Inspired Words

These are the experiences of our volunteers in Cambodia.

December 2009: Thoughts one month later.

Posted in Cambodia on January 25, 2010

It has been a month since most members of our team returned from our Developing World Connections (DWC) /Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia trip to Cambodia. Jud and Jen both remained behind for extended travel in Southeast Asia – Jen going to Laos and Sri Lanka and Jud to Thailand and Myanmar. They seem to be in no hurry to come back to winter in North America.

It’s interesting that our collectively loquacious group appears to be encountering some difficulty expressing the magnitude of their Cambodia experience. Pictures, of course, speak volumes, and we keep in touch by email as busy schedules permit. We also plan to have a reunion party at Julie’s house in Santa Ynez, California, at the end of the month. Sadly, our Canadian comrades won’t be able to join us, but we hope they will be there in spirit and visit with us online by Skype. A few of us are already talking about participating in another DWC project, possibly in Peru at the end of this year or in early 2011. And we are all wondering what we can do to help relieve the massive human suffering in Haiti in some small way since we can’t immediately jump on a plane and start rebuilding.

Reflecting on the Cambodia trip, Susanne, from Santa Barbara, says one thing she has noticed is that she “didn't really appreciate what we went through” until she got home and could process it more clearly:

“While I was there everything was interesting, new and fun, but overwhelming as a whole with so much going on. Once I got home and began telling my story, I realized what a great experience it was helping other people who needed it. It's amazing that in just a few short days we were able to help build a home for a family! I keep picturing their faces, and wonder how they are doing right now in their new place. Everyone at home keeps saying they're proud of me, but it is really ME who is proud to have been a part of something like this.”

Heather reports from her home in Canada:

“My memory is full of visuals and my heart remembers the kindness and spirit of the people above anything else. Working so closely in the community and seeing the house built from start to finish are my most treasured thoughts. The sense of accomplishment that came from tying on that last stick to hold down the thatch was so fulfilling that I will be able to channel it in the future to help me to reach new goals. I am grateful to Cambodia, for being so beautiful in so many ways. I am grateful to DWC and to BABSEA for the programs that fostered the trip and brought together our terrific crew. No matter if we worked our hardest, or connected with the kids, I am confident that our team left a positive mark on the village and that we will be remembered for it. The trip has helped to recharge me and to find a bit of clarity on my life's direction. But the thing that keeps coming up is...where to next?!

I love Cambodia!”

Finally, from Karen, of Santa Barbara, your blog author:

A friend of mine who donated a silent auction item at one of our fund-raising events asked about my trip. I sent her some pictures and told her how I felt momentarily overcome by bittersweet emotions when it came time to leave the home we had built. The house-warning party was winding down, the sun was setting behind the distant hills, and the nearby rice fields reflected the twilight glow. I felt elation to be part of this adventure – I had helped create a home for a family in need. I also felt genuine sadness, knowing it was unlikely we would ever return to this place to see how the family has adjusted. So much had happened to change my world view in such a short time!

‘I feel really lousy complaining about the color of my brown kitchen cabinets,’ my friend said, nicely summing it up.

Later, coming home to the pre-Christmas hullabaloo made me even more poignantly aware of the enduring spirit of the Khmer people. Yes, the cities in Cambodia are chaotic. Yes, there is litter and pollution, and many roads and buildings are in disrepair. Yes, there are daily deprivations and stressors. Yes, many people there work very hard every single day and have few possessions to show for it. Yes, the Khmer people have been traumatized by years of conflict and the loss of loved ones in the genocide, and yes, there is a long way to go before there is a sound governmental infrastructure and true reconciliation can be achieved. However, one can see progress taking place everywhere as communities rebuild. And from my perspective, the rural people there seem to exude a kind of inner serenity and oneness with nature that we don’t typically enjoy here in the West.

I wonder, what do these Khmer people really think of us? Do they think we are just nuts for taking vacation time and spending our money to fly half way around the world to build houses, plant gardens, and install latrines? Our DWC and BABSEA contacts tell us the impact is tremendous, and we accept that. But because of the language barrier, we were never really able to get to the bottom of it with the families who directly benefited from our work. However, by all appearances, whatever they think of us, they certainly seem to truly appreciate the results. And we appreciate them, more than they will ever know.

Karen O'Hara
DWC Volunteer Participant
Cambodia, December 2009

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