a single dollar effectively.
Upon arrival at the village where we were to begin our voluntary work we noticed that many of our assigned jobs had already been completed. In a way I could understand why the villagers had completed these jobs already. They had been waiting so long for necessities like toilets, a water tank and a play house for the children. However, we quickly got to work digging holes for extra toilets. It felt good to be able to make a contribution to the lives of these needy people but I found labouring in Cambodia very hard as it was very hot and I needed to drink lots of water.
A positive in this was that I felt more empowered to complete the work because the owners of these new toilets were standing and watching us work having been patiently waiting more than a year for the work to be started. Completing work for such humble and deserving families was a blessing but the greatest reward was seeing the smiles we put on these families faces, in particular the man from the first village; he could not stop smiling after seeing his new toilet! The image of his smiling face will stay with me forever and it was moments like this which really made this trip so special and worthwhile.
After spending a few days in this beautiful kingdom, I found myself picking up many of the attributes, values, culture and behaviour of the Cambodian people. Cambodians are really respectful people, they greet one another very politely and they have very good manners. This can be traced to their Buddhist religion. Buddhism is a very respectful religion in which they teach their followers to follow the path to enlightenment; something all Buddhists aspire to attain during their life. Something else I noticed was that the lifestyle is very chilled. The people of Cambodia have a very easy and stress free way of living. Although many of them are poor this doesn’t seem to concern them and they just get on with their lives without worrying about what they don’t have.
The way business is conducted in Cambodia is fascinating because the prices of goods and services are negotiable. I saw this as very entertaining as I found myself in sticky situations trying to encourage lower prices. However, in Cambodia I tried to spend as much money as I could as I wanted to contribute a little something towards the Cambodian economy.
They say “all good things must come to an end” but the hardest part of this trip was the end of it. We had all created strong relationships with each other and created such close bonds that it became hard to accept the fact that we all had to get back to reality.
On the way to the airport to board our flight back to New Zealand we stopped at a shooting range. I thought I was the man bragging about how easy it would be to shoot a gun but when the gun was actually put in front of me I completely froze! With the help and encouragement of my brothers Dwight and Bruce, I was able to fire the weapon. It had so much recoil that the owner had to hold me in my seat.
The few hours we spent in Singapore were done enjoying each other’s company and experiencing the amazing Changi Airport which has been voted the best airport in the world. Once back in New Zealand it was straight home, sleep and get ready for school in the morning.
To be honest, on my return to NZ I found it very difficult to transition back into school life. I found myself unfocused during classes the first few days I was back and very down throughout most of my day. What got me through thought was seeing my brothers at school, constantly talking to each other and reflecting on our shared experience. All in all, the trip to Cambodia changed my life in the best way possible. I was able to witness and do something to help improve a third world country, while creating a stronger bond with, not only my brothers Dwight and Bruce, but also my mentor Andrew. I was also able to understand the concept of “relative poverty” and realise that poverty in New Zealand and poverty in the third world are very different. Another positive outcome from this trip is that it has further increased my network of contacts. I now have contacts all around the globe including Canada, Jamaica and Saint Vincent as well as Jason Sharma, a teacher from Hamilton, who has offered to help me with maths.
I also feel the trip has changed me in a lot of other positive ways. During this amazing trip, I was able to witness first-hand the gruesome nature of third world poverty. Little kids roaming the streets at night, living off a couple of dollars a day, children being used to attract customers and thin sheets of tin used as housing to protect them from the harsh forces of nature. Witnessing these factors has opened my eyes to a lot of things. I’ve now become more grateful for everything I own and all the opportunities that have come my way. Before the trip, I used to take a lot of things for granted, such as turning on a tap in my home that provides fresh clean drinkable water, a flush toilet that I can use anytime, a free education, food in my stomach and clothes on my back. The trip to Cambodia has taught me to appreciate the little things I take for granted, not only to appreciate them but to make the most of them because there are others on this earth who are much less fortunate. I also now view the world from a very different perspective. I’m more eager to help out with things, I’m not as angry and caught up in my own world as before and I’ve gained a soft spot for poverty and those who, every day, have to endure the hardships it inflicts on their lives.
I've always wanted to leave home because every day, it’s the same old routine; wake up, clean myself up, go to school, work my butt off, go to training, work my butt off again, come home, do chores, homework, music lessons, sleep. Then I have to repeat the same process over and over again. But this time it was different. Come 13th of July, 2017 I would be on my way out of this energy sapping, routine environment and finally I would be free.
So, there I was, sitting in the backseat getting ready to arrive at Auckland International Airport and butterflies start to emerge in my stomach. I literally jump out the car and race my way to the doors but Dad yelled at me to wait and stop being so anxious. I settle myself down, but I still walk at a fast pace, dying to get on the plane. First person I see is Mr. Muir who was the man who gave me the opportunity to go and I am so grateful to be given this chance. I get my things checked in and soon I see one of my brothers, Dwight. We have been through so much together that I consider, no I call him, my blood brother. We talked so much about this trip for the last two months and now here we are standing in line ready to go. Then I see Andrew Patterson, the man who has mentored me. I really didn’t connect with him back in intermediate, but from the times that we talked I gained knowledge and wisdom from him which helped me transition from MI to MH and I am very thankful that I’ve had someone like Andrew give me this opportunity and also be my mentor. After catching up with these two men who I will never forget, I see my other blood brother Osai who I also have been through so much with. I feel so happy because I have both my brothers ready to accompany me and experience this epic adventure together.
We say our final goodbyes, my family already missing me and vice versa and I walk through the departures gate taking in one last glimpse of home before I leave for Cambodia; a country I know so little about, apart from a few quick facts I found on the internet. We board our flight and sit next to Osai while Dwight is seated directly behind us. We all look at the screen and see the flight time, 12 hours, and in my mind, all that I see is 'kill me now!' So, I buckle up, chuck on my headphones and crash for the next 12 hours, and next thing you know, we’re landing in Singapore. So much for long flights….
We arrive at the best airport I have ever seen and as we walk in, it felt as if my eyes were deceiving me because this airport made Auckland Airport look like dolls-house, hands down. With barely time for a quick bathroom stop then it’s on to a shuttle train to change terminals. This airport is HUGE! We find our gate; fill in our arrival forms for Cambodia and I finally get to meet the people who are a part of the group I will be travelling with for the next ten days. I keep my distance; wary because I felt really shy and didn’t want to talk to anyone apart from the people I knew. What I didn’t realise was how quickly that would change….
We arrive at Siem Reap and once we step onto the tarmac I feel like I’ being roasted in a fan bake oven! A massive 31 degree heat wave hits me and what made it worse was that I was wearing my favorite NBA jumper, my favorite Chinos and my Air Force 1's which I haven't worn since I got back from Australia. Not exactly the best choice of clothes for a hot country in the middle of summer.
We assemble as a group and I start to learn more about the people on the tour. There’s Kate and her daughter Jemma who were with Jess from NZ. Rajes and Donita who were from Canada who became our trip Mum for Osai, Dwight and myself. Jason Sharma, a maths teacher from Hamilton, was like our missing older brother we had been looking for. Even though he was an adult, it felt like he was just like us because we connected with him really easily. And then there was Sue. Even though she was a bit first world-ish, she still made us laugh from time to time. She was from England and a bit proper, if you know what I mean, but also a bit sassy. We exit the airport and meet our tour guide; Seila Sann, a kick-boxing black belt, well so he claimed, according to the colour of his belt. Ah that one never gets old.
One of the first hightlights was the visit to a water village. We get on the boat and are soon receiving some first class treatment, a neck and shoulder massage for a dollar which I tried to avoid but when I saw the look on the little boy's face who gave me the massage, he reminded me straight away of my nephew who would always do the same thing for me. I took this as a sign of missing home already, but I let the boy massage my shoulders and paid him his dollar (after constantly bugging me about it for half the trip, these kids don’t let up).
We arrive at the water village and soon see for ourselves the true meaning of poverty. Big and small houses with a twist, they're on a boat which people lived in with pure happiness. They weren't affected by the fact that their kids are playing on a small boat, jumping off naked around deep water and could increase the chance of death, but they saw it as perfectly normal. I could name all my daily activities that I complete and yet these people made it seem so easy, but it was like they were on God’s level because they were living life on water.
We saw two local schools, two local churches with band instruments and a whole lot of flimsy houses which ran along the edge of the river – all of them floating. We reach the local crocodile and catfish farm and honestly, I freaked out at the sight of those crocs. They were massive! We enjoy the view of the village and meet a few new faces. We fed the crocodiles and the catfish and even got to hold a snake. It looked like it was going to take a bite out of Osai but luckily it didn't. We stayed at the water village for an hour and then made our way back to the port and upon our arrival these kids had small plates with our photos on it. I was surprised at what I saw but didn't buy them.
We hopped on the bus and went for lunch at one of the local restaurants and I have to admit, the food was heavenly. It was then time to check into our first hotel and we were in for a surprise. The River City Hotel was flash! Me and my Southside brothers could not believe we were actually staying at a 4-star hotel. We get to our room, quickly unpack and then we’re off to see one of the temples and the view was just breath-taking. I felt jealous because the people of Cambodia have so much history surrounding them and it has a big impact on me. I wish I had that much culture so close to me.
After Day 1, I couldn't wait to see what our next few days would be like, but my thoughts went back to the water village. I remember the little boy who made me feel important as he gave me a massage. The little girl, who lay in her mother's lap sleeping, while she paddled down the river under the beating sun. I wanted to do something, help them in any way I could but I was only able to do so much. I couldn't give them all that they wanted or needed, I could only sit there and watch as they performed their daily activities and carried on with their lives. It reminded me of home and I soon started to appreciate the things I have at home in a way I’ve never appreciated them before. I know it was my first day, but it only took me that one day to realise how lucky I am to have all these things at home while these people are fighting just to keep their families going. That was my first real wake up call. There would be many more to come before the trip was over.
So, here I am, supposedly living the dream but after the first day, I'm starting to see that Cambodia was not really what I made it out to be. Me and my brothers talk about feeling lucky to be living the lives we have. We get up to have breakfast, and still the heat beats down on us while we enjoyed a wonderful continental breakfast which a chef who would cook your eggs any way you liked it. Now, the feeling of the 'dream' slyly returns to me and soon I think on a full stomach. We meet Andrew in the lobby and debrief about our first day and discover that corruption plays a big role in the Cambodian way of life and holds the country back. I hoped to see a place full of smiles and happiness, I still saw smiles but the happiness part was hidden deep in the smiles which masked the true emotions that they refused to show. Seila, our tour guide tells us that people live off of what they have, which I saw everywhere but they are still a country recovering from a very dark past which still haunts them to this day. A past which has reshaped their way of life; a life which once flourished freely but was crushed by genocide in the 1970s. This was a history which we would learn more about later about but for now it was just the happy times we were looking forward to.
We leave for the temples of Banteay Samrei and Banteay Srei and they were beautiful places rich in history and culture that I wish that I could bring them back with me back to New Zealand. But we can only absorb so much. This was the day I decided to wear my thermal and it was such a suicidal idea. I wanted to respect the Cambodian culture by covering up my shoulders but didn't know until we got there that this applied only to women! I managed a whole day with the thermal of death and got through all the trips without any heat stroke but it wasn't until later that I knew that I was really in for a treat.
So, that treat that I was anxiously waiting for, was not what I expected. But back to the temples, I started making my way through the complexes with my brothers, Osai and Dwight, and there we met Chevy. One of the best people you would ever meet and to have around. She was funny, intelligent and also knew how to make us smile every time. I had such a wonderful experience seeing the temples and also having being in that place gave off such a rich and pure cultural vibe. It meant more being there and learning about the place from a local other than researching it and watching documentaries because it made the experience more real and worthwhile. I also got to do a lap of the temple on an elephant. Now that’s something you can’t do in South Auckland!
After a wonderful day at the temples, we made our way to the bus, the only place I found so similar to home; mainly because of the air conditioner. In the bus, I sat laughing beside my brothers, playing silly games and also trying to air-dry my clothes because I was still wearing my ‘suicide thermals of death’. I managed to talk to some of the people on the bus and found a connection with them straight away. Amongst them was Pervin. He was such a cool guy to be around as well as being an amazing soccer player, well he did come from Jamaica! As we rode in the bus, I met a few more people and they immediately felt like family. They are people I am never going to forget because they influenced different aspects of myself which made up who I was.
After a short ride from the temples, we went to one of the local markets. The first thing that catches my eye is the Under Armour shirts which were in my favourite colours; pink and grey. They were so ifo (Tongan for good or yum!) that I couldn’t pass up the chance, so I thought that this would be a good time to try out my bartering skills. I’d listened to Mr Muir constantly talk about bartering and that it was the only way to get what you want. So I tried talking my way up to the maximum price I wanted to pay. Which was a bad choice because I thought that $20 was a good price. But it was better than paying $35 for 2 shirts. I came up with some BS saying that “Oh, too expensive. These shirts only cost $10 at home and you try to rip me off?” I felt so bad having to rip the poor lady off, but Mr. Muir did say that you would have to “break a few hearts just to get what you want”. After making what I though was a great bargain, we moved on to our next stop.
Arriving at the War Museum I felt an eerie atmosphere overwhelm the joy and fun that the group had created to that point. As soon as we set foot on the premises the happy cultural vibes drop like an ice cold temperature. Being a very spiritual person, I couldn’t handle the environment and the weapons of war that were all around me. Sure I was having a laugh and all sorts but deep inside, it felt as if I was carrying the souls of the thousands of people who either died in the tanks or those who were shot down using the anti-aircraft weapons. Each time I touched one of the relics of war, I’d imagine myself being at war with my fellow Cambodians. I imagined the bullet-shells flying across the front of my face as I ripped into one of the enemies with the AK-47 I was holding. I phased out, landing back in reality, holding the decommissioned gun. I play around with it, trying to think of something else to get my mind off of what I had just thought about. It was the first time I had ever held a gun and I was lost for words when I finally got to see one up close. After a very eerie experience, our bus ride was silent. It was like the visit had already set a very sad mood amongst us.
We talked from time to time so that the feeling of the visit would pass. But it came back ten-fold when we got to the Killing Fields.
I used to play a game that had a similar landmark like the Killing Fields in Cambodia. Except that this was real. We arrive at the Killing Fields and straight away, just as I hop off the bus I feel the weight on my shoulders get heavier and heavier. Like the dead had decided to take a piggy back ride on me so that when I visited each part of this memorial, they would ride my back until I left the place. Each mass grave that we visited was a sight of pure sadness. I couldn’t believe the extent of the Khmer Rouge’s inhumanity. How could this happen? Later, I thought about us, the ‘lucky ones’ who live in a place where we don’t have to worry about a past that haunts us. Then I thought about the different graves that we passed but what got to me the most was a particular tree; possibly the saddest tree in the whole world for it was here the Khmer Rouge prison officers would swing the baby by its legs smashing it’s skull to pieces as it hit the trunk. Once the baby was dead they would throw the body into a shallow grave nearby. I felt sick. Now whenever I look at a tree, I remember that experience. It still haunts me.
We left the Killing Fields memorial site and there I was thanking the Lord for getting us out of there ASAP. I sat on the bus, and thoughts flooded my head. How could they sleep at night? How could they do such a horrible thing and live life as normally as possible? What are the limits of our own inhumanity? What are we really capable of? At that moment in time, I looked around the streets and looked at the different shops which we passed and thought of a better future without the Khmer Rouge. This place might have been a first world country if it hadn’t been for them. All I could do was sit there and watch. Be a tourist and just take in the sights that I had already seen. It was hard getting what I had experienced these last few hours out of my mind.
Going to the circus that night helped. I began to understand the true beauty inside of each Cambodian person. They made the most of life with whatever they had. These were people who overcame the difficult situations which they lived in, whether they were poor or if they had no family, but fought for a better future. I believe this is what makes the people of Cambodia the real treasure of the nation. It wasn’t the temples or important landmarks that made the nation so wondrous, but the people who lived there. People who grow up in poverty, in the midst of corruption and with such a dark history, but who still manage to live life with the utmost joy.
It wasn’t what you’d expect to see from those who live in such a difficult place. It was the spirit inside them that drove them to keep on fighting for a better future. It was evident on the faces of the performers, the smiles and steely-eyed determination expressed in every movement or stunt that they performed. This was what made me envy the people of Cambodia. Their never-say-die attitude was something I always wanted to obtain for myself. I left the circus feeling inspired and uplifted.
After a wonderful day of highlights, but mixed with a depressing cloud which hovered above me after visiting the Killing Fields, I believed I had found the real purpose that the Cambodian people live for. They live to help build a better future for themselves and the following generation. They live because they want to move beyond their dark past and I believe that they are certainly on their way to a better future.
I went to bed feeling so motivated and also keen as to get that special treat which I had waited two months for. I’ve always wanted to put myself out there and just help and I felt ready to do as much as I could to help these wonderful people. I was already tiring of just being a tourist. Now I wanted to be the one to help make a difference; no matter how big or how small.
Oh yeah, that was the treat that I have been waiting for. Building toilets, playgrounds and houses are the main things that I really wanted to do and why I had come on this trip in the first place.
A hard three days of labour was awaiting us in Pursat and man it was a killer. I’ve never dug holes so deep before and also built toilets in such record time; and in 33 degree heat. We got to the village and the families there gathered to watch us work. After digging half of the hole, we got time to hang out with the kids, which was a memory that I will always cherish. Apart from my love for hard work and labour (just kidding), I love interacting with kids because it reminds me of my nephew at home. The same way they laugh and smile, so similar to my nephew. After the three days of labour, we hung out in the village for a while and the people there were just so happy and the smiles that were embedded on their faces are the images which still float around in my head. That’s when I finally knew the reason why I had come to this place. To make these people happy and to do something that would make a small, but meaningful change to their lives. It made me feel good to help people who are in need.
Our last stop was Phenom Penh where we stayed in a wonderful hotel with a great view. For the last few days of our stay I reflected on my trip and wondered if I had done enough. I reckoned I had and I just want to thank the people who made this trip possible. If it wasn’t for them, I would never have had the opportunity to change my perspectives on things which have really changed my life and also given me some valuable leadership skills that I can use at my school.
Words cannot describe how much love I have for the people who helped me along my journey and also those who have helped me get to this point in my life. All I can say is thank you from a South Side kid who got the chance to go to a foreign country and come back a man. With more wisdom which was gained from the local people and also the love and care that was shown by the group I travelled with.
I think that after all this, my career choices have sort of changed. I think I’m going to keep on going with the humanitarian work and keep on changing lives. I wish to make change in the world and you, the sponsors, my mentors and the people who have helped me to do so made me start what I never thought I would do. I wish to help those in need and that is what I will do.
Until we meet again - aw-koon ch'ran (Khmer for thank you so much).