Part II: The Trip
We traveled a long way from the freezing winter of Japan, with my head covered by my hoodie, hands inside the pocket of my sweater, and then I had soon felt the heat. We had to deal with the heat for almost all of the trip. On the very first day, we visited the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields to experience the history of Cambodia, and the violent and cruel past. Before the trip, I remember listening to a group present this time and place in Cambodian history. Although it was a different experience when I had set my foot on the various killing fields site. The audio tour had blocked all the noise and distractions, and I had felt an authentic historical experience. The eight-day trip had also made me feel like I have lived my every day’s at a full-potential by physically being there to contribute to the lives of the children at rural Pursat and families on the waiting list for a well.
With Cambodia being a developing country, a large gap between the rural areas and the urbanized city was seen. This was particularly noticeable after our first few days in the rural areas of Cambodia (Pursat) and our two nights in the village, and later in the city (Siem Reap) for the last two days. The city was much busier and louder, with large crowds of tourists from all over the world. When we visited the Angkor Wat, I was distracted by the selfies, individual portraits, and group photos that people were carrying. This had questioned ‘fairness’ in me, as I had seen the city life through a different lens and could no longer see it from a tourist perspective. Although at the same time, tourism is a driving force in Cambodia’s economy (Nathan Paul, GLOBE). Tourism as part of globalization had enabled economic growth through increasing supply and demands of goods and services. During my time at the night market, I have noticed that I had rarely heard anyone speak the local language, Khmer. I was speaking English most of the times with the shop clerk and some of them would speak to me in Japanese. English was a “Lingua Franca,” the common language spoken by many people all over the world. It was also a powerful tool for marketing and making business. This had made me reflect on what I learned during my English class on how language had value, with people instrumentally motivated to learn a certain language in order to provide for a living. In relation to my learning in class to the experience at the night market, language was an important part of communication with the local marketers.
Power and Privilege:
Further in my experience at both the Pursat market and Angkor Wat, I have noticed children on the streets selling goods. When we had stayed in central Pursat, we had the time to explore and shop at the market there. I had forgotten to pack my hat and since our trip had consisted of physical work in the sun, I wanted to buy a new hat. While walking the market street in Pursat, I have found a shop that had sold a collection of hats. Although, as I had searched for the right hat, my eyes laid on a small boy, about a third grader, who had smiled at me. He was trying to make me purchase the hat and complimenting me on how “nice” they looked on me. I wondered if he had said the same thing to other customers and foreigners. He had developed a sale strategy that was similar to what the clothing store clerks had used back in Japan–smile, be nice, and compliment the customer–this little boy had done everything on the checklist. There was a similar situation when we had finished the tour for the Angkor Wat. When we were going back to the car, there were groups of children, mostly girls, who were selling pins of the Angkor Wat. “One for only 3 dollars,” as one of the girls had approached me. I was walking slow and did not know what to say. “One for only 3 dollars,” as she repeated, but I was still speechless. As I was walking towards the car, she was following me this time, but instead of indicating the price, she had changed the pricing.
“2 for 3 dollars”
I had never experienced this before, and I had struggled whether to buy the pins off of her by sympathy despite the fact that I did not need them, or ignore her completely. Mr. Pomeroy, the supervisor for the trip, was walking near me. He noticed this and told me not to buy off of them. One of the reasons not to was because of the poverty cycle and where and how the money was going to be used. Child beggars and sellers are still common in Cambodia, particularly in tourist areas with foreigners. Buying off of the child can ultimately trap them in the cycle of poverty, as it was easier to make money in the streets, and therefore, value income over education. (Herington, Sally) The children were also usually working for their parents, or in some cases, their “boss,” and the money that you pay for the selling goods, are not necessarily used for the child’s education.
The importance of education:
As an IB student at an international school, education plays a fundamental part of my life and the way I view the world. Having a child on the streets without any parent supervision is considered dangerous and risky for the child. Although it may seem like common sense, what if you lived every day of your life in poverty and was desperate for income? Will our perception change?
Education is a way that helped us obtain an understanding of the world, the knowledge of our society, and the ability to make decisions, but because we are part of the educationally privileged world, it was important to share and transfer what we know to a wider audience. I learned that teaching and the role of a teacher was also an important part of education. As part of my experience making mini-lesson plans for the children at Angkrong, my group and I had tried to make the experience as fun as possible–singing English songs, playing Pictionary and hangmen–teaching had to be fun and engaging so that the children would be motivated to learn and find pleasure in retaining knowledge.
The importance of water:
As the more we had stayed in the rural areas of Pursat and interacted with the local children and adults, including the HOPE Cambodia leader; Lee, I had become more aware of the importance of fundraising and the many possibilities that could be accomplished. We often take things for granted, but for the families, with the provision of a well, they could start a family business such as growing water-rich crops and not have to walk a long distance to the water stream (which was often unhygienic and harmful for health). As 60% is quite a large number for the amount of water in our body, water is a crucial resource in our lives. Reflecting upon this, I learned to be thankful and carry gratitude for what I already had, and work towards sustainable uses of my possessions.
Being a part of a non-profit organization has taught me the value of volunteer work and seeing the world through your own eyes. Non-profit organizations are a reliable and credible source that we can trust to ensure that our donations are going in the right direction and right benefits. I had also learned that I should not be worrying about what kind of clothes I wore, how ‘tired’ I looked and whether I would be likable to everyone. What I had to think about was in what ways I could add something in my life that would help put more smiles in people beyond my personal world.