The last night of our six-day IWitness tour in Cambodia finally arrived. Although we only got to meet some children and their families shortly, to be there with them for a few hours, I really hope they can always feel the positive energy we shared in those short moments. I hope our love and support from a foreign country will last and be there with them when they encounter difficulties in the future.
Although I took the initiative to apply for this year’s IWitness programme, before we met the children for the first time I still had doubts about how much our small team could do for them. We turned out to be overwhelmed by these children who are full of energy, trust, contentment and optimism! Suddenly, I realised our repetitive daily job is so much more meaningful than it seems; every effort we’ve done has given a better life to the children in front of our eyes, giving them the courage to believe that through education, they can create a better life for themselves.
I travelled with co-workers from different IKEA stores in Taiwan and Save the Children all the way from Phnom Penh to Angkor Wat; we almost travelled through the whole Cambodia from south to north in six days. Bumpy roads covered with rocks and dirt made us feel dizzy every day. I really admire our co-workers from Save the Children for having to take such a tough journey almost every other week.
The IKEA Foundation and Save the Children work in a way that is very different from what other nongovernmental organisations are doing in Cambodia—we don’t simply offer financial aid. Instead, we further communicate with schools and parents the importance of positive discipline in education and the necessity for children to receive an education, to reduce chances for school dropouts in the future. In other words, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” When dealing with poor families, we talk to the parents to find out what stopped their children from going to school. We found out that, for some of them, it’s because the school is too far and the parents can’t afford to buy bikes; having to walk for five kilometers under the sun is just discouraging kids from going to school. Therefore, we offered them bikes to solve this problem and successfully brought kids back to school.
When I return to our IKEA store, those soft toys will look so different for me because now they’re given a deeper meaning. When soft toys are taken home by our customers, children in Cambodia get to continue their education. I think this is not only a project to promote children’s education, but also a project of hope, which has changed the lives of these families and children.