Inspired Words

These are the experiences of our volunteers in Cambodia.


Reflections.

Posted in Cambodia on December 29, 2008

As I reflect on everything that has happened over these past weeks, I find three main themes recurring, entering my train of thought:
1.The people of Cambodia
2. The group experience
3. Our place in the process

The Cambodia People: For me, the joy of Cambodia is its people. Certainly, its artifacts, its vistas and its novelties are beautiful and intriguing in their own rights. However, the greatest beauty I have seen daily is in people's smiles. Cambodians are at times quite shy, other times more assertive and pushy, but most of all, polite and hospitable. This is a high context culture and one whose intricacies I have navigated only at the surface level. But, I feel welcome in Cambodia. I feel generally valued in Cambodia. I felt like it matters that I am here. Cambodians strike me as present and quick to smile and laugh. I have experienced inspiring humility.

Cambodia is forgiving.... and all of this in light of its bloody and brutal past and the injustices, inequalities and immense challenges it still faces. Could it be that having lost everything but hope itself, Cambodians have gained something intangible that many westerners seek so desperately? Can it be that some who have it all have lost something more precious? I can only speculate but my guess is that the self-help industry may find it harder to penetrate the Cambodian market. So delightful are the people that it is hard to reconcile this country's reality with one's experience of it; it does become easier, after the initial shock, to filter out the poverty. In philosophical terms, Cambodia possesses a wealth of spirit and being that isn't as easily visible to me in my smaller world in Canada...even though I know it exists. But, otherwise, Cambodia is poor, very poor. Poverty is easily exploited. Cambodia needs our solidarity. It needs more Developing World Connections volunteer participants.

Our group can be proud because we were part of this country's healing. We are leaving this country a little bit better than when we first arrived, dignity in tact ... we are leaving as better people, ourselves more dignified. Thank you Cambodia. Akun Kampuchea. Thank you Kep, Chamcar Bei, and BAB. Kinyon Sraline Kampuchea. I love Cambodia.

The Group Experience:
This group – what a pleasant surprise. I worked hard to bring this group together and not for entirely unselfish reasons. My ego would have me believe I have a keen ability to find great people, but, truth be known, they found me and I am humble enough to admit I was lucky. For a group this size, I was pleasantly surprised at how we got along and we all shared tender moments, learning from each other. We could all relate to one another and we did in a way we could have never done within the context of 'normal life'. We worked hard together. We played hard together. We had disagreements. We had romance. We had personal discover. Life long friendships have come out of this experience. We all have a common bond: Cambodia, December 2008, Developing World Connections.

The process:
As team leader, I enjoyed my role in this process. I had my fun, but team leading is work, albeit a privileged and highly enjoyable form of it. Being in a developing country is a unique experience with its privileges and challenges. One can never truly prepare themselves for how they will react when what we imagine and see on television become real..... when all of your senses take it in... when you breath reality and look into a person's eyes. Everyone reacts differently and at different times. There is no judgement in how people react and there is no good or bad way to be. Personally, I find it very interesting to observe people when they are challenged and taken out of their comfort zone. People's reactions reveal much about their personality and experience. I can't speak directly for each participant, but I do know this experience has changed each person for the better. This is my juice. I am a global citizen, but these are my people from my neck of the woods. Witnessing their transformations is my motivation. Contemplating the impact they will have as they incorporate this experiences into their daily routines reinforces why I am part of all of this.

At home it is easier to ignore the injustice and suffering of people. In a developing country, one's eyes are forced open and blindness is an option only for the coldest and saddest amongst us. Sometimes we need a little shove to remind us of what is important about being human. Interest rates, 'getting ahead', fashion, money, status, power, and keeping up with the Joneses all of the sudden becomes less important. Could it be that what makes us human – and ultimately happy - is our in-born desire to love and support other humans? Could it be that learning about the world through a glass tube just isn't enough to understand how we are all connected? I can see plain as day that when you have the opportunity to connect with another human being who has nothing in common with you but your humanity, a window of hope and meaning opens up. This is our process – we are opening these windows. Whatever happens is up to each one of us by my guess is that bit by bit we will all breath a little bit easier. Poverty is daunting. Greed is daunting. This world is a dangerous place. It is hard not to feel powerless. It is easy to be a cynic and hide behind a smug, protective shell. What does the cynic say?: “Poverty tourism”, “Guilt alleviation”. No matter, the cynic hasn't experienced what I have these past weeks. I see the twinkle in the eye of my participants and as I witness their generosity of spirit I know, as sure as day, that hope is not lost.

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