Its 2 am and I cannot sleep. Today, I arrived in Cambodia without a solid understanding of its people. You can read all the books you want to about culture, people and politics, but books will never offer you smell, the sight, the feeling of someone’s hand when you shake it for the first time, or the soft peace that enters your heart when that person offers you a simple and inviting smile.From the little interaction I have had with this tried and resilient people, I can tell you that they are as simple and inviting as their smiles, which abound as the rains in monsoon season. They are not interested in conflict and seek genuine relationships.

I met the Siem Reap Rotary President, Prin Sophanit. Sophanit is her first name, which they put last in the order. She works for a small NGO called Hope and Life, and has seemingly dedicated her life to improving the condition and people of her country. Work is as familiar to her as an old friend, and it is easy to see that her heart is in everything she does.

We met over lunch and discussed goals of my visit and what is needed for a Youthlinc team. She seemed a little overwhelmed by the number of tasks asked of her, but remained serene and confident about completing them. A tranquil feeling dominated the meeting, it is a little hard to explain, but it seems as though everything is falling neatly into place for this new Youthlinc site. Still, I know that difficulties may and will most likely arise during the planning and building stages.

I was also able to meet Sophanit’s boss and Director of Hope and Life, Hoeurn Somnieng. He is a gentle and peaceful Buddhist monk. It is funny; there are no other words that can be used to describe this people. Hope and Life’s mission is to improve the quality of life of Cambodians through sustainable activities. They teach vocational skills and run a junior high school and an orphanage, both of which are located in the village of Peak Sneng, where the Youthlinc team is planned to work.

Home and Life seems like a natural partner for Youthlinc’s Microenterprise and Vocational Training Program. With donations from a California group, Home and Life will be implementing a mushroom farming program in the village. This could present itself as an opportunity for Youthlinc students to get involved in training and fund raising. There are no other mushroom farms in the area, and they could be sold in a variety of markets.

In closing for the day, I just want to say what an awesome and singular experience it is to meet people who are different from me and come together for a cause greater than ourselves. I know that this partnership, while it reaches across forests, deserts, mountains and vast expanses of ocean, will grow into a hallowed, honorable, and working relationship. I am proud and honored to be here and to be working to make some kind of difference in the lives of Utah’s youth and Cambodia’s needy.

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