Hello from Pursat, Cambodia! We are having an amazing time here with some incredible people. We have been working hard on different projects at the Chumony Village: repainting the school, building a library, planting a garden, building a volleyball court and a high jump, and interviewing Khmer Rouge Survivors.
Camie Krump and I were selected to interview Yamchenda “Chenda” Khvan, a man who lived through the Pol Pot Regime. It was amazing to hear him speak about that time period and what he went through. He was only three years old when it started so he told us what little he could remember. Chenda told us that there was one night that sticks out in his mind, the night his father gave him a huge hug before he went to sleep. Chenda woke up the next morning looking for his father but instead was sent to return to his mother. He repeatedly asked his mother where his father went, and he later learned that a Khmer Rouge soldier shot his father behind his own home.
We asked him what helped him survive the regime, he told us that the most important thing was to act uneducated and follow every command of the soldiers. Every educated man or woman was killed throughout those three years, eight months and twenty days making it very difficult for Cambodia to rebuild itself. Anybody who knew anything about medicine became a doctor, anybody who knew a little more than anyone else became a teacher, and the people worked together to find food, homes, and jobs. The Cambodian people are extremely loving and caring, and that didn’t change after the regime. Chenda told us that everyone looks after each other to make sure that everyone is taken care of.
We asked Chenda if he had any advice for us and he told us that we should be very grateful that we were born and raised in America. He told us we were very lucky to have so many opportunities right at our fingertips and we should never take that for granted. He also told us that we should learn from the challenges he and other Cambodians faced, because we won’t ever be faced with those same challenges. But we can learn from them how to react to challenges in our life, and stay positive and grateful for everything we have.
I’d also like to tell you a story of my good friend Kim Chou. She is the sweetest girl I have ever met and she always has a smile on her face. Every time I see her she runs up to me and gives me a big hug!
Kim’s father left her family when she was young, and her brother ran away. Her mother could not afford to support her and her baby sister so she lives with her aunt- who had adopted her baby sister. Kim can’t tell her sister the truth about her father and brother because she thinks Kim is her cousin. She loves her mother very much, and she said she loves her father very much too. She hopes that her father will return, and her brother will find her family again. She hopes that her family can all be reunited, and looks forward to that great reunion every day. I admire her willingness to forgive, and her sense of hope and love. I wish more people could love undoubtedly and have a bright hope for the future.
I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to come here and meet these wonderful people. I have made lifelong friends that I will cherish forever! I would definitely love to come back to Cambodia as a Sustainable Cambodia volunteer and teach at the school. This country has stole my heart, and I hope to share the stories of these incredible people to everyone I meet!
Today was yet another amazing day in the beautiful country of Cambodia. The day began with another visit to the Chomony school to start a hard day of working. We installed the final bio sand filter, shoveled mud to flatten the volleyball court, and finished painting the school. Despite the large amounts of distractions coming from the adorable children playing around us, we were able to finish the last workday strongly. There have been games, bubbles, piggyback rides, and many flowers. There are friendships forming all around and each day is becoming more precious and remarkable than the day before it.
We had the opportunities to interview three more people for our oral histories. One of those interviewed was the principal of the school. He told stories about growing up during the Khmer Rouge and how it has affected his life. The things he mentioned were shocking and full of sadness, yet simultaneously inspirational and moving. He was able to dig deep into the hole of repressed memories from his childhood in order to share with us even though he mentioned that he tries everyday not to think about them. His stories have touched every member of the Youthlinc team. Another person we interviewed was one of our favorite Cambodians: Soy Sin. We were able to see another side of him that we had previously known not to exist. He spoke about the difficulties he faced in his childhood and how they have made him a better person. He then went on to mention that he values his family and education more than anything in the world and taught us just how privileged we are to have all that we do. Finally, we interviewed Mr. Handsome, one of the most entertaining and kind people that we have ever met. The stories he mentioned from his childhood were breathtaking and involved emotional recollections of poverty, hunger, and sorrow. However, he was also able to offer advice that touched the hearts of the entire team. All of the interviews gave us a new perspective on the Cambodian lifestyle as well as the American lifestyle and were a wonderful, once in a lifetime opportunity for which we are so thankful.
After working, we traveled to a famous historical site where we had the opportunity to learn more history about Cambodia. It was beautiful and it was an incredible opportunity to view the pagodas while being in the company of native Cambodians that were able to explain their history. There were many pagodas, statues, and monuments all located in a place where the Cambodians go to pray and just to think about life. The area was magnificent, and to be able to visit it was a phenomenal experience.
Overall, the day was an incredible success full of hard work, laughter, mud, sweat, and culture. While we are working hard to finish our projects, we are also making time to soak up every last minute of this amazing trip. We are having so much fun and are looking forward to the spectacular festivities that await us tomorrow during our closing ceremonies.