Today (Thursday 27 August 2015) is the day we finally got to meet the kids! It’s very difficult to verbalize the experience that was held by all members of the group. It was a bittersweet moment. Sweet because we finally got to meet the kids and it was a time for fun and bonding. We took the kids to a nearby waterpark to swim, sing, dance, play games, and enjoy a day with people that want to be with them. Bitter because it masked the reality of the situation. These children are unable to enjoy these experiences without the help of others.
The cost for admittance for each child is 8000 Riel which equates to $2. That is more than an impoverished family makes in a day (the average is $1.25) while struggling to cloth, house, and feed themselves. The reality for these kids is that many of them don’t even have parents to work for that $1.25 a day. I hope that this example puts into perspective the livelihood experienced by many people in Cambodia, primarily in the rural regions where the majority of the people live.
The day started like most others so far. We woke up at 0700, got ready for the day ahead, ate breakfast in Mcafe (the hotel’s diner) then proceeded onto the bus by 0900. The trip took approximately 40 minutes and was very eye opening. The transition from the city of Phnom Penh to the countryside is almost like night and day. The roads turn from concrete to dirt and mud. Cars, motorcycles, and tuk tuks (a motorcycle towing a trailer that seats 4-6 people) bounce incessantly down the road filled with countless potholes. It’s a wonder that anyone is able to travel at all through the condition of the road. The buildings that line the road are in such variety that it’s often hard to tell what to expect next. A house on stilts with a broken door to serve as a bridge to the front from the road. Followed by a corporations headquarters with security guards protecting the entrance to a grand office building. Next is an apartment building that used to be twice as large until they removed half the building but decided to leave the rebar and infrastructure up. Now a metal hut with shelves out front displaying snacks and beverages for the common traveler to enjoy. Rinse and repeat. There is a certain appeal to this chaotic design though. I can’t help but enjoy the unexpected and eclectic assortment of buildings that the people here call home.
After the 40 minutes of bouncing we finally reached the waterpark, our destination. The children arrived moments before us and were grouped up at the entrance filled with excitement and wonder. Once we entered the park we formed everyone in a circle and introduced ourselves. The kids repeated our names after we said them which was extremely cute. Once the introductions were out of the way we played a couple of games to get the kids excited. By the time the games were done the kids were ready to play in the waterpark.
The next several hours were uplifting as we played with the children, taught them by example, sang with them, danced with them, and shared a meal. Makara was a fan favorite and many of the children remembered her from last year which is amazing! They bonded to her quickly and the moments shared were quite special. What’s most amazing about the whole day is seeing these children be themselves. They were so friendly, smart, and fearless. You can see the intelligence pouring out of the minds of these children and the many hopes and goals they are creating as they develop themselves into young adults. All that they need is opportunity. I hope that through this and many other programs, we are able to create these opportunities. Sadly, the reality is that we cannot help everyone. But through hard work and dedication, we can hopefully create a ripple in the water that is Cambodia.
Nonetheless, the experience was nothing short of invigorating. This was the culmination of nearly a year of hard work and determination that the 25 members of ACJ put forth and made a dream tangible. The experience was sensational and really ignites our resolve to acquire resources to educate these children to help themselves and their country in the future.