Two days ago, I spent the afternoon just outside of Mongkol Borei at the Cambodia Academy. The school year doesn’t begin for four more days, so the grounds were empty of anyone but the principal, the vice-principal and me. The countryside was quiet and oh, so hot! The gentlemen were painting trim around the windows of the cafeteria and I was wandering around getting some B-roll and just imagining the children returning in a few days. Principal So Viet took a break and I asked him if I could see a couple of the homes where the students live. We hopped on his motor bike (something I promised my mother I would never do) and off we went.
The house where we spent the most time was just down the dirt road from the school. I was greeted by a young boy, a student, some family members, some less than friendly dogs, some skinny chickens and a cow! My first impression was one of very deep sadness, hopelessness and a western-minded pity (useless feeling, btw). There are no walls, just a tin roof and any belongings they had were either strewn on a table and some plastic chairs, or hanging on any cross pieces supporting the roof. There were a few flat palettes that were their beds, a pile of cooking pots and utensils around chunks of charcoal, a couple of plastic wash basins by the large earthen jars for storing rainwater, one hammock and the area where the children sleep…adjacent to where the cows spend the night…under the roof and inside for protection.
The parents had moved to Thailand to look for work and the children live with their grandmother. An unthinkably difficult life at best…
After being shown around by this young boy, I asked if I could take his photograph. He nodded, then I asked him what he thought about going to the Academy (So Viet translated…though the boy’s English was certainly better than my Khmer!) The expression he threw at me took my breath away. Amidst this life he happened to be born into, his face reflected hope, confidence, peace and contentment. He is proud and so very appreciative that he is able to go the school, to learn English and to broaden his world beyond the few square kilometers that he knows. Because of the Academy, he is part of a community that values learning, that allows thought and dreams to incubate… he can enter into a safe space to be a child.
Each time that I visit Cambodia and the families in the countryside, it reboots, to factory default, my all too crowded mind and lifestyle. I thank the universe for the life I am able to live. Any one of us could have been born into the situation that these children find themselves. We, like they, would know nothing more of the world than just our few square kilometers. It’s an overused expression to say that we take so much for granted…but come on! We REALLY DO! Take a few moments right now, before reading on, and examine how you do that.
Now… look at this child’s face. No more words. Just look at his home and then at his face. Be still, breathe and be with him for a bit…
Get out of the house….