June 7, 2016:
I just got back from my first full day working at Build Your Future Today Center in Siem Reap, Cambodia and it has been quite a day. As a volunteer at the center, I have been able to see the administrative and hands-on aspects of running an NGO. Two days out of the week we stay in the headquarters in Siem Reap and focus on the administrative topics, like organizing donations and planning, but the other three days we go to the villages and check up on the programs. Today was my first day seeing the villages.
We drove about two hours (on a very bumpy road—one of the center workers called it a “free massage”) to a village called Chub Smack where Oddom and Vudthy, two center workers, had an interest meeting with some of the village women about an adult literacy class. The women didn’t speak any English, so I felt a little out of place, but I took it as an opportunity to see how the women in a rural community interacted with each other. It became clear that a meeting like this one was a social event; all the women brought their children and laughed and heckled the center worker. At one point the table they were sitting on broke a bit, which resulted in an uproar that took me back to many a rowdy family get-together. I felt at home in an odd sense even though I didn’t understand anything they were saying.
After that, we drove to the school where the feeding program was implemented to monitor the progress of the program. Here, I was surrounded by skinny kids with weary eyes and open sores, and my years of babysitting kicked in. I needed to play with the kids. While Vudthy and Oddom talked to the community leaders about the progress of the children and unloaded the truck, I desperately tried to play with these children. At first they were weary and didn’t know what I wanted (I tried to play “kick-the-rock” with a few boys but they walked away…awkward) but this one little girl was not afraid. I twirled her around and picked her up, and she got her friends to join in, and then their friends, and soon enough all the kids were trying to play. Then I had a new challenge: I had their attention, but how do I tell them how to play games? What I found is if you yell and run at a kid, they will run away. This can then be a game. I would close my eyes and count to ten “mouy, pi, by, boun, pram, pram mouy, pram pi, pram by, pram boun, dap!” and then run waving my arms at the kids. I was a sweaty mess by the end but the kids were giggling up a storm. When we had to leave a few of the parents hugged me. Vudthy explained “they haven’t seen their kids play in a while. None of them have time to play. It makes them happy to see their kids have fun”.
Today has taught me that people are people everywhere. A meeting with village women felt like watching my mom with her friends and playing with malnourished kids didn’t feel different from babysitting at a PTA meeting. I think that if Americans were able to meet the people from other countries, they would see themselves more than they would see a foreigner.