Arun Susdai! (Good Morning)
*Snooze Snooze Snooze*
“Shh Shh Shh”, go the bristles of the toothbrush rubbing against our teeth and the crunching of toast with jam and peanut butter. Not forgetting the refreshing cup of orange juice and super sweet milo every morning. It had become a routine for us before setting off daily and today was no different.
The final day of our project started with an early morning as we had to get ready for the scheduled inauguration of the library at 11AM. We arrived at Taom at around 9.30AM with renewed vigor and drowsiness shaken out off us by the ever bumpy ride to the village. Somehow, the bus ride to the village became shorter and shorter as we seem more accustomed to the bumps and indentations on the rocky road track. We were eager to get started on the finishing touches of our library. By then, the library had really come together and we were amazed at the sheer amount of progress that had been undertaken within these short five days. From just the structure of a 4 X 10m shed to a rather furnished library with books and mats. Although the furniture like tables and chairs were not ready, it still was presentable and a truly stunning feat for the inauguration of the library.
As we entered what seemed like a totally different structure from what we had encountered five days ago, the room was bare save for two make shift shelves that were nearing completion. With slightly over an hour to go, we quickly got down to work, dividing the labor such that we could finish what we had set out to do. Benjamin, Jun Yan, Cheryl and Edmond went straight to paint the walls of the library with pictures of sun, trees, and mountains. Meanwhile Vieshaalan, Davin and Kyle proceeded to put up the streamers on the front of the library. The rest of us got around looking for places to put up the educational charts we had bought for the children. With only minutes left to the inauguration we managed to whip out some balloons as well. Just seeing how the children were so contented with blowing up the balloons and playing with them humbled us. How easily these children find joy in their lives when we complain at every single little thing, like how dirty a balloon was or how the balloon wasn’t our favourite colour. By then, there was already a small curious crowd standing outside the door and peering in through the windows. Most of them were youths dressed in uniform; we had recognized them as the target group for our library.
The inauguration ceremony was quite formal despite the simplicity of the life in the village, with the head of police, the head of education and all the village chiefs attending this momentous occasion. It was an amazing sight to see everything single villager (aside from the youths) wearing our personally designed T-shirts that we had donated to the village. The whole village was a black sea with orange words saying “Sorry, I’m Booked”. During the ceremony, they graciously thanked us for embarking on this project and coming all the way there to help them. They also thanked God (since most of them were Catholics) and blessed the library with sprinkling of holy water. By then, some of us were already touched by their ever-flowing praise for our group and one or two were nearing tears. The Father also graced us with some words of wisdom “We learn a lot from books. The world is like a book-the book of life. Your actions are part of this book and we have been inspired by them. You have brought to this village something very important and have truly inspired these youths to make a difference” Our team felt like we had really done so much even though it was just in this small village that was 70km from the province Siem Reap. After the inauguration was over, the library was thronged with people of all ages who admired the books, the paintings, the charts, etc.
Meanwhile, our team quickly rushed over to the learning centre of the village to help serve food in the ‘rice-soup’ programme for the children. There were probably 200 odd kids sitting in neat orderly rows eagerly waiting for food that seemed scrumptious even to us. The rice soup was a simple bowl of porridge with pumpkin, eggs and a little meat. This small meal was already a blessing to these kids and it really humbled us; especially when they all ate as quickly as possible so that they could get seconds.
We spent the remaining amount of time in the village playing with the children. Although they were shy at first, they soon warmed up to us and were all over us before we knew it. Some even clinged to us like baby koala bears to their mother. Just seeing their laughter and joy at our presence was incredibly heartwarming. They also played with us simple games and just seeing their glistening smile made us not want to part with them. It is an experience that pictures cannot portray; one that lies in memories and must be experienced firsthand. The best part is the kids were SOOOOO CUTEEEE!!!
In the late afternoon, we were shocked by the number of youths inside the library all sitting on the floor and attentively reading the books that they pulled off the shelves. It was amazing! Never before had we seen such quick results from a project. It was very satisfying to know that our library had already been put to good use. Before leaving we left our mark in the form of handprints on the central pillar of the library as part of our legacy. The village chief also got his hands dirty by putting his handprint on the pillar with ours. He also promised us that he would take care of the library and send us pictures when the library was fully furnished. It was really a blessing to see that this building of the library is what the children and youths in the village needed and how they would treasure and take care of the library we built for them.
Sad as it was, the time had come to say goodbye and we were all hesitant to leave. We had already overshot our departure time by an hour! As we boarded the van, there was a crowd waiting to send us off. With us singing our goodbyes ( Li hai in Khmer , a sense of nostalgia enveloped us as we walked one last time through the village to board the bus. There were many smiles and many more waving hands in the air as we waved back with joy and satisfaction in knowing we had been able to do something for this small but friendly and amiable community. Some of us could not bear to part with our ‘adopted’ children we had played with earlier, but alas time flies by too fast. But we will always remember this village and its people who extended their hospitality to us (providing fantastic free food and even offered lodging!) and worked with us to put together the library. Their smiling faces will be engraved in our hearts and I speak for the whole team when I say that we will never forget this experience and hopefully can visit this village again someday. Som Aukun (Thank You) for the memories and the experience that we had in Taom and in Siem Reap. I’m sure that all of us although different as we are, will take back the same lessons and be contented in the fact that we managed to make such a big difference to the community in Taom village and by God’s grace, be able to finish our task which was to complete building the library.
So as we are all back in Singapore, safe and sound, we will definitely remember all the times we had in Taom village and the memories that we had as a group would last forever.
Some quotes that defined our trip: “BAR-NANA!!” and the whole bunch of bananas would appear on our table. “Tuk tuk driver: Tuk tuk to airport. Ben Wang: NO! Tuk tuk driver: Ok then you take your own tuk tuk!”. “Air refresher from the super mart! Mondy bring a window cleaner, so we can all see through clearer” “ Apples, oranges, peaches, pears. But banana. Jackfuit. Mango. Chiku chiku!” “Bus is leaving at 6.30am which means 7am. Indian Standard Time” “What sport do old men play? Gulf! Correct!” “What do you get when you run too much? Heartburn! Correct!” “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. Uranus! Correct!” TABOO AT ITS FINEST! “Hello! Mixed fruit shack! 6 mixed fruit shack! 3 mango shack! 2 coconut shack!” SIMPLY UNFORGETTABLE!!