Thank you to our new Aussie friends!
As a group we witnessed the transformation not only of a road, but a transformation of our relationship with the community. We were invited to join their ceremony on the second morning, sharing curried soup and coconut desserts. (One lucky volunteer even got to gnaw on a boiled chicken’s foot!) Women from the community upped and joined mid-afternoon on the second day, when energy was flagging. And as the young children, who will be educated on these school grounds, warmed to our presence, they shared smiles, high fives, and carried the group’s spirits, keeping us laughing and having fun with the laborious and redundant task of moving dirt.
I confess to my skepticism about what could be accomplished or “transformed” in two days and uncomfortable feelings about bringing a foreign group quickly in and out of a rural community. (These and other thoughts elaborated in my posting on Voluntourism Effective Practices from last week.)
I had been sitting in an office too long. I had not been out in the field where real human interaction takes place, the purpose and beauty of any development or volunteer or travel experience. A friend recently said to me, “People take themselves too seriously.” He’s right. While it’s important to promote education and discussion to steer ourselves in the right and responsible direction, sometimes we just need to get out there and embrace humanity!
Serendipitously, I woke up yesterday morning to my daily quote reading that it’s better to do something imperfectly than doing nothing perfectly. The trip wasn’t perfect; it still had its hiccups, improvisational needs, was exhausting…
Many of the volunteers expressed their interest in returning to Cambodia, largely inspired by their time volunteering with PEPY and being with the community. They appreciated the physical experience of volunteering, but what they seemed to appreciate even more was the post-construction visit to PEPY’s classrooms, relating their day’s work to the educational opportunities it provided. They were able to see children in a learning environment (as opposed to selling books or begging on the streets), giving hope to the future of Cambodia.
And bottom line: at the end of two days, this group helped a community become one step closer in the opening of a new primary school for children to learn. That’s pretty cool.
Thanks to our new Aussie friends for what you were able to teach us, for your openness to learning and working hard! and especially for what you gave to the community of Preah Lean.
Best to you on your continued adventures and to the Last Man Standing!