Inspired Words

These are the experiences of our volunteers in Cambodia.

Thank you, Good-bye and Thank you.

Posted in Cambodia on June 15, 2009

Another week has come and gone and I find myself sad to be writing this blog. We just finished our last week in the village and although I am looking forward to some of the comforts of home, I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to some of the friends I have made.

We returned from Kep Province on Monday morning and headed out to our third Dream Home to start building. The family is a family of five, a mother, her two sons and two daughters. Her husband passed away due to illness and their house was old and made of mud and it had fallen down. When we arrived it looked as if they were sleeping in their yard. It is heartwrenching to see, but so good to know that we can help to make it better for them. We spent our first day there mixing and pouring cement to secure the frame. Once we had the frame secure we began to attach sheet metal to all of the walls and thatching to the peaks of the walls. It’s awesome that we were able to complete so much in the three weeks that we were working in the village

On Thursday afternoon and Friday morning we were back to work at the Community Vocational Training Centre. We spread around two truckloads of dirt to help fix some of the road and low spots that collect water. It was hard work and the heat had finally kicked in. I think it was actually the first time I saw Mr. Theary break a sweat!

Throughout the week the group took turns riding into the village in the evenings to visit the youth group. It was nice to be able to sit down with them, show them pictures of our families and be able to help them practice their English. They are all so eager to learn! Mom, I hate to break this to you over the Internet, but after seeing one of my pictures of you they all agreed that you were “lop lop”… and they then understood where I got it from!

Our bike rides back home after youth group were always an adventure. We usually tried to leave early enough to ensure we were riding in daylight but apparently our timing isn’t always as great as we would like to think! On one such trip I had a scorpion run out in front of my bike and for the longest time I just couldn’t put my finger on what that gecko on the road was carrying… until I got closer and realized what it was! I know, a major DUH! on my part!

Friday proved to be the hardest day emotionally on this journey so far. It was time to say goodbye. In the afternoon we visited the first house that we completed. It was phenomenal to go back and see the house that we had built for them turned into a home. It brings tears to my eyes to remember their gratitude for us. The whole team had gone through our luggage and picked out some clothes and items that we would no longer need to give to the families. There was clothes, hammocks, sandals, towels, etc. It feels good to know that the smallest of sacrifices of us giving up a few shirts or pairs of shorts (or in my case all but one because apparently I can’t count!) means so much to them. I know that I will take that feeling with me wherever I go. Once we were finished at the first house we headed out to the third house to pay them a visit. We left items for them as well. I cannot imagine the hardships that the mother is going to have to face in the future, raising four young children alone, but it brings a smile to my face to know that we had a part (no matter how small) in making it easier for her. Putting a roof over her children’s heads I feel is the least that we could do to help her. Sometimes you wish that you could do so much more, but I know that by doing what we have done we have helped her to be able to focus on her kids now, and not on where they will find shelter from a storm.

After dinner on Friday (our last with Pha) we headed into the village for a party that the BAB staff were throwing for us. There were speeches of goodbyes, thanks, and good times shared by all. The mothers from the three homes we built were there as well, it was good to see them all together and heartwarming to hear their thanks. Mr. Theary made sure that we all knew that we were welcome to come back at any time and that he would always find hard work for us! Some of the youth group thanked us for our help with their English and just for being there to visit with them. Sarah, the local program director with BAB, mentioned that when we first arrived in the village they had originally planned for us to complete two houses in our three week stay with them. I am proud to announce that we completed three houses, repaired a playground, picked (and twisted!) a field of yams, re-distributed two truckloads of dirt, dismantled a chicken coop, and dug countless holes. I am so proud of the team to know that our hard work has paid off so much for the village.

Each member of the team got up to say our favorite parts of our time in the village, what we will remember most and thank certain people that made our stay easier. Every single one of us was blown away by the village of Chamcar Bei. I know that coming here everyone always tells you that Cambodians are some of the friendliest in the world and I can now say from a first hand experience that they are. I’ve traveled to quite a few different countries and I have never experienced the welcome, or made friendships so fast as I did in Chamcar Bei. The village truly has a lot to be proud of. After the speeches, feast of fruit and the team (most for the first time) experiencing rice wine mixed with coke, it was time to dance! While I designated myself photographer for the evening, the rest of the team was taught traditional Khmer dances by the youth group and BAB staff. The hardest part of the night came when it was time to say goodbye. Both Theary and Cham Nan moved me to tears as they gave me hugs goodbye, said they would miss me and told me to come back and visit.

I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge some of the people that helped to make not only mine, but the entire team’s stay here so amazing. First off, Pha, our housekeeper and cook. What an amazing, beautiful woman she is. She always has a smile on her face, will do anything she possibly can to help you and is above all an amazing cook!

Mr. Theary, the Volunteer Assistant with BAB. Mr. Theary was always the first person to laugh when we were having a tough time, let us have a tough time for a little bit longer, then teach us the easy way to do it. In his words, “I want you to use your personal skills first, then learn from me.” I would love to think that he learned as much from us as I know I did from him. My Khmer would not be nearly as good (okay, not really good, but better than it was) if it weren’t for him. He was patient, kind and always provided a laugh!

Cham Nan, the Dream Home Coordinator with BAB. Although Cham Nan’s English is limited he more than made up for it in hand gestures, demonstrations and a want to help us. As I know I have mentioned before, his smile could light up a job-site and he was always there to help us when a piece of wood was just too hard to nail through, or a nail just a bit out of our reach. I have no doubt that it is largely due to his guidance and patience that we were able to finish three houses in our time here.

Peou, BAB staff, my personal saviour. Had it not been for Peou both times my peddle fell off I would have been stuck trying so hard in my broken Khmer to get my bike fixed. Without him I probably would have ended up with two left peddles!

And to the countless other residents of Chamcar Bei who came to everyone’s assistance any time something went wrong. I have no doubt in my mind that we will all be taking back great memories of the people and the village.

Driving away from the village on Saturday morning I was filled with mixed emotions. I was looking forward to a shower and a fan, but it felt like I was leaving my home. I have left a piece of my heart in Chamcar Bei, a piece that I am glad to give away because I know that what I did here is 100 times better than what I could have been doing at home in the same time. I will take this experience with me everywhere I go and I will never forget the friendships I have made, the people we have helped and the overall good feeling residing in me just knowing that maybe, I finally have made a difference. Afterall, that is the exact reason why I came here in the first place. It was not to see Angkor Wat, to visit the Killing Fields or to have a bit of a vacation (although they are definitely appreciated!). I came here to help those who wanted to, but could not necessarily help themselves, to give of my time and myself to help to better someone else’s life because everyone deserves a chance at a happy, peaceful life. I know that we are all blessed to live where we live and to have what we have and I know that I am so lucky to have gotten the chance to pass that on and maybe, just maybe, pass on a little bit of hope.

I want to end this blog by thanking all of those who helped to make this adventure possible not only for me, but for everyone on the team. I know that I could not have done it without the support of my family, friends, countless donors and the community. By helping me you have helped to better the lives of people you may not ever meet, but yet you found it in your heart to help anyway. This world is a better place because of you, please don’t ever forget it! In the words of William James, “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”

And of course, thank you again to all those who commented last week, I love reading them! Very soon we will be able to discuss our experiences in person with all those back at home.

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