When planing travel I generally don’t like going back to the same places (too many new ones on my bucket list) and I really, really don’t like traveling in groups. There is one exception that more than perfectly proves the rule. I absolutely love the different groups of roving philanthropists I travel with every January to Cambodia to visit villages, schools, and projects supported by the Cambodian Community Dream organization, which I have been involved with for more than ten years. They all have different dynamics, but are always comprised of exceptional people that are smart, interesting, generous, and fun. They are full of questions and observations, wisdom and emotions. This year was the best ever. It is a physically and emotionally intense 10 days, that leaves me exhausted, stimulated, and inspired.
Cambodia is, of course, most famous for the spectacular Angkor Wat temple and one could certainly spend ten days just exploring the many archeological sites, browsing the handicraft markets, being driven in a tuk-tuk from one tasty meal to another, drinking cheap beer, and popping in for an inexpensive massage every night. A tourist paradise. Oblivious to the real Cambodia, that awaits just around the corner from the Pub Street lights and other touristy sights.
Bright and early we spill out of our van and in a pleasant morning temperature head over to the school canteen to help serve breakfast, starting with the littlest preschool kids. We watch them wash their hands first at the water station and then kick off their shoes to sit down in long rows, patiently waiting for their tray with their daily meal of rice, veggies and protein. It is the protein: chicken, pork, eggs, or beans that lacks in their diets at home and makes all the difference in their growth capacity, physical and mental. We are continually amazed at the discipline, politeness and responsibility the Cambodian children exhibit. After they are finished with their meal, they go and scrape any leftovers into a slop bucket and then wash and rinse their trays in big basins of water. Those of us with children or grandchildren look at each other and concur that our kids can’t/wouldn’t/definitely don’t do anything like this. Most likely they complain about what they don’t want for breakfast and leave a half eaten mess on the table.
Then we watch the little munchkins brush their teeth with verve and enthusiasm, rinsing their mouth and then feet with a cup of water. Then we smile at them marching to the classroom for morning exercise and learning. There are 30 plus in the classroom and everyone participates. How many teachers, assistants and parent volunteers takes to get a much smaller classroom under control back home?
And so continues our morning from observing English classes to engaging with students in the library. We read big books aloud, build with Legos, draw with chalk and create with paper. Big smiles and happy faces surround us everywhere and all the time. Everywhere we go, we are greeted warmly by old friends. We also visit with the families in the villages where participants on our trip meet the recipients of their generosity, who can now use their donated latrines or water wells. No shared language is needed to make a human connection. Just a warm smile and a touch of a hand. Surprisingly this group has energy to spare. They are happy to travel to distant temples, swinging on jungle vines. In the evenings we jump into tuk-tuks and explore the city. There are museums, markets and galleries galore. Or for the more spiritually minded a water blessing by the local monk can be arranged. We try our hand at cooking our own Cambodian dinner, or enjoy a private traditional Khmer dance performance. Our meals are a time for reflection and discussion, but also celebration. It sure does us good to make new friends while we are doing a little good in the world.
PS. Looking forward to the January 2021 Travel with Purpose. Join us!