July 12, 2016

After dinner each night, our sweaty, giggly, and utterly exhausted team gathers around the conference room table in our hotel. When we gather here, we create a safe space for everyone to share thoughts and experiences that were formed/occurred throughout the day. One of the most powerful and memorable things that was said was,  “I’m so grateful to finally be putting our year of hard work and planning together and finally feel like we’re making an impact on the world”, said by our own Lily Manning.

Our day, in short, was jam packed with intense work. Working in the humidity has taken a toll on each and every one of us. In such a tough work environment, you would expect more complaining and less productivity on the work we came here to do. This expectation could not be more wrong! Every single one of our students (and mentors, alums, and leaders) worked until they were (literally) dripping.

Our English Camp teachers for the day had very successful lesson plans, including Lexi Alvey, who taught some students about music using kazoos, bells with different pitches, and hand rhythms. As she taught her lesson, the sounds and the songs they were learning rang throughout the entire school grounds. Students that were painting the library were given a second wind as they listened to the laughter that rang with the sound of the bells from the classroom. Those same painters worked hard to paint that library, but got just as much paint on themselves as they got on the walls (if you hadn’t noticed, I’m joking. We’re not wasteful kids!). Construction projects were started, including digging holes and putting in posts for a new fence, and leveling a bunch of dirt around a little playground on the school grounds. All the construction workers were extremely dirty after a hard day’s work! To help make the work seem lighter, they sang songs and chanted team chants.

In one of the classrooms, five sewing machines and tons of fabric have been set up for women to learn how to sew. Our vocational committee camped out in here, helping women make and complete small blankets and long skirts. Being able to witness the women find joy in helping each other learn how to do something that we find so simple back home really allows us to begin to notice and be grateful for the little things. This gratefulness was felt during the medical lessons the students taught to the adults of the community. Our team nurse discussed the dramatic differences between our medical knowledge.

Outside of the school grounds we had the opportunity to visit some of the families in the village and have meaningful conversations with them. Ashly Medlyn reflected that she was able to find similarities no matter the differences between their homes and their cultures. Overall, a big thing that we all learned today was learning how to overcome language barriers (very few villagers speak English fluently) by learning how to speak with our hands, and universal signals. The biggest and most useful universal signal that we can use while we’re here (and honestly, use back at home) is smiling. Smiling is the simplest way to express love, gratitude, joy, and so many other positive emotions. Here, in Cambodia, we have all been exposed to so much love and happiness, regardless of any cultural differences and language barriers. We have all fallen in love with the people, and the country, and it’s only been one day. We can’t wait to see what the rest of our time here has to offer.

-Kiki Ray & Bri Slaughter