A Happy Valentines Day From Cambodia
My time is just flying by it seems – I can’t believe I have been traveling around the world for three months at this point! With just a week left on the Southeast Asia leg of my RTW backpacking trip, I couldn’t have spent it much better. Laura and I decided to head out of the city to stay at an orphanage located just 30 minutes outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
I really had no idea what to expect from the volunteering experience – one of Laura’s friends came here last year for a week and had amazing stories to tell, but other than those secondhand stories, I have to admit that I had images of Annie flashing through my head as we took the 30 minute tuk-t uk ride out of the city, winded down some unpaved dusty streets, passed by a lot of loose-running chickens and run-down homes and arrived at the gates of a huge compound with a small label: Future Light Orphanage of WorldMate (FLO).
The security guard took our passport numbers and passed us through the gates – we were greeted by green lawns and blossoming flowers lining the buildings and a small entrance pond…wow, already I was a bit surprised.
Within a few minutes we were ushered into some pretty stellar accommodations (you have to pay to stay here…and though the price can be considered a bit steep for Asia, the $24 a day includes three meals, super clean rooms, A/C, and hot showers and daily WiFi access). We dropped our bags and were taken on a tour of the compound – within minutes we had acquired an entourage of kids of every age and size – they showed surprisingly little hesitation in just grabbing our hands, hugging our legs, and linking arms with us as we walked around the compound…the love you are instantly gifted with is pretty amazing.
Some of the specifics of FLO are pretty actually pretty interesting and had me surprised by just what fantastic opportunities are here for these kids. There are about 210 kids at FLO ranging in age from five to 20 – the older kids attend the University in the city (they ride their bikes for three hours roundtrip every day to get there) and are allowed to stay at FLO until they have secured their educations and solid jobs.
FLO’s mission is to have all of the kids self-sufficient and a benefit to their country when they enter the work-force…there’s a big emphasis on not perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
Two of the best programs in place here at FLO are the foster parent program and the English language classes. Nearly all of the kids here at FLO have foster parents (most are located in the United States). The foster parents sponsor the child on a monthly basis and in return the students send weekly emails, cards, etc. A huge number of the foster parents come to FLO to visit their foster kids, and some have even paid to bring the kids on vacation with them or to a visit in the states. The purpose of the program is to give these kids one person in the world who is all theirs, who cares about their schooling, etc.
The other program is a daily English class – all of the kids here speak varying degrees of English with the older kids able to communicate extremely effectively.
English is strongly emphasized here and by graduation from University most of the kids are fluent in English – what a great job skill! I love that they are given so many avenues to learn English and then practice their English through weekly emails (in their computer lab donated by a Rotary Club in Hawaii) with their foster parents and with volunteers that have come through.
So, as for my time here, on a daily basis I spend my mornings in the library with the younger kids (many are out of school right now because the older kids have exams) we read stories, practice reading aloud, sing songs, and color. After lunch the older kids have returned from school and Uni and we all just hang out much like you would with friends anywhere.
All of the kids have been taught to call volunteers brother and sister (or Auntie and Uncle for the older ones) so I hear extremely polite “good morning sisters” shouted from every direction in the compound everywhere I go (the kids are exceedingly polite and every morning enquire to ensure that I had a good sleep and that I had already eaten a tasty breakfast). All of the kids instantly make you their family the moment you give them a hug. :-)
This past weekend was Valentine’s Day, and one of the foster parents visiting from the US last week had left a huge bag of candies, valentines, and decorations.
Laura, myself, and Donna (a foster parent here for two months teaching English and spending time with her foster-daughter) and a couple of the older girls spent hours and hours playing cupid and making little gifts for the 200 kids (with a valentine, sticker, eraser, and a few little candies).
All of the time was well worth it for the huge hugs and 100 percent thankfulness and gratitude from these kids – they don’t take anything for granted and it’s humbling to see what a difference these little packages made in their day. We had a little party afterward and I have never had such a rewarding and loving Valentines Day as yesterday’s with the children at FLO.
The moment I entered this place I was surrounded by instant love – these children are given so much of the necessities and even extras like a fantastic education here at FLO…but some of the simple things like human contact and the time and attention from adults are definitely a commodity here.
Well, I’ve got time and though I have just two more days here before I leave to go meet cousin Helen in India (we’ll be volunteering teaching monks in Nepal soon too), I am leaving this place changed…these kids are truly an inspiration and there is no doubt that I will be back here again one day.