Last updated on November 2, 2021
Two weeks ago, I was playing around on Facebook as a way to procrastinate the real work I should have been doing when a chat window popped up—from a sweet young woman I met at the orphanage in Cambodia where I volunteered more than a year and a half ago. Then, a decade later, it happened again—a young man at pinged me with an update on his life and to ask how I was doing after two years of lockdowns around the world.
When I first volunteered at FLOW back in 2009, many of the older girls asked for my email and Facebook details at the time. Over the years, we have sporadically kept in touch, talking every few months or so—mostly just quick hellos and messages from them imploring me to come back for a visit.
But the tone of that first chat was different right off the bat. She seemed sad. And that’s saying a whole lot because the girls from FLOW seemed eternally sunshiney and happy during our conversations—upbeat and enthusiastic about their studies and their life goals.
In this case, she had left the orphanage about a year ago to start her second year of college and taken on a full time job. That meant this was her first year out of the control and protection of the orphanage environment and she was confused and overwhelmed—struggling to balance the need to make money and feed herself and her fierce desire for an education.
I listened to her, offered advice and encouragement—gave all of the support I could from the other side of the world to a woman who has experienced a life so different from my own.
Then days later, an email arrived from Varanasi, India. Lucky was one of the most promising students I taught at the monastery in Nepal. I helped him prep for his University entrance exam while I was there. He was accepted into the University and writes me regularly of his life, studies, and thoughts.
As I’m reading his email, a different FLOW student chat messages me—she doesn’t understand the meaning of non-verbal communication, can I please explain. Twenty minutes later we’re still brainstorming fun situations that use non-verbal behavior.
Then another email. A different student needing advice.
The calls for mentoring—and really perhaps just connection and evidence that the experience meant as much to me as it had to them—rained down on me this past week.
Sometimes I feel inept and useless. They are struggling with situations and rising up from situations I can’t even fathom. If I could afford to sponsor each and every one of them through college I would. But maybe that wouldn’t even be helpful.
So instead I give these kids the only thing I can, support and love. I listen and show up when they reach out. They’ve overcome so much; they dream of being doctors and lawyers, international translators, businessmen, and politicians.
I listen to their dreams and I encourage them. I am thankful I chose to share a few weeks of my life and time with these students when I volunteered last year. They inspire me on a daily basis to look at life with a little bit more gratitude and thankfulness. Their passion and perseverance to achieve their goals is a monthly reminder to take stock of those things I take for granted and work a little harder to make a difference in my life and the world.