This was the last day of work this week. The other group continued scraping and painting the community buildings and it was a tough go. Sometimes work is work. Group number two finished off the dream home and it was another day full of song, dance and thatching.
After only one day on site, the volunteers and the locals became more comfortable with the process and the non-verbal communication became more fluid and relaxed. We developed international camaraderie and truly did build bridges across borders. It was heartwarming for the volunteers to see that the family was very pleased to have us there.
By the end of the day, emotions were running high and tears of joy were shed. As the goodbyes were made, Mr. Theary translated for the man of the house: "Thank you so much for your help. This is a dream come true." It takes so little to make such a difference. Today, Developing World Connections volunteers raised a house and fulfilled a dream.
I have asked people if they would like to share their thoughts so far with you. Here they are:
"It's several days in and I've lost track of the days. Is it Monday? Wednesday? I honestly have no idea and you don't even know how incredible this feels. I don't know what time of day it is. I only know that I wake up when the rooster calls. The first day this happened I actually thought that the rooster was lying. I heard him “cock a doodle doooooo” and I looked out the window and only saw complete darkness. I thought to myself "there is no way it's morning." But sure enough, 10 minutes later the sky started to lighten and the sun started to rise in the sky.
"As I write this, I am looking out upon half of our group who are painting one of the buildings in the community training facility and a girl named Lune is sitting with me watching so curiously as I write on Jess's mini notebook computer.
"The Khmer girls are weaving fabrics in the room behind me. I will never take a piece of clothing for granted again. Once you see the workmanship that goes into each thread, each artistic design, each movement -- all to create something that will sustain and simply feed one's family. This is something that every human being should see.
"We are so fortunate that we get to work and have the opportunity to see a world that is so different than ours. Imagine, a family of four on a motorbike and a gas station that is nothing more than 10 one-litre Pepsi bottles on a small table filled with gas on the side of the road.
"The work we are doing is meaningful, however the changes that I have experienced in myself are even more meaningful. What amazes me is that although there is poverty, there is an unmarked joy and kindness from the Khmer people. Don't believe the cynics. Change is possible. Although maybe it's a change in you and I. This is only the beginning.”
"I've lost track of time. I don't know what day it is or what time it is, and I sometimes find myself forgetting what month it is. In preparing myself for this trip I decided that I didn't want to create any great expectations in fear of being disappointed. And while I definitely think this has helped open my mind to the culture, I also now realize I had nothing to fear.
"Phnom Penh is daunting. I've never witnessed such blatant poverty. I remember watching a show on TV about how people will wait for garbage trucks to pick up the trash on the side of the street (trash has to be bagged or else the garbage trucks wont pick it up), once in the back of the truck packs of young men jump inside the truck and go through trash bags looking for anything they might be able to use or sell. I remember watching it and thinking to myself that this is why I'm going – to try, in some roundabout way, to help.
"There was some definite culture shock upon arrival, and when I witnessed firsthand the packs of young men jumping into the back of a garbage truck while I looked down from the hostel balcony, I nearly cried. The garbage, the poverty, the day-to-day struggle to meet basic needs nearly blinded me – but it didn't, and Cambodia is beautiful! There are a million descriptions I want to write down – the children with their shy smiles, waving at us from the side of the road as we drive by on our tour bus. The children with the big welcoming smiles, excited at the foreigners passing by. The simple beauty of the countryside, scattered with lush trees and rice fields. The people working in the rice fields, harvesting the food that will feed them over the next year. The lack of cars, but abundance of motorbikes and bicycles.
"Life is simple here and I find it so refreshing. My fear now is Western influences moving in and destroying it."
"On my other adventures to Asia, I was never fortunate to visit Cambodia. From what I've heard and from what I've now experienced, Cambodia has more to offer than Phnom Penh and Angorwat - the people in the rural villages are full of life, kindness, generosity and smiles. My time spent with the village children, talking with the local villagers and seeing first hand how they live their day to day lives has been an experience beyond words- you'll just have to come and see for yourself."
"From desk to the jungle plains of Cambodia. After a year and a half without a trip or vacation the chance to bang weak nails in iron-like wood came as a welcome reprieve. We were given the task of creating a small home from scratch in two days. From six large poles thrust into the earth we built a frame, walls, a floor and roof. From thatch and wood arose a home.
"The family who was to live in the home helped us hammering, lifting, tying. They were tiny people who could lift more than their body weight. Their huge smiles and extremely limited English made each moment a chance to grin and giggle. This home was a new beginning, a fresh start, and as those walls rose and the thatch began to become a roof, I felt that I had done something, built something, changed something. No matter our job or position, it is very special to build something with your hands, and it is extremely special to give that something away, to change the lives of others with sweat and tears. My thumbs will never be the same."
"No expectations backed by naiveté and a good spirit is how I entered Cambodia. Despite my planning and preparation, the reality of this third world country is too distinct to imagine. It is a happy place full of life, soil and soul. The smiles of the Cambodian people are so warm and friendly and their eyes so expressive.
"I found myself caught in the moment as I hammered my first nail. A moment of satisfaction. But it was the children that made you feel a sense of good, for lack of a better word. Whether playing soccer, dancing or drawing pictures with the kids, it is evident how appreciative the family is of our presence.
"I have travelled around Australia and Europe, but never with a volunteer group like this. It is truly the best way to experience the real culture while meeting like minded people and feeling good about giving back. Besides, it's nice to work off the late nights of ocean dips, sing-a-longs and brilliant dinners! All in all, for anyone interested in the full traveling package, sign up for a trip like this!”