Cambodia: Part Three
If you pick up any travel guide to Cambodia, you will see under the “weather” section that almost all of them say you should never travel in September, due to the rainy season. But of course I wasn’t heading to Cambodia for tourism purposes, but instead to meet the local children there. So rainy season or not, I was on my way. Before I left, I received an email from Leng, the man I was going to meet there, which simply said, “Please prepare for mud.” I will admit readily that I was woefully unprepared, and I should have paid more attention in school to what “monsoonal rains” really mean.
We left for the first village at 7:30 in the morning, in the pouring down rain, and our brave tuk tuk driver was soaked to the core before we even climbed aboard. We had to stop to get gas, which I learned is sold in old pop bottles (nope, it’s not Mello Yello), and you use a funnel to pour it into your vehicle.
We soon turned off of the paved street onto a dirt road for the many mile trip, but very quickly it became clear that the tuk tuk was never going to make it in the deep mud. The engine kept overheating as the wheels would get stuck and spin, and so we finally told our driver that we would walk the rest of the way to the village instead.
We all started in our sandals, but in many places the mud went to mid-calf, and so after having our shoes get sucked off in the deep ruts repeatedly, we finally admitted defeat and just went barefoot.
It was a lot more slippery than it looked, and I have to admit I was laughing inside that I had decided to wear a long skirt to meet the local villagers, as when I arrived I was covered in mud from head to toe. In fact, several of the kids tried to hold back giggles as they came up and studied my completely brown feet. : )
Of course none of that mattered as I looked around at all of the wonderful children who were saying hello to us. Leng has set up a small education program in this village, as the government school is over 10 km away. Because of the worries about child trafficking in this region, it is too dangerous for the kids to make that long trip each day, so the only way the younger children will be able to get an education is if there is a school right on site in the village.
The kids sit on a big green tarp on the dirt each day, with a simple white board up front, but everyone was listening intently to the teen who was teaching, eagerly soaking up everything she taught.
They each got a turn to stand up at the whiteboard as well, to show that they had fully understood the lesson they were taught.
We had brought some small toys for the children, and I had of course brought my balloon animal pump (which goes with me worldwide). The children were so respectful and sweet, and waited their turns to get their dog or sword very patiently.
Leng explained to me that there are actually over 100 children living in this village. He said that with some much needed assistance, such as actual desks and a bigger building, many more children could begin coming to school. His vision is to provide an education to all of the younger children in the village (aged 3-9) so that they would be ready to attend the government school once they were old enough to safely make the long journey there each day. I had to take a moment to fully process what he was telling me – that it was too dangerous for these children to walk to school – and I knew in my heart that this was an essential project our wonderful supporters could get behind.
We then made our way to another village in the opposite direction, with the rain still pouring down, and we all shared a laugh together when Leng (who as a local resident has had far more experience than we have walking on the slippery trails) was the first to completely wipe out. Thankfully with all the growing lakes of rain around us, he was able to quickly clean up. (I shouldn’t have laughed as I was to take a fall into the mud by day’s end as well!)
In this second village we visited, Leng has been paying out of his own pocket to hire a local man to teach the children there as well, since it would once again be too dangerous for them to walk to the government school. This was a very rural village, with no electricity at all, and until recently the children had been sitting on rocks during class time.
They have now put up a very simple open air structure, but the entire village is dreaming of an actual school building where their children can get a much needed education. The villagers actually donated land for this very purpose, and they are just praying someone (Hello, LWB!) could help make it a reality.
We had so much fun with the children here, and I wished we could have stayed the entire day.
I kept asking Leng the age of different children and was shocked at how stunted the children were in their growth. Boys whom I thought were perhaps 7 or 8 years old were actually twelve, and when we asked why so many of the children had blonde streaks in their hair, we sadly learned that it’s a sign of chronic malnutrition which causes the hair to lighten and become brittle.
Because so many adults in these villages leave to try and find work (many go to Thailand), the children are left on their own or with neighbors and often go without eating for long periods of time. We discussed with Leng the need for a solid school nutrition program, as even one meal a day could make a profound difference in their health.
At the end of our visit, Leng came over and told me that a four-year-old boy in the village had recently been attacked by a dog, and rabies is prevalent in this area. Of course we said we would cover the little boy’s medical costs, so Leng quickly made arrangements to get him to a clinic to be seen (easier said than done on the still mud-soaked roads). But oh my goodness — this boy was SO brave. He listened as the doctor explained that he would need to get a series of five (HUGE) shots over the next two weeks, and he didn’t make a sound as the first needle went into his arm. I am so thankful we were there that day and could immediately offer assistance.
Later that evening, I was contemplating the reality that I had visited two villages in the region with very immediate and pressing needs for their children. I asked Leng how many villages like this he thought were in the area. “About 50,” he replied, as I felt my heart fall a bit.
“Well,” I said, “Let’s get started with these two…and we’ll just see what the future holds.”
When we first started working in China 13 years ago, helping one child turned into ten which turned into impacting thousands. I have learned to never put limits on what can happen when a community of caring people come together to help children in need.
I hope you’ll join with me in getting LWB started in these two rural villages in Cambodia.
For $8,000, we can build a three-roomed schoolhouse.
For just $20 a month, we can provide a daily hot lunch to a child, to help stem their hunger.
The kids who live in each of these villages need education and medical care and good nutrition. They deserve these most basic human rights. I truly believe that really great things are going to happen if we come together to show these beautiful children just how much we care about their lives.
Tomorrow I want to introduce you to a few special girls I met on my trip who are in need of medical care, and share with you the most heartbreaking part of my journey, which I am still trying to process.
~Amy Eldridge, Chief Executive Officer