Confusion, concern and life-changing joy in Cambodia

I’m sharing here what I wrote and originally published on Houses4Cambodia Facebook page after my recent trip to Cambodia.

If I believed in fate, there’d be no mistaking the fate-ish coincidence of the precise timing when I saw the call out to be part of a project to fundraise to build a new school in a remote Cambodian village. Just days before I had experienced what my husband calls a ‘marbles’ moment – where I cry to the point that anything I try to say is unintelligible as it sounds like I have marbles in my mouth. It would hurt my head too much to try to articulate all the reasons for my marbles (and no doubt leave you all with serious worry as to my sanity) and so we’ll leave that topic untouched.

The real point is, with the timing just so, I leapt at the chance to be involved, unknowing exactly what I was leaping into…Well, of course, we might kinda ‘know’ but we never really know until we’ve lived through an experience. And so my experience began.

Throughout out this entire process, I have been plagued with excessive thoughts and questions and guilt and confusion. The concern as to what was the ‘right way’ to do things was real to me.
For example:
Is raising money with a fancy dinner to fund a school in a poverty stricken village appropriate?
How do we communicate what we are fundraising for in a way that respects the people we are fundraising for?
How can we truly help people Cambodia? What sorts of things are appropriate to give? In which manner should we hand them out? Are we helping by giving things at all?
Who are we to think we can help them at all? Are our actions tantamount to us ‘playing God’?
What about providing school uniforms? (Big thing for me particularly as I have personally chosen to send my children to a school with no uniforms).
Should we take photos of the Cambodians we meet? Do we have authority to take photos? Should we share the photos with others? What about social media? Even with consent from the Cambodians to photograph and share the photos, is that consent valid? Am I content that they fully understand what they are consenting too?
Are we being narcissistic? Am I being egotistical just thinking these things in the first place?
And then from time to time my mind flicks to the history of British colonization of Australia…I shudder at the thought of how all that went down…
Our intentions in Cambodia are true and good, but how do we ensure that it is also good for them? I viscerally feel the need to ensure we are seeing this from their side, not ours, and doing what we do with that in mind.
I found comfort in the fact that our project was a collaborative effort with Global Village Housing and local Cambodians. Monk Chhun Bann (who grew up in Battambang as a child) and the village chiefs in the Battambang villages facilitated the school rebuild works and the gifting of houses and supplies throughout the area. And although we brought the money (thanks to you all who contributed through our fundraising efforts), basically we were the support crew in sourcing, purchasing and delivering the essential requirements to those who needed it. This felt right to me.
With a visionary Monk, an incredible Director of Global Village Housing, the village chiefs and other locals in our travel circle, we were able to learn more about the Cambodian culture and local customs, and things were rolled out in a way that eased many of my concerns. We asked what needed to be done, enquired how it might be achieved and then collaborated with them to help it get done. Still I have questions, but I hope I always do. I’d hate to be unaware.
I cannot adequately articulate what this trip meant for me, and the impressions it has left on me. It was inspiring and heart-breaking and everything in between. Literally life-changing.

 

To learn more about this project and ongoing plans, visit Houses4Cambodia

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