Labour Side (Alan)
On the “Labour” side, as we affectionately call the team of us involved in building, we had a couple of interesting moments in the time that we took to travel to the village. Most significant was a little debate we had right after we had dropped off the planning team at the church.
We’d met a girl in the church, around our age probably. She was mentally challenged, but she a genuine look of happiness on her face both times that we came around. The smile on her face was not the result of some indoctrinated need to be polite, but rather a sincere sense of joy at having met someone unfamiliar for the first time.
Naturally, we felt a great deal of sympathy for her, because of her condition. That’s how the discussion started. She was most definitely happy where she was, doing what she was doing everyday. There was no need to feel excessively sorry, was the point raised by one of our members.
At which point we realised, we felt sad for her because through our own experiences, we’d seen how any form of disability can truly be limiting to any one person. Couple that with the fact that she was living in a poorer region of the world, and almost instinctively one feels a small tug at one’s heartstrings. Because we know what she’s missing out on, even if she doesn’t.
The discussion pretty much ended there, on that note, as we wandered into our individual realms of thought during the long 2 hour ride. As we hit the road that led into the village, the ride seemed even more turbulent than yesterday. It didn’t provide us any opportunity to take a nap. So once we got to the village, we grabbed our gloves, and went straight to painting out wooden planks.
There’s an inexplicable sense of gratification in planting your feet in the mud and tirelessly covering every inch of the wood with the paint, while laughing at almost everything we said to each other. Needless to say, some bonds of kinship were strengthened during the time we spent painting.
Also, new acquaintances were formed during that time. After lunch, we took a good deal of time off to interact with the children. They may not understand English well, but that wasn’t a problem. Words weren’t our only method of communication. Games such as tag and arm wrestling were more than enough to establish some degree of rapport with the kids. Seeing the children laugh away while we high-fived them and took pictures with them, that was just priceless.
That was about all we had on the construction side, apart from the long ride back which we spent singing our lungs out to any and every song on our iPods. Very soon, we were back in the city, and heading for dinner.
Planning Side (Kyle)
Another day done, another day down, another day desperately needing of reflection. Today was rather busy, non-stop action with us moving from place to place constantly. I was part of the team of 4 that was so called the “thinking” committee, basically the designing committee of the library. Initially it was shunned as an excuse to skive off the actual hard labour of painting and sanding the planks that was considered truly giving your back and soul into the project. Unfortunately I was one of those who went along with that idea as well, furthermore, initially I wasn’t part of this team, but all 3 of the girls were and thus it became somewhat a girl’s team. Then along the way, one of the female members spoke up and said she’d rather do the sanding and such, and Ethan made an executive decision to put me into the planning committee, swapping with her. I was more than fine with any team I was in, though I did still have that previous conception in mind. That changed throughout the course of the days.
I realised that this team I was in, though we did not tan in the sun nor slog out painting under backbreaking conditions, was responsible for so much more than most thought. We were in charge of what will make the library comfortable, suitable for learning and for providing what a library needs to be a library, besides its physical structure. Of course we were still teased, but we knew in our hearts, we were doing something more than it seemed. Every decision we made, be it the dimensions of a table, the number of books, positioning of the reading corners, they would inadvertently affect how the children would be able to learn better when we all leave. That would be our mark.
With that thought, I guess we put ever more weight into making the right decisions, considering as much as we can, trying to make the best out of what we can give this library that might be the future of the village children. One can and should never doubt the power of education and its necessity. So we went about pushing ourselves to make the most of the time we have to buy materials and stock up on what the library essentially needed, though I think most of us were tired.
Along the way though, travelling from shop to shop, trying to find the best prices for everything, I got to see the way of life of these Cambodian people. Yes, given that they/we are in the tourist targeted part of the country and the standard of living is much higher here, you can still see the poverty beyond those eyes, and you just know in your heart that this is as good as it’s going to get. That elsewhere in this country, where Her currency is literally run by the USD, thousands, millions of people are suffering and living below the poverty line, below simply USD$2 a day. But yet in those same eyes, you see content. You see happiness in that content, to still be alive, and not have NOTHING. Half the children in Taom roam about half naked or with clothes so tattered and torn, you’d wonder if they were over washed. That is a blessing they are thankful for. We are thankful for blessings that include houses bigger than 30 of their makeshift houses put together.
Yet, you see a spirit of generosity, and honesty. That’s what hit me the most. These Cambodians, when they smile, they truly do smile, when they give, they truly give from the heart. They have little to spare yet I get the feeling that they will not let you go feeling unappreciated nor unwanted. Their accepting culture is just bliss, and their uncomplaining nature. One example would be how they welcome us with what would be a banquet in their eyes, and this would be our lunch for the five odd days we’d be spending in the village. They hold nothing back. We see kids running around with bloated stomachs, possibly a condition of kwash something (I still can’t spell it), dogs with stomachs thinner than my calf, and we look back at our plates and think, no. There’s no way they can give us this much food, when their own people look like they haven’t had a proper meal in months. And we just look at each other, wordless, because some things, need not be said to be understood.
And as most people who go on mission trips or community service trips such as this one will do, I compared them to us Singaporeans. I need not say more about how much we take things for granted. How we cannot fathom spending a night on the floor with a lizard crawling across the ceiling above our heads. One word. Disgusting. But what really is disgusting? Or WHO is really disgusting? Tell me when you find out.
Now with the library, these children now have the opportunity for education. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote, “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education”. Well, I think these Cambodian kids may just have an edge over us in that… they have both.