Ever since I watched a documentary presented by Stephen Fry back in the early 2000s, I wanted to visit Cambodia.
The history, the turmoil that the country had been through was vast and powerfully intense. I felt compelled to seek out the stories and the places that had carved one of the most diabolical dictatorships in history.
Over the last few years I have visited south east Asia numerous times, so the humidity & smells were something to be expected. The hustle and bustle of the night markets, chorus of touting tuk tuk drivers, and colourful array of deep fried insects to sample, throwing out waves of heat from all directions.
As we made our way through this somewhat historically dispirited country, you could see all around you that there was some serious fight back in the heart of the citizens and families that had been through this monstrosity. A new generation was forming of intelligent, confident & determined people.
Volunteering at a local school enabled me to really immerse myself in this beautiful country. All so full of innocence and hope.
The majority of the children had families but would usually go home to a dirt laden shack where a hammock was their bed and the main road was their front yard. Some children would be sponsored by the volunteers that came to help. Although, much too often the volunteers would fly home to their western countries and later receive word that their sponsored child had not been seen for 2 weeks or more.
I was shocked to hear how common this was and how that these beautiful young girls could be picked off one by one like cherries with promises of money & luxuries, which almost certainly turned out to be a life of slavery.
We were there no longer than a week. Handing out rice & garlic on food drop day to the villagers, reading with the children and excavating large areas for growing crops.There was one beautiful young girl called Maylu. She was only 4 and could not speak any English. As we walked into the school court yard on the first day her sparkling deep brown eyes lit up! New people! New interactions! New toys! She wore the same pink jumper & holey purple sweatpants to school everyday. Carrying with her a tiny little purse over her head. (I never did find out what she carried around with her so carefully everyday)
After a fulfilling week of blood, sweat & tears it was time to say goodbye and on to our next adventure in Laos.
But before we left I had to see Maylu one last time. She spotted me across the court yard and sprinted towards me…near knocking one of the other little children out the way. I threw my arms around her and picked her up. She hugged me so tightly. Sometimes there is no need for language or words to know how much you mean to someone. It was truly a holiday of love and freedom I will never forget.