Its been almost 2 years since I visited Cambodia, but I didn’t feel like I could avoid writing about this beautiful country seeing it has an influence on my creative work! So today I wanted to share with you a brief recount of my trip there and why it holds (excuse the lack of a better phrase!) a place in my heart.
I visited Cambodia in 2014 as a guest of the relief and development organisation Samaritan’s Purse.
I got to see the hustle and bustle of the capital Phnom Penh…
As well as the impressive temples of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap.
My favourite parts of my trip though were meeting the local people and seeing how a variety of Samaritan’s Purse’s projects impacted their lives.
Some of these projects included water sanitation (this was a water pump created from easily replaceable parts)…
…teaching locals how to create income from farming chickens, pigs and fish (these fish were caught and cooked for our tour group)…
… and replacing worn classrooms with brand new buildings.
These projects all stemmed from a relationship that Samaritan’s Purse had initially built through their ‘Operation Christmas Child’ Project (the project I had primarily come to see).
Operation Christmas Child is a project in which shoe boxes are packed (by people like you and me!) with toys, stationery, clothes and sanitary products for children in developing countries.
Prior to my trip to Cambodia I had packed many of these boxes with my church, hoping (like many other people who pack these boxes) that the children receiving them would know that they are loved. I never thought that I would actually get to hand these boxes to children myself and see their reactions. The experience was extraordinary.
We were able to hand out shoe boxes three times during our trip. The final delivery was especially special.
It was about 8am and as we stood in the dusty courtyard of a local school about 200 children excitedly streamed in filling the air with chatter and laughter. Despite the time, the air was already humid and hot.
The children perched their boxes on their head and our team leader counted down with them excitedly in Khmer. As the boxes came down and lids were lifted the air erupted into high pitched screams of excitement. It was the happiest sound I have ever heard.
Many children quickly huddled with their friends to collectively unpack their new goodies.
I loved being able to walk around almost unnoticed and see their reactions. It was precious seeing reactions such as this…
… and this…
… over items that children in developed countries would take for granted. It was also special to glimpse the joy it gave the children’s parents.
However, there were reactions I didn’t expect.
I found this tiny boy wandering on the edge of the crowded courtyard clutching his box to his chest, picking at a scab on his small face. His expression was serious. I had noticed him a little earlier and though I couldn’t speak a word of Khmer I felt compelled to engage with him. I put down my camera and gently nestled the box from his grasp and helped him unpack his box.
His box came with a cloth bag, so slowly I placed his new possessions (see that smiling bear!) into it so he could carry them home. His box also contained a beanie which I carefully pulled onto his head. I did my best with smiles and my actions to convey friendliness to him.
This was the photo I took of him after I had helped him unpack. I never saw him smile. It wasn’t until I talked about this little boy with others that it was pointed out to me that perhaps he didn’t smile because he didn’t know how to react to being given gifts. I will probably never know his perspective of the day, but I hoped he knows that he is loved.
Being able to see Operation Christmas Child first hand was a privilege I will always treasure. I thought Operation Christmas Child was a great project before going to Cambodia but now having seen its impact I cannot emphasize its value enough. Giving gifts to children is by no means the solution to all the challenges they face in their communities. However, the spark of joy this project brings to them – and the knowledge that they are known and loved beyond their community – is why I support this special project.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief recount of my Cambodian trip and my Operation Christmas Child experience. If you would like to know more about Operation Christmas Child you can find more information HERE (this is their Australian site. If you are from another part of the world you may want to google and see if they have a site local to you).
Since Cambodia, I’ve written a pattern for a quick, easy and cute amigurumi bear that can be made for Operation Christmas Child boxes. I’ll be sharing it next week. Stay tuned!
The opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own and not reflective of Samaritan’s Purse. I was not paid for this post – I wrote it because I love this project. 🙂