As I write this tonight from the safety of my mosquito net, the day replays vividly in my mind.
I walk down dusty lanes in the early morning light. An old farmer squatting and puffing a cigarette to ward of the morning chill glances my way. Families prepare for the day ahead; tending to animals, getting ready for school, all with a now familiar Cambodian backdrop.
Everywhere children ride old bicycles along the roads on their way to the rudimentary looking primary school.
I walk back into town and have breakfast at a market stall, watched by the local police enjoying their meal. They glance at me and laugh and somehow I doubt they are laughing with me, but I can’t blame them.
I walk through the market and am met with understandably curious glances but soon people relax and smiles and laughter appear. I purchase a football and volleyball for a school we hope to visit and head home.
Mid-morning we meet a group of teachers and elderly community members who are working to improve the educational experiences of their children. Today they are working on a strategy to minimise school drop-out rates and attract parents to stay in the area rather than seeking work in Phnom Penh or Thailand. They show us with pride a library they have assembled of new books which probably contains 50 books at most. I’m struck by the dedication of these men and women, but mostly at their age. Teachers in Cambodia are poorly paid and generally maintain another income to try and feed their families. A teacher shares how he would make more money simply working on his farm full time, but as he said “if we don’t invest in our children, who will?”
The inability of the government to meet the basic educational needs of its children, has meant that thousands of parents, grandparents and committed individuals sacrifice their lives to try and raise the country they love to a higher level.
We return back to the town centre and I am blessed to spend an hour of simple joy playing noughts and crosses with the two youngest daughters of our host family. As I sat on the old wooden bench and watched the delight of the 9 year old in beating me at a game she only learnt yesterday, I was thankful “be in the moment” and recognise its beauty and be grateful.
As the day heads to a close I’m teaching English to 25 year ten students at the local high school. I loved the interaction and the smiles on their faces at a teaching approach far different from their normal schedule. I’m struck by the enormous potential of these students and the realisation that their lives will continue to be very challenging. There’s no internet here and computers are something they see on TV.
I return to the World Vision office in town, and a staff member asks me to meet a community leader and teacher whom she has passed on the football, volleyball and exercise books I had purchased. These two elderly men had ridden an old motorcycle for one hour to reach town and represent a school in the mountains that receives little contact and even less funding. Their joy at a few small gifts reinforces the staff member’s description of the high levels of poverty and challenges that face them.
I find a few more item s and package them into a box for them to take. The sight of these two old men on a single motorcycle, the box of goods between them and the two balls in a net hanging over the rear man’s shoulder heading home under a dusk sky, is something that I will long remember. I resolve to do something more to assist these inspirational and loving old men who are so committed to the children of their community. When you come across great people who invest their lives in helping others, a small gift can be as much for their encouragement as for the ultimate recipients.
After dinner I light some fireworks for the host family’s children. The older girls call their friends who appear and soon we gave 20 people standing under the clear star filled sky watching small balls of colour explode.
In the darkness these balls of colour and energy ignite the sky and stir those watching. And I realise that the day has been filled with fireworks in the form of wonderful Cambodian people who despite their own difficult circumstances, sacrifice their own advancement for that of the future of their community.