As a child, I wanted to grow up, become famous and live this lavish life of luxury. Or a simple life that didn’t have challenges. I have a job that pays with great benefits, a family that is highly supportive and I have a decent college education. But for these children of Cambodia, the mere thought of having all of that is beyond luxury: it’s a dream.
‘Life As I Know It’ didn’t have me visiting south east Asia on its radar. My ignorance of the country was evident. I was thinking it was a huge jungle gym playground, where that one “famous woman” could choose a child to adopt. I’m not her or close to it. Especially, I’m not that woman sitting down with children to discuss their aspirations about their livelihoods. Children and me, hot and humid weather, and a rainy season were definitely not on my radar.
Until one day, when IKEA introduced the Soft Toy Campaign that supports Save the Children’s work in poor and developing countries. They actually want to save children from poverty, mistreatment, harm and death. Children everywhere need this. They didn’t ask to be here. Why shouldn’t they be our first priority?
I was fortunate enough to be one of several accepted as an IWitness ambassador, along with Cory Hinesly, Stephanie Miller, Jennifer Tomayo and Saskia V… Cambodia was now on my radar. I did the research and got shots because my nerves were getting the best of me. I came to the point where I knew I’d be fine. It was just 20 hours of being in the air, seven days in sweltering heat and meeting children.
According to ‘Life As I Know It’, children are the future. Cambodia is actually a beautiful place with beautiful people. They care for one another and they want to make sure that everyone is living a well-to-do life. The people of these provinces really give meaning to the phrase: “It takes a village to raise a child”.
What struck me to oblivion was how many people are not educated. The mass number of children who aren’t in school was remarkable . I knew that in the States, truancy laws would have been enforced but I had to remember that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Going to school here is not all about education but the child can at least get a decent meal for that day, build social skills and get help if they are born with a disability.
Now, I have come to believe that Save the Children has a great programme to get these children back into school. Education in the Pursat Province is everyone’s primary goal. Families want their children to learn and become someone other than a farmer. My first take on schooling was so heart-warming. The love they had for one another, and to learn, was incredible. There was no competition for who can be the teacher’s pet, it was a straight love for learning.
At our first school, Toul Leap, in the Bakan District, I loved how they were encouraging a child with disabilities through the little bit of sign language to get her involved with the classroom reading. They didn’t see it as a problem but “just helping my fellow friend out.” There was no special classroom or a trained teacher in disabilities to help these children. They didn’t even know how to recognise a child who might have autism, ADHD or a learning disability. But the programmes are changing that now. I loved the atmosphere of this school because the children were so happy to learn. They even had their own student council. They all wanted the dropouts to return to school, which is great.
I made friends with an eleven-year-old girl called Seng Hung Hun. We were glued to the hip. She was all smiles and I was glad that she knew a little bit of English. I even helped her with her alphabet and other English sayings as well. She wanted to become a teacher and help others in her village. I thought that was sweet. While she wanted to stay with her village, I’m back home trying to escape. I wish I could have stayed a little longer.
‘Life As I Know It’ has choices. Imagine living in a society that has to work for a little of nothing. Imagine being born to just help your family out with the farming and just imagine being one of 600 students being able to receive a ninth grade education. But for the families of Cambodia, their choices are like a box of chocolates. They really do not know what they are going to get.
They get these lemons and make sweet and delicious lemonade. There is no complaining. But why complain when your options are slim to none? Back home, in the States, there are all types of assistance for any ailment or problems you might have. The government will help you. So why are we complaining again?
‘Life As I Know It’ in Cambodia is amazing. It’s simple living. Everyone has a part to do in their community. On our second day at O Tapoang School, they celebrated their International Children’s Day. That was fun and festive. The children got rewards for learning how to read and write, and saw who was the fastest in reading. I loved that positive competition. The atmosphere was great. Parents were involved as well. They were encouraging.
I was a judge in the drawing competition that I helped create with them. I played their local yard games and participated in their dancing. We even brought over our own American style dancing, the Cupid’s Shuffle. I really enjoyed myself with these kids. I was amazed at the progress which had been made in working with a child who has autism. Everyone treated him like he was no different. He played and enjoyed himself.
Our last school, Talo Primary School, was the best. The children were lively and enthusiastic. They wanted and welcomed our Cupid’s Shuffle. That was awesome and so fun. They showed us their traditional dancing. I was playing soccer, drawing, running around, and I was pushing the girls on the merry-go-round. I was a kid again. This school was well-organised and structured. I enjoyed myself today.
I believe life should be like this for a child. They shouldn’t have to worry about anything but being a child. ‘Life As I Know It’ is great beyond measure.