A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about hope

Day 19 - A Son in Debt Bondage is Returned Home - Updated

In Day 19 of my blog (this is the third entry) I wrote about a 13 year old son in debt bondage now reunited with his family. Here is a picture of the whole family together. Dad is back from working in the jungle for the past two months for wages of $50 US.


Plans for the whole community will start (well-digging has to happen in the dry season, when the water tables are at their lowest point). HOPE has purchased a big sack of rice for Huot's family that will provide them with at least sufficient sustenance for the next little while. It is not a total, sustainable change, but it will definitely take the burden off the family of having enough to eat. Rice has also been purchased for the closest neighbours as well.

This was possible due to some of the funds we raised as part of our UNION commitment. The remainder of the funds will be used towards the projects for the village.

Posted by Sydney324 16:24 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia village hope debt bondage Comments (0)

Day 1 - Arrival in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Saturday, July 6, 2013 and Sunday, July 7, 2013


Saturday, July 6, 2013. It was the day...we were really, really going to Cambodia today. I had been waiting for this day for so very long as I had first spoken to Rainbow about Cambodia late in September, 2012, nearly 10 months ago. I had run into her at sky train and at that time I was packing up the house and getting ready for my big move to the West End. Over the years I had told her that I wanted to do a volunteer trip and she had kept in touch with me and periodically would let me know where they would be going. Unfortunately, the timing never worked, at least not until now. The bonus was that it is Cambodia, a place I have longed to go to for many years.

The week before we left I was running around getting last minute things done. I was pretty tired, still going to the gym and getting in as much hot yoga as possible. I was also anxious, scared about going, excited to be going and panicked about going. How will I cope? Will it all be okay? Will I be able to hold up in the heat? Will I be physically fit enough to do all that needed to be done? It wouldn't matter as I was going regardless. I didn't want to panic too much as I also was scared that something could go wrong at the last minute and this trip that I had dreamed of for so long wouldn't go ahead.

Our team travelling to Cambodia, consisting of Lily, Vivian, Viola, Rainbow, Linda, Clark and Kailey (We had never met Kailey or Clark yet as both lived back East) were to meet up at the Southern China Airlines desk at 10:00 am. Our flight would be leaving at 12:30 pm.

I always like to get to the airport early and was dropped off by my friend Mary Anne for 9:00 am. I prefer to just wander, read a book or just hang out, rather than to have to rush to get to the airport.

By 10:00 am people were starting to arrive at the Southeast China Airlines counter. Soon the group was all there and we were so very excited.

We checked in our bags, went through security, had something to eat and then went to hang out in our departure gate. We were getting to know each other and the conversation flowed comfortably.

We boarded the plane for the first part of our trip and our flight was uneventful. We were seated throughout the plane, mostly aisle and window seats. Time was spent getting to know each other and we also got some much needed sleep. Linda had had her exam the day before we left and she was exhausted. She was out cold on the plane pretty quick. I was pretty tired and had a glass of wine to help me fall asleep.

We arrived in Guangzhou around 4:55 pm, which was our scheduled arrival time on Sunday, July 7th.

We spent the layover time checking things out in the various stores, okay, I did...others read, slept or talked. A few of us got some food at the Blenz located in the airport...Chinese food which felt so unreal but cool at the same time. We had just over four hours to wait around before boarding our flight to Phnom Penh.

Finally, after travelling for some 23 hours, we arrived in Phnom Penh. We were delayed leaving China by about an hour and so by the time we arrived in Phnom Penh it was well after 11:30 pm. We were rushed through customs fairly quickly as the customs guys wanted to go home and we were the last to get through.

After exiting the airport, the heat and humidity hit you immediately. It felt the same as it did in Cuba. We were greeted by two drivers, one of whom was Kevin who we would get to know over the next few days while staying in Phnom Penh. Our luggage was loaded into two vehicles and we received ice cold bottles of water. The streets from the airport to Phnom Penh were very quiet. It was a Sunday night and it seemed like the whole world was asleep.

We arrived at Indochine 2, our hotel for the time we would be in Phnom Penh. We figured out who we would share rooms with and got to our rooms and got to sleep after our long trip. We were in Phnom Penh. Look out Cambodia. The barangs have arrived.

Posted by Sydney324 20:34 Archived in Cambodia Tagged travel cambodia phnom_penh hope Comments (0)

Day 17 - Last Day in Prahos Kbal

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Today was a very early start as we got up at 4:30 am. It wasn't a particularly good sleep for me and I had already been up since about 2 am and was dozing on and off. No one had a really good sleep as there was a lot on our minds.

It would be our last day in Prahos Kbal and we would have to say goodbye to all the people that had carved a place in our hearts. We all knew that in coming to Cambodia, living and working in a village, meeting families and playing with children, our hearts would inevitably become attached. We just didn't know to what degree. We didn't know how much we could come to care in just a short time, not just for the people of Cambodia but for each other, our team. We also knew deep down that chances are that we will never come back to this village again. The hope is that we do return one day, but life happens and you just never know.

It wouldn't be an easy day...but as Buddha says, life is always changing. Change isn't easy and the sooner one accepts that change is inevitable, the easier it is to deal with. I am still working on this and continue to struggle with change. I generally love change and thrive when the changes are my idea.

"Impermanence and Change

The seemingly fixed and solid world you see around you actually is in a state of flux. Our senses may not be able to detect moment-to-moment change, but everything is always changing. When we fully appreciate this, we can fully appreciate our experiences without clinging to them. We can also learn to let go of old fears, disappointments, regrets. Nothing is real but this moment.

Because nothing is permanent, everything is possible. Liberation is possible. Enlightenment is possible.

Thich Nhat Hanh wrote,

'We have to nourish our insight into impermanence every day. If we do, we will live more deeply, suffer less, and enjoy life much more. Living deeply, we will touch the foundation of reality, nirvana, the world of no-birth and no-death. Touching impermanence deeply, we touch the world beyond permanence and impermanence. We touch the ground of being and see that which we have called being and nonbeing are just notions. Nothing is ever lost. Nothing is ever gained. [The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching (Parallax Press 1998), p. 124]"

(Excerpt from http://buddhism.about.com/od/basicbuddhistteachings/a/Impermanence.htm)

We crawled out of bed, brushed teeth, and shook ourselves awake. We had to prepare for a lunch for the village. We were expecting about 250 guests. It was the Union team's parting gift to the village.

We sat at a table that Ron usually used and where the workers, Pang, Tia, Kom and others hung out. Here there were bags and bags of vegetables covering the table. We got to the task of peeling carrots, eggplants, potatoes, garlic, chopping up green beans and onions.

While we did this, each team member took a turn packing up all their belongings as we would be heading to Pursat sometime after lunch.

Clark, "I don't cook" was assigned the important task of roasting the peanuts in a wok. The peanuts were later crushed and added to the curry.

The guys, Pang, Tia and Kom were helping out as usual. Pang was helping out with the curry preparation, Tia went off to go pick up more supplies and Kom went to pick up two large cans which were used as bases for the two large metal bowls in which the curry was cooked.

And just in case you have the urge to cook for 250 people, here is the list of the Ingredients you will need:

35 chickens
16 kg (35 lbs) carrots
20 kg (44 lbs) potatoes
10 kg (22 lbs) eggplants
6 kg (13 lbs) green beans
35 coconuts
8 kg (17 lbs) onions
3 kg (6 lbs) garlic
3 kg (6 lbs) mixed spices
2 kg (4 lbs) shrimp paste
3 kg (6 lbs) palm sugar
3 litres oil
4 bottles fish sauce
1/4 Kg MSG

Instead of serving rice with the curry, 500 baguettes were purchased which meant 500 baguettes had to be cut up.

Before long, large numbers of children began to arrive. Children that we had not even seen before. They were everywhere. There must have been well over a hundred kids or more and lunch was still hours away.

All our food prep duties were done and now some of the women from the village would be arriving to help our cook Ron to prepare the curry.

We got to the tough task of packing up our room, our home at the village for the past three weeks. Down came the mosquito nets, bedding was rolled up, suitcases packed, garbage dumped, floors were swept and before long it looked almost like we had not ever been there.

We did our best to keep the children entertained. I handed out stickers and also got the children into one of the classrooms where we had a bit of school lesson with numbers. Pang and Tia helped to translate for me as my command of Khmer is limited. The children decided that they would sticker us as well as themselves. Managing that many children was kind of exhausting but it made them so happy.

Before lunch all the children were gathered in the playground neatly lined up in rows. The village heads were also in attendance along with a policeman and a few others. Leah read from our card to the village in which we all wrote something to them. We were also invited to say something more if we wanted to. Once again Leah translated. I got to let everyone know how it has been a dream of mine for over 15 years to come to Cambodia and that I am so grateful to have been able to come here. My memory is now so clouded by emotions that I no longer remember all of what I said. I did add that I really enjoyed teaching yoga to the children. That part of the trip will remain very special to me. Leah also translated everything the others had to say to us. We were thanked many times over for giving up our time and coming to help them.

One of the ladies that spoke was from another village. She wanted to thank us for coming.

We also learned that the children had never received toys before, they just didn't have them. So thanks again to my cousin Elaine for all the generous school supplies and toys...you really made a difference in the lives of these children. I was so glad I lugged an extra suitcase full of things for the children. Their smiles and genuine happiness were priceless.

Being in Cambodia meant so much because our coming made a real impact, we improved the lives of people here. How often can that be said back home. It is just not the same. Some of the team pitched in and bought a fishing net for a man for $30. Now he has a way to catch fish, eat, sell his excess and can be self sufficient. For $30, he has a chance. The net he was using was borrowed and was not very good. He wasn't catching fish.

$200 bought a sugar cane machine for Ron. The Union team did this for her. It would have taken her years to save up for it. This gave her and her family a future. She could have an income.

$50 got a young boy out of debt bondage. He is back with his family.

There are thousands of people that need help and it is not always possible to help every single one of them but to know that we have helped make a difference for some is a wonderful feeling. It is a start. It is something. You no longer feel so helpless.

Two of the classrooms had desks set up and this is where the children and adults would be having their lunch.

Later we found out that the children rarely if ever get to eat meat. Soft drinks had been purchased and I have no idea how many bottles but there was a lot. Pop is a once a year treat for children, generally only for New Years. One little boy kept saying thank you, thank you to me. It was written all over his face just how happy this one meal meant to him, a meal that children back home get all the time and take for granted.

We served all the children their lunches, the teachers and the workers were gathered in another room where they were enjoying their lunch and this is when we sat down to eat in our room.

After cleaning up after lunch we hung out with the children some more. A few more pictures and a few more hugs. Words whispered to the children, telling them how much we care for them. Handing out more cookies.

It was now just before noon and it was time to get going. Rainbow and I were with Tia and he was getting emotional. The van had been packed up with all our belongings. It was hard to believe that we were nearly at the end of our three weeks.

We started our goodbyes, our cook Ron was crying. I don't think any of us expected the always smiling Ron to cry. Her tears made us even more emotional. We had already spent much of the morning taking pictures, hugging and hanging out with the children especially the ones that really made a dent in our hearts.

It was so very hard to leave the children and the adults that we had all come to care for in the three weeks that we were here. Some of the children were clearly emotional. I was crying a lot and it was so very tough to go and to know that we will likely never see any of them ever again.

It was a tough ride back to Pursat. Everyone was feeling emotional, there were lots of hugs and then we just had to get out there. It was overwhelming.

Before long we arrived in Pursat at our hotel. This is the same hotel that we had stayed in previously and would be here for three nights and then head to Phnom Penh Friday am. I was again sharing a room with my surrogate daughter, Linda.

Later that evening when I had my two suitcases from the hotel, I was able to confirm my fear that I had really lost my other camera. The one Michael had bought for me. I should have been more careful as I was sure I had left it in the safe at the hotel in Siem Reap. I would need to get help to follow up with the hotel to see if it was in the safe where I thought I had left it.

This was definitely a tough day, not as tough as Day 19 but tough nevertheless or our day at the Killing Fields.

Posted by Sydney324 23:48 Archived in Cambodia Tagged children cambodia village hope pursat prahos kbal Comments (0)

HOPE - Union Cambodia 2013 - A Poem

Written by Union team member Vivian Davidson

While we were at the Guangzhou airport waiting for our flight to Vancouver, Vivian told us that she had written a poem that she would like to share with us. Our flight had been delayed and we were happy to sit and hear her recite her poem. She has aptly captured all the emotions, nuances, and our new experience of coming to Cambodia for the first time and for a cause we all are passionate about.

Here is the link to a blog written by our team leader Rainbow. http://rainbow-in-cambodia.blogspot.com/2013/08/crazy-stupid-loved.html

Here is the link to HOPE International Development Agency http://www.hope-international.com/index.php.

Link from the HOPE website specific to Cambodia http://www.hope-international.com/ways-you-can-give/help-for-cambodians.html

Volunteer with HOPE http://www.hope-international.com/volunteer-overseas-with-union.html. Change someone's life and more importantly make your life really count! It has been the best life experience of my life thus far and I am so grateful to have been part of this most amazing group of people. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Rainbow, Clark, Kailey, Lily, Linda, Viola and Vivian for sharing this experience with me.

Thank you to Vivian for allowing me to share her heartfelt and beautiful poem on my blog.

By way of explanation for the word "barang", this is what the foreigners are called in Cambodia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barang (Khmer word)

Here is Vivian's poem:


We the Barangs

Coat by coat we pain the wood,
Watch us go, the barangs are in the hood.
Early risers at the crack of day,
Off to run we pave the way.

Rice by day and rice by night,
Dirty and sweaty we’re quite the sight.
Exotic fruits and Asian Pho,
The grateful kids their faces glow.

Mosquito spray from head to toe,
Buckets of water and cement to and fro.
Roaming hens and wild dogs,
Men and women on rice farm bogs.

Mosquito nets and lamps on head,
We worked our butts off, early to bed.
Red dirt paths and dung galore,
This is reality, no Jersey Shore.

People here have so little,
Yet their spirits are all but brittle.
Their shinning faces, their beaming smiles,
Mopeds everywhere, they’re seen for miles.

Geckos and spiders, bugs a plenty,
Spray not once or twice but twenty.
We come with hope to work and do,
From us they learn but we grow too.

Eight people who were once strangers,
Together we’ve faced work and dangers.
From blisters and cuts to muscle aches,
They could use more tools like hammers and rakes.

We sing, we laugh, we moan and groan,
It’s all great work, a well or micro-loan.
Seven ladies and one guy,
Bu he surely isn’t asking why.

We tease and joke yet work so hard,
The kind police come keep us guard.
The elders point the children hide,
We come with arms and hearts open wide.

Rare to see we are so strange,
First impressions quickly change.
People here a painful past,
Their wounds and scars forever last.
Yet resilience is strong not one more tear,
No complaints from them you’ll hear.

We pray for rain so we get to shower,
All together our mighty power.
A bucket to flush a bucket to rinse,
We’ve made it strong ever since.

We pave the well we plant the seeds,
Food and shelter so little needs.
Barking dogs such a pest,
Please shut up and let us rest.

Sore and tired we end the day,
Tomorrow again we’ll find the way.
The Indas go shopping, so many bags,
Our clothes and shoes end up in rags.

Lily and Rainbow take photographs,
Kailey and Clark bring up the laughs.
Viola tall as she is brave,
Vivian work she seems to crave.
Don’t forget your malaria pills,
Bumpy rides and other thrills.

The children played, they helped and drew,
We’re all the better for knowing you.
We leave you now but fear you not,
As forever in our hearts whoever thought."

-Vivian Davidson (July, 2013)


Posted by Sydney324 13:13 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia hope union Comments (0)

Day 18 - Bamboo Train and Rice Planting in Pursat

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Breakfast at 7:30 am at our hotel. I had a great sleep last night and it is the simple things in life such as a good night's sleep that one often appreciates. We arrived for breakfast in the hotel dining room and at the table to my left were two Asian men. One of them started to talk to me and asked me if I was Chinese. I told him I am and explained why I was in Cambodia and told him how much I was loving it but not the mosquitos. He responded that that's nature. He said he was from Cambodia originally and had lived in Los Angeles for 20 years but had moved back to Cambodia 13 years ago. He said that I should live here and I think Cambodia is a country I could seriously consider living in part of the time. As much as there is hardship and it can be hotter than hell at times, it is an amazing country and the people of Cambodia are truly amazing.

After breakfast Leah came with Sing and we all piled into the van for a short drive and arrived at the bamboo train. This was a surprise to us. It wasn't a train as we know it, but a wooden platform on which there was a rolled out mat. We climbed aboard and sat, mostly cross legged in rows of three. It is called the bamboo train because in the past they were made out of bamboo. Currently they are made of wood, what type I don't know but some type of rough and strong wood. I expect that the wood is salvaged from somewhere. The bamboo trains are called a "norry" or "nori" in Khmer and is from the French word "lorry". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norry

Leah told us that the train track that we were on stretches from Phnom Penh to the Thai border. It is a baffling distance. The train track has only one track and so when another train arrives coming from the other direction, the two drivers have to decide who must move. Soon enough another train arrived coming the other way piled high with logs. We were amazed at the ease with which our train was "moved". It was dismantled. The platform was removed and placed on the ground to the side of the track, ditto with the engine, and each wheel. The other train passed by and then our train was put back together again and off we went. I don't know what the speed was but it was at times at a pretty good clip, maybe as fast as 40 mph. Those sitting on the sides of the train had to watch for protruding branches as they could hurt as we whipped by. There was a lot of ducking and swerving so we wouldn't get hit or hit as badly.

The Cambodians are very clever and resourceful people. To me they are the Cubans of Southeast Asia as the Cubans have cars from the 50's for which they have no spare parts yet they are still on the road as they are so resourceful and use parts from other items to make engines work.

We stopped to visit a lady that had been provided with a well from HOPE. She told us that she had 10 children and 10 grandchildren. Three of her children had died. She explained how her life had been improved since getting the well from HOPE. They no longer had to travel far to get water to drink. She also had fruit trees on her property and dogs and chickens. From what we have seen, it seems like everyone owns dogs and raises chickens.

We got back on the bamboo train and rode further down the track. The driver stopped, then we walked a very short distance, took off our shoes and walked through some water to the other side and went to visit another home. This one was occupied by a family and the mother had a store. This family had also received a well from HOPE. The mother explained that she had had two microloans from HOPE. People can take out a loan and then it must be repaid within a year. She said she would take out a third loan once this second loan was paid off. The money helped her to improve her life. Her store did well and I bought five small bags of snacks and cookies. My total cost was $1,000 riel or 25 cents. We finished with our visit and got back on the bamboo train and headed back. It was a fairly hot day but didn't feel so bad as it was cooling to ride the bamboo train.

Back to the hotel for a lunch of salad rolls and a salad with a creamy sauce that contained cabbage, carrots, peppers that resembled banana peppers, cooked quarters of egg but I am not sure if there was yolk in it.

Like I have said earlier, people in Cambodia are very resourceful. Because they don't have a lot they make do with what they have. We have seen CD's/DVD's strung together in a row of three or more to act as reflective lights on the back of carts.

After lunch we went to rest until 1:30 pm and then it would be off to plant in the rice fields. We were all very excited to be doing this. We got another very nice surprise when we arrived at the rice field, both Tia and Pang were there. We didn't expect to ever see them again as we had last seen them in Prahos Kbal, the village in Pursat. Tia works with Piep for the dry rice project. Pang was volunteering. He had never planted rice before and had just learned to do it four months ago. As he does speak English but not a lot, when I asked him how old was he when he first started to plant rice, he told me four months old.

Well rice planting was most interesting. It was pretty warm out and I started out with my hat and soon turfed it as it got in the way. Of course you went in bare feet. You were bent over and walking backwards to plant the rice. New techniques had been implemented for rice planting and you planted less and obtained a better yield. I think it was called Intensive Rice Planting. We had a bundle of rice plants and we were just planting 2 to 3 stalks by making an indentation in the mud and then placing the stalks in it. The mud is sticky and mucky. The rice field is also uneven as you are walking backwards when you are planting and so when you make a footprint that part is obviously lower. There were also worms and other insects swimming around in the mud and surprisingly, we got used to it pretty fast. We didn't like it but we learned to ignore it mostly at least until Clark used a rice stalk and ran it along Linda's leg to mimic a worm.

I guess all the time spent with bugs, frogs, praying mantis, cockroaches, centipedes, fireflies and all varieties of lizards nothing was going to phase us now. I never did try a deep fried tarantula as we didn't actually come across any. I strongly considered trying it, whether I would have I am not certain. I may not have mentioned previously that there is a large amount of dragonflies as well. You would see maybe 30 to 50 flying together. It was a pretty special sight. Unfortunately we didn't see fireflies as often as I would have liked. We learned that when fireflies come out in the night when the air has more moistness.

We did this for about 2 hours and it was really hard work. I was happy to do it but it was not easy as my back, which never hurts was hurting. I was relieved when we were done. I just hope that I didn't mess up two much with my planting technique and that the crop wasn't hurt in any way by my inadequate rice planting skills.

We were washed off with water from a nearby creek after we all climbed out of the rice field. Back to the hotel for much needed showers and a change of clothes. We had a short rest before dinner.

We then went to a restaurant close to the HOPE office for dinner with Leah and Piep. It was a nice meal and we also had a cat under our table as well as a dog. They were hoping for table scraps. We were more concerned about them having a scrap and scratching us which would necessitate getting shots for rabies. Luckily they left after a while. The cat looked quite pissed off at us.

Then it was back to our hotel and bed as we were all tired.

Our hotel, like most provide a laundry service and we were most happy to pay for that. It was 25 cents for each piece of laundry. We would give them our pile and our room number. It was a crap shoot when it came back as it would sometimes be mixed up between the rooms but they did an amazing job getting the dirt and stains out of filthy dirty clothes. We were most grateful to not wash by hand which we had done at Prahos Kbal as we were in the village then. Many of us left dirty clothes with the hotel which they would wash and dry and then they would be donated to those that needed it. Leah would arrange for their pick up.

Posted by Sydney324 00:55 Archived in Cambodia Tagged villages train cambodia rice countryside bamboo hope wells pursat planting Comments (0)

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