A Humbling Experience On What It Means To Truly Be Of Help to Others
Participating in the child sponsors' trip to Kirivong and Sambour Area Programmes was an extremely eye-opening and enriching experience for me. I am very new to child sponsorship and this was my first World Vision trip. In fact, I did not even have a sponsored child in Cambodia (my sponsored child is from Bangladesh). It was purely by chance that I saw the World Vision email publicising the trip and, without reading the details, I signed myself up for this just to have an experience of what a humanitarian organisation like World Vision does. There was a lot of apprehension initially and I was prepared to just take a backseat in the participation of this trip upon finding out that it was a trip to areas where most participants have sponsored children. That did not happen.
The trip started off with a visit to the Kirivong Area Programme (AP) in Takeo Province. The AP here is towards its final phase and is slated to end in 2024. As such, it was bittersweet visiting this AP. On the one hand, it was encouraging to see the successes of the work that has been done by World Vision and the people in the community - the members of the Agricultural Cooperative, the Youths in the Youth Club, the volunteers in the Reading Camp - all working in tandem and in collaboration with the World Vision Cambodia AP staff. The ownership that the community possessed, the passion and drive of the youths, the dedication of the volunteers and the tireless work of the AP staff all contributed so significantly to the sustainability the village has achieved. It was very heartening and touching.
At the same time, I could feel the sadness and reluctance of the sponsors - some have seen their sponsored child grow up and matured while some have only met them once. Despite the different sponsoring experiences, they all shared the bittersweet sentiment of having to let go of their sponsored child once this AP ends next year yet gladdened that the area is doing so well in its development. Seeing the reunion of the sponsors and their sponsored children was extremely touching and even as an observer, I was closed to tears. Emotions aside, I also learnt so much about the work World Vision does.
The aim of World Vision is not about provision of material aid which could lead to dependence. So instead of providing mere infrastructures, provision focused on establishing structures and changed mindsets that can help the community sustain and further their development. I also asked about the teaching of English to the children and I learnt that the main aim was for the students to master their national language first. Though this may seem like a small piece of information, it struck me really hard and got me thinking a lot about the notions of being Supremacist of having a Messiah Complex - thinking that there is a certain route to success and that others need to achieve certain standards to progress, but remaining blind to what is fundamentally crucial to the community itself. All these changed my perspectives on volunteer work and made me question the various community involvement projects that I have led as an educator and it is something that needs to be worked on when such mission work or trips are being planned.
The visit to Sambour Area Programme in Kratie Province juxtaposed that of Kirivong. Sambour was in its very early stages of development. Many children are still not registered and the community has just established the main needs, which included very rudimentary needs like having clean water, having latrines and getting children to go to school - needs even more basic and fundamental compared to those in Kirivong District. We visited a pre-school in the district which had no toilet and just a hut (with no flooring) where the students had their lessons. There were only 2 levels (Pre-School and Grade 1) and children who have completed Grade 1, still return for lessons year after year as the other schools with higher levels are just too far. We also had the chance to meet the sponsored children. Because some of us did not have any sponsored children in this area, we interacted with the children who were not sponsored yet and there were about 18 of them. Many of these children were so keen and bustling with energy.
The arduous journey to the AP is telling of the issues the community would face. While the Sambour AP Office is located on the main land of Kratie province, the villages and communes that were under the development programme were located across the Mekong River. We had to take an hour's drive before taking a boat from the main land to get to the village in Sambour AP. There was no proper jetty to dock the boats and we had to make our way by climbing upslope on sandy and soiled ground with only the tree branches and the locals' hands for support. From the main commune office where we gathered, we still had to take tractor rides to get to the different households. The difficulties we faced in accessing the village reflected the difficulties the people in the community faced in accessing schools and facilities. They were, therefore, a very closed community with limited accessibility to aid and travelling to school was also a major issue as the children would have to walk quite a distance to get to school. All these exacerbate the existing difficulties faced, making the Sambour District an extremely challenging area for development.
The main takeaways I have from this trip is that service requires so much humility and patience. Sometimes, as volunteers coming from a more developed country, in our enthusiasm to help, we tend to end up imposing our ideals and what we deem as necessary to us, failing to see what the community really needs - basics that we have taken for granted of and have neglected as a result of our "first-world" views. It is only when we humble ourselves to really learn and listen to the needs of the community that we can truly serve and be of value and help. At the same time, patience is also required. The vastness of the communes and how sparsely located the villages are make it extremely difficult for the AP Office to manage and coordinate. Time is definitely needed and we must be able to patiently journey with the community to see progress taking place. This was truly an insightful and humbling experience for me and I am extremely blessed to be given this opportunity to journey with the other participants on this trip, to learn from everyone involved, and to witness every single individual's inspiring acts of love.
In all honesty, I had no intention of sponsoring one more child initially. However, after having interacted with the children and finding more about their background, I made an unplanned and impromptu decision to sponsor a child named Bun Thai in the Sambour AP. No regrets, and I am excited to journey with him!