I recently arrived back home after spending two weeks in Cambodia volunteering with RAW Impact Org, a non-government organisation which focuses on raising awareness worldwide for those struggling in Cambodia. Not only did I pick up power tools for the first time in my life, but I successfully used them. On top of that, I am also proud to say I learnt that 'cladding' is not actually a mathematical term, but the technique of applying one material over another for multiple reasons; to prevent weathering, create a layer of insulation or merely for aesthetic purposes - in our case it was mostly the latter and heck yes did it look good!
To say I have one highlight from the entire trip would be a lie. There are many and if given the opportunity, I could quite easily write about these past two weeks for pages and pages. However, as I reflect back on the trip itself, there are three moments that stood out for me.
We arrived in Phnom Penh on Thursday morning and began our first day of work the following day. After roughly a thirty minute drive with a ten minute interval on the ferry we stepped foot on Gunty's Island where we would set up our work stations and begin our assigned tasks. I, along with two other ladies, had never used a power tool before, so after almost two hours of finding the drill the most difficult tool to use, we were quite embarrassed, but mostly relieved, to discover that it is a much easier task to accomplish when the drill isn't switched in 'reverse'. Needless to say, we smashed out the remaining cladding after that lesson was learnt. After days of hard work, the most satisfying moment of the entire trip would have to be stepping back and looking at everything you have achieved - both personally and as a team. It is the most amazing feeling physically seeing that you have made a difference in the lives of the kids who will begin attending the SALT School when it opens in early October. It is one thing to hold up some timber, make sure it is level, drill a hole, hammer in a nail and do that a million times before lacquering it all. But when you use your time and talents (although I wouldn't call my attempts at cladding 'talent') to make a tangible difference in the life of others, that is something else entirely. An action is simply that - just doing something, but when there is an intention behind the action, that's what makes the impact.
Another highlight would have been Cultural Day where we visited one of many She Rescue homes, the S21 Prison and the Killing Fields. She Rescue is a non-government organisation that provides a safe haven for girls and women of all ages that have experienced the cruel world of sex-trafficking firsthand. Watching videos that documented real-life stories broke my heart. It was impossible not to be filled with sadness, anger and helplessness all at once. Listening to the statistics not only made it raw, but reminded me of this harsh reality. Walking around the S21 Prison and the Killing Fields was just as heart-wrenching. Learning about the reign of the Khmer Rouge government that began in 1975 and tortured and ultimately killed thousands of educated Cambodian people was confronting. Actually seeing the fragments of a not-so-distant history right in front of me made it real, almost too real to comprehend.
Saying that visiting these places was difficult would be an understatement. By the end of it all I had felt like my heart had been ripped out, beaten and knocked around and then put back in. I didn't want to say or do much. I just felt numb. It was terrifying to learn all these things that had happened not so long ago and some of which are still happening today. How human beings can be so cruel to other human beings will never make sense to me. Cultural Day was extremely difficult and terrifying and trying to fathom exactly what had happened hurt a lot. That said, acknowledging these events that happened and still happen allowed me to recognise the repercussions in Cambodia today, which consequently made me fall in love with the people and the place that extra bit more, inspiring me to make the most of my time there and make a difference, big or small, in any way I can.
One of my favourite days working at the school site would have been our last day. As sad as it was that our time there had quickly come to an end, the day was filled with happiness. The majority of our assigned work had been accomplished, so we spent most of the day playing with all of the school kids. There was this one particular boy that was always running around giggling and being cheeky, clinging off the sides of anyone he could. I soon found out that his name translates to 'sadness' in English. My immediate thought was what kind of parents call their child sadness? The ironic thing about this was the fact that this little boy had not wiped the smile off his face the entire time we had been there. It puts things in perspective when you see kids saying that they "love school" or when there are a handful of children standing in a circle playing a game where they simply kick around a single sandal between them. Or when you teach them how to play 'Over and Under' with a ball and you recognise the exact moment they understand the game as they all begin jumping, cheering and clapping. These kids have the bare minimum, some only having a few pairs of clothes and the basics for what they need to survive. But they are happy. Dare I say, happier than most people living in Australia who are blessed enough to have a house that is not a straw hut or a small wooden canoe floating on the river. I think that is the most valuable thing I learnt from this trip. They are so incredibly happy despite the very little they have. And hey, if that's not a reality check, then I don't know what is.
Every moment of the RAW Revolution mission trip was absolutely incredible. From the organised chaos of the Cambodian roads to working at the SALT school. From witnessing half the team eat tarantulas to dressing up a friend in a crazy outfit for the night. From playing with the kids to realising how much I hate lacquering. Every single moment is a memory I will never forget. I put together this small video of clips I recorded during my time overseas and seven minutes doesn't do it justice. What an amazing, life-changing experience! I hope this encourages, inspires and most importantly blesses you.
Video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQDpc8KS1VQ
Keep smiling. x