I took a service trip to Cambodia during February 2018, after raising funds from September until then, and used these funds to buy materials in order to build a school in a rural area of the country. During this trip not only did we get to go around the country and visit cultural heritages, but also got to see the different conditions people lived in and the contrast between the big city and the outskirt towns. Comparing these to Japan there was a vast difference, even the biggest city in Cambodia had a very noticeable difference from close to any place in Japan. Not only that but some of the places we saw and visited reminded me of Mexico, my home country, and truly had the same atmosphere and the people behaved similarly. I think being able to make this connection made me realize the condition Mexico was in, and that even though it was developing, we still shared many of the problems that many other third world countries have, we just keep them in the shadows, or they’re not as evident if you live in the city. Making this initial connection allowed me to connect Japan and Switzerland, both first world countries I have lived in, and I realized some things that were the same in both countries, and were opposite to what happened in the third world countries I had visited and lived in. I think a big example of this is the lack of trash cans around the city, if you walk around Japan or Switzerland, finding a trash can on the street to throw away your trash is almost impossible, yet the streets are almost impeccable, while in Mexico, Cambodia and Thailand, you could find bins in almost every corner yet find trash strewn all over the street.Not only did I notice that, but also the way people behaved was similar, in Mexico some people have a close minded attitude in a way about tourists, more specifically American tourists, I could see a similar attitude in one of the hotels I stayed at in Cambodia, they weren’t rude, but they had this sort of judging face in a way towards us being there, as well as this feeling of being foreign while walking through a marketplace.
Another thing I noticed from being in these countries is that the people in third world countries tend to be more open and festive with each other, while first world countries are more closed and individualistic, the younger people also had a tendency to be more open with us, perhaps because it was a new experience, or because they knew we were there to cause no harm and help improve their situation.
One of the biggest things I noticed that was truly unexpected was their eagerness to help build their new school. We would wake up in the mornings and by the time we got there, they would already be there. They would push themselves and carry loads probably bigger than they could manage, and were actually quite reluctant to leave after we told them to. Even in the other service trip I took part in (to an orphanage in Zambia) the kids weren’t particularly eager in improving their knowledge, or the state of the orphanage, but approached us eager to play. After three work days at the unfinished school, we visited a nearby middle school, and found that the kids were eager to learn and show what they knew, but were shy because we were new and unknown people. Not only that, but they did their absolute best to communicate with us, they would point, use signals, even body language. One of the experiences that I remember was when we were flattening the floor of the school.
This process involved filling the room with rocks, adding sand, and then covering this with water. We had these tree trunks with two branches attached to the sides, and would use these to stomp on the floor and flatten the rocks into the wet sand. We did this in partners, and one of the workers seemed really excited when me and my partner were doing a good job and working hard, he wasn’t sure how to say this so he just looked at us, smiled, and did a thumbs up. Even with this language barrier he wanted to get his point across and so he did the only way he could. I was glad to know that we were doing good work, knowing that the better work we did, the less work was left for them.
Even though I enjoyed all aspects of this trip, I was left somewhat disappointed because I felt like I didn’t get enough time to make a big enough difference. We only had three days working at the school, and occasionally only worked in the morning, had lunch, and visited a school to teach some English. Comparing this to my previous trip, it felt like I hadn’t made a difference. Of course I raised funds and helped pay for the materials and managed to make the progress, but I wasn’t able to help in the building as much as I hoped I would. The teaching was also not quite as advanced, perhaps if we had more time we could have planned proper lessons and left them with something they would remember. Generally speaking, I think interaction with the children was also very minimal, we worked together and taught them twice, but there were close to no chances to interact with them as people and form some sort of deeper relationship with them.
I think this feeling of not doing enough is so present because I know the situation they’re in, and I know there was more we could have done for them. I certainly realize more and more that there are lots of things that I take for granted, and have learned to be more grateful for what I have. These experiences have truly changed me as a person, and have helped me understand that even though you can’t see something, doesn’t mean it’s not there. I now understand there are certainly things that should also be done in Mexico to improve the situation of people living in poverty, especially in rural areas. There are people who barely have access to water, while in the big cities we just take all these resources for granted. I think more awareness needs to be raised about these problems, and make sure people know that this problem is there, and needs solving.