Friday, January 23, 2009


Over the past few days, our class has traveled from the city to the country and back to the city again. The ride itself provides enough to write several pages on, but while in Battambang, we were able to interact with Cambodian children from the Tean Thon children's clinic and FEDA. This was a very touching experience. Some of my classmates have already elaborated on what we were doing there, so I will add only what touched me the most...
Basically, these children were subsisting on close to nothing, some with HIV or AIDS, and yet they were ten times more grateful and happy than most other children I've met in my life. I've learned through their eyes that poverty, in a conceptual sense, is relative- these children do not see themselves as poor, because everyone around them is in a similar situation. Instead, they count their blessings and stay in the present, focusing on what they can actually do something about (e.g. getting enough food for the day). Coming from a wealthier western society, we partly expected them to be sad, resentful, or at least not as energetic in comparison, but we quickly came to realize they had found more joy in life than most of us who never have to face those worries. They were so excited when we came to help put temporary tattoos on their arm and to talk about how old they were, what their name was, and what sport they like to play, etc. Afterwards, in appreciation for our visit, the children gave us a mini concert, singing Celine Dion's "My heart will go on." This made me laugh and tear-up all at the same time and no words can really describe that.
Additionally, I also noticed a cultural version of HIV treatment, which to any western medical doctor sounds absurd. They have shelves full of roots and other plants, labeled "anti-vomit," "anti-pyretic," etc. Apparently, these are used in conjunction with the AIDS anti-retroviral medication to overcome cultural barriers to administering medicine. I found this to be very interesting, because culture plays a major role in Cambodian HIV/AIDS treatment not only in terms of giving out medication but in overcoming social stigmas as well. The man who was running the clinic told us that most of the time HIV/AIDS victims are severely discriminated against- no one buys their products, hires them, or associates with these individuals. So part of his way of helping these victims has been incorporating the monks (which are highly revered in Cambodian society) in AIDS education and giving the victims skill-sets like sewing.
After lunch, we visited the FEDA facility. After giving out supplies, Adam and I were allowed to help teach english in one of the beginners' class. Even though we were put on the spot, I think we made it fun and interesting for the children- we played Bingo, drew pictures to associate words, and counted. At least I thoroughly enjoyed myself...
Lastly, I will briefly explain a moving experience which took place in Angkor Wat. We had gotten up at the break of dawn that day to see the sunrise over the main temple and it turned into something I will never forget- We were able to hear from a survivor of the Khmer Rouge period and all that he lived through. He never found out what happened to his father, watched infants be thrown into the air and shot, almost starved to death in which his joints became bigger than his limbs, and gave us other gruesome depictions of life in that era. Then after living through all of that, his house burned down and he lost everything once more. This man is an inspiration who does not give himself enough credit because despite all of that, he is still incredibly grateful, humble, and has found inner peace- "Peace comes through forgiveness." If only everyone could be as wise as him...

1 comment:

  1. I am so very proud of all of you. Your writings reflect the intelligence, compassion and insight that this world so desperatly needs. You truely are our hope for the future of this lovley planet. Peace and blessings to all of you.

    Stef, I am awed again, and can hardly wait to talk with you about all you have seen and done. Take good care my love, enjoy and know I love you immensely!