ARARAT - Two young Ararat women recently returned from a five week journey to Cambodia which turned out to be a journey in every sense of the word.
Ellie Price and Abby Main ventured over to Cambodia to undertake a five week orphanage care volunteer placement, making their home in the orphanage and making a family of the young children who were in their care.
In a two part series, The Ararat Advertiser will document their story through the words of Abby Main.
Here is their story:
We arrived in Cambodia on January 5, the place we were going to call home for the next five weeks. Our induction entailed language and cultural lessons as well as an insightful history lesson.
We knew we were coming to Cambodia to help, but little did we know how desperate the country was to rebuild itself after the destruction of a mass genocide less than 40 years ago.
Unknown to a lot of the western world, Cambodia suffered through a massive genocide that resulted in the death of over two million people. Under the reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge innocent people were brutally tortured and murdered in an attempt to eliminate the country of any educated individuals. This is one of the sole reasons Cambodia is caught amongst the vicious poverty cycle and this is why it is so important that people volunteer their time to help improve these beautiful, humble people's lives.
After our induction we travelled over two hours in an overcrowded van to arrive at our destination. This town is nestled within the Kampong Changg province and boasts a small market, a primary school and huge amount of farming land. This is where the Child Rescue Centre (CRO) was located.
Upon arrival we were enthusiastically greeted by a large group of children and then shown around the orphanage. That night we observed the first of many nightly prayers. This involved the children, staff and volunteers gathering in the common room, forming a large circle and singing along (in Khmer) to various religious songs. This was followed by readings from the Bible where, on some nights, every child would say their favourite part of the Bible.
Even though we could not understand the words the children were saying, we were moved by the vibe of the room and the attention given by even the youngest children there. The volume of the singing was incredible; every single person in the room would sing at the top of their lungs, clap their hands and follow along to the young boy playing the guitar. It is quite an experience to see children of such different ages come together and sing without any sense of shyness.
Every night until we left we had prayers and it became a significant part of our day, everyday.
On the first night we looked around the prayer circle and wondered about the stories behind each child - what brought them here and where would their futures take them. Then on our last night, after their stories and future dreams were known, it was hard to picture a time when these children were only strangers to us.
Over the next few days we became familiar with our surroundings and also with the children we were about to spend the next month with.
We played games such as soccer, basketball and monkey in the middle. A few nights a week the music would start blasting and every child and volunteer would show off their best dance moves. We organised various nightly activities including bobs and statues, pass the parcel, pinatas, duck, duck, goose and many other familiar party games. Colouring was also very popular with the kids, which after an energetic day was quite a pleasant activity.
If there is one thing we can take away from this placement it is the power of a smile.
The simplest things such as playing these games can break the barrier between you and the child as well as the cultural and language barrier. These children are used to volunteers coming and going, but for some it is hard to let people in.
Games, hugs, holding hands and simply smiling showed the children that you were here to be their friend and to help them when they needed it. It is so hard for us to comprehend a life without the support of your parents.
While not all of the children were orphans, all of them were unable to stay with their families due to financial issues or, in many cases, alcoholism. You tend to forget the trauma that is hidden in these children's histories, as it is always covered by a huge smile.
How is it that those with everything cannot be content with their lives, yet these children who have so little are some of the happiest children we've ever seen? Travelling can sometimes make you homesick - a period of time where you miss your family. However throughout this placement we have come to realise how blessed we are to actually have somebody to miss.
Through the kind generosity of our home town, Ararat and surroundings, we were able to fundraise a large amount of money that contributed to the lives of every child in the orphanage. After a thorough discussion with the CRO staff we were able to put together a list of priority projects that, over the next month, we carried out and completed.
See next Friday's Ararat Advertiser to discover what the Ararat community was able to contribute to the orphanage through generous donations.