From February 4th to February 12th, 2018, I went on a service learning trip to Cambodia to directly help out people suffering from poverty. Even before going on the trip, I was looking forward to getting a new inspiring experience because I have never done anything like this before. Moreover, since I have already had several background knowledge about poverty in Cambodia through my internship experience at HOPE International Development Agency and my Personal Project, I was excited to actually see the reality of what I only knew through data and research. However, there were mainly two worries which were that I did not know what kind of service I was exactly going to offer to the people of Cambodia and whether I was going to be able to adapt to such a new environment from where I currently live, Japan.
During the trip, I arrived at Phnom Penh, then moved to the poor province of Pursat and then moved to Siem Reap. It was in the Pursat province that I did most of my service activity. The Pursat province is known as one of the poorest provinces in the poor country of Cambodia and there are many people living in remote areas where they have no access to basic needs such as education and water. In the Ankrong village that we stayed at, we helped build a school there that was supplied by the donations made previously by the HOPE Cambodia Service Club at my school, which I am a part of. The school that we were building had three classrooms and was for children in the middle school. Since the base of the school was already there, we began with placing rocks on the floor of these three classrooms. Then, we carried piles of sand on top of the rocks and poured water all over the sand and rocks to stamp them down to create a flat surface. Children from the local area that will be attending the school came and helped out with the construction too. Over the period of three days, we continued this work and I was able to
become friends with some of the children even with the language barrier. After helping out with the school construction, we went to another part of the Pursat province to help build a well for a family living in a remote area. The family consisted of a grandmother, a mother, a father and two children. I was shocked to hear that the mother was 16, the same age as me. They were living in a small shack made of scrap metal and wood pieces. There, we used concrete to create a floor for the well that was already implemented. After the well construction, we visited two families that are on the waiting list for getting a well next year or the year after. One family lived in a house that had no proper roof and the other family had a mother that had a neck
tumor and a father with an injured leg. The two families both had to walk around 6km to get to a nearby river every day, where they can only collect contaminated water. It was hard to listen to their reality and how poverty affects their daily lives. However, it all taught me a very important lesson that I would have never learned anywhere else. As both the school and the well construction that I helped out with is a type of sustainable service, which means that it is not a one-time service that provides basic necessities such as water and education, I feel like I was able to contribute and make a small difference in the lives of people in Cambodia.
From this experience, I was able to gain a lot of new knowledge and my perspective on poverty changed drastically. One important knowledge I gained was through the construction of both the school and the well, where I learned how fortunate I am to be in a position where I have no trouble getting education or water. I go to school every day without any second thought and I would get clean, drinkable water if I just turn the tap. However, this trip taught me that this is not ordinary. Not everybody in the world has access to these. That I should not take them for granted. This became especially clear when I visited the families who had no wells because their lives were completely different from mine and I still remember how the mother of one of the family said: “I want a roof and a bicycle if I have more money”. This comment on wanting a roof and a bicycle really shocked me and I did not know what to say. Another important knowledge that I gained was about the importance of reaching out to other people. Everyone is born the same way and it is just a matter of chance that I was born in a Japanese family that does not have to suffer from extreme poverty and a Cambodian child was born into their poor household. This means that it could have been any of us suffering from lack of clean water or food. Therefore, I understood how important helping others is and even a small donation can add up to make a huge donation that creates things such as schools and wells. This trip made me recognize and rethink the purpose of raising awareness and fundraising for people in poverty, making me more interested and motivated than ever to further continue with this activity.
As mentioned earlier, there was also a significant change in the way I viewed poverty before and after the trip. Before going on the trip, I knew that poverty is an issue that needs to be dealt with and that there were many people suffering from it. I also knew how people did not have access to clean water or food, or even education or jobs. I even knew that people lived in shacks with diseases but without proper education. But, I realize now that these knowledge were just knowledge. It was not understanding. As I went on the trip and met actual people suffering to survive each day, the reality was added to each of this knowledge and they turned into understandings. I no longer viewed poverty as just a global issue but an ongoing, real-life issue that actual real people suffer from. An issue that I feel motivated to be involved in. Therefore, this trip opened my eyes to a brand new perspective and a new-found strong interest in combatting the issue of poverty.
This trip will not be the end because I rather feel like it was a new beginning for me in working for poverty. The experience that I gained from this trip will definitely transfer in many areas of my future life and will surely affect who I am. If I could go on the trip one more time, I would definitely choose to go but even if I cannot, I will keep supporting in the best way I can through indirect services like fundraising and raising awareness.