My 8 weeks in Cambodia

By Leah Smith

As many of you are finding I am sure, mere words cannot contain the realm of experiences that one is given when weaving the paths of their lives in with communities that are not of our origin. If the service life were a very large flowered quilt, these experiences would be the unique blooms that splatter the quilt randomly; the flowers that catch one’s eye, weaved within an already beautiful background. Those blooms, these seconds of service, are serving us as well. They are moments of reflection, whether present or future, but reflections that can change the course of the flower vines on the quilt, and similarly our lives.
As many experience in their summers of service, I am astonished at all the activities I managed to fit into 8 weeks. I traveled most weekends and taught two English classes a day, along with countless games and lesson planning, hit the gym, made local friends, and still kept in contact with my home. I felt so in the moment at the time, that this first day home almost doesn’t feel quite real. My brain still thinks I am seeing my kids in class tomorrow.
This trip is just not explainable for me; I am fumbling here. This was my first time being abroad (thanks princeton) and I just have so many things to say that I can say nothing at all.

But I can reflect on how Health and Care looks different in each society, and how we should stop coming at it with our postulated ideals. It is different within each society, each community, each person;incredibly necessary for mental and physical health and our abilities to function in society. In cambodia, after the Khmer Rouge, mental turmoil played a large role in depleting the country of it’s free thinkers and therefore the average societal lifestyle was transported back to “ground zero” (the way Pol Pot, the leader of the Regime, put it). Many children have never DRAWN before, never created their own art or poems or had the ability to study MORE than what’s given. . Their ideas are not cared for, or nurtured, and so creativity and passion shrivels up in the absence of care.There is no bandaid for the wounds that open when health and care needs that aren’t met in communities.

Health and wellbeing looks so different in America, where many of us have parents, live in homes that are more than one room large, and people we know aren’t often sick from diseases carried by mosquitoes. We learn about recycling in the third grade, and take for granted the reusable bags we bring to the store. We have never even considered a city almost entirely covered in trash. Our school system is mocked with cliques; students paste themselves into our societal boxes that we are now trying to break down. Health for us is more than a roof over our heads nowadays; it is equal opportunity for communities to thrive and have physical health and wellbeing. Care, for the average american, resides on family responsibility, within a community; in activities, in politics and sports/performances. It is showing up to your little brother’s soccer game, or going to visit your grandma in the nursing home. Care for us is not scary. If our teacher doesn’t like us, there will always be another. If we don’t make school our first-most priority in high school doesn’t mean we won’t get into a top school. And I am not faulting our society, may we continue to grow. But we still have to be able to approach health and care without our own experiences biasing us.
Health and Care for the students I taught was so much different. Some without proper nutrition that hindered their focus in class, some whose home was the dumpsite, some without fathers, some with mothers that worked long hours in factories. Health in this case is met by the social organizations around the city and organizations like the one I volunteered for that gave out deworming pills and had fresh water and handwashing soap. But care, care was provided by the community center staff, and I was able to administer care every day.
Care was through the playground and art supplies, the extra time after class one on one with me for sounding out words, and positive smiles when they are having a bad day.

Even though the school was miles and miles away from my friends, and my home, I found my own health and care in the tenderness the cook would put into the rice soup, with the gentle laughter of the little ones, and roughing around with the older boys. I gave care and received care. I experienced a different kind a mental healing. A change in my perspective, and a value for each flower that pops up on my life- quilt.

And so, I sit in my very nice chair in the comfort of my home in the USA, with pictures and yarn bracelets and paint stains in my clothes to remember the love I felt and gave during my 8 weeks. I write about my changing perspectives of health and care, thinking back to two days before when I was sitting under the hot sun reading an English book out loud. This is my tribute. My tribute to my first journey abroad, my first time considering the holistic well-being of a community that I was a part of. May many more changing perspectives come with the time I am in service focus and beyond. May I always weave my life through others lives; pouring a lifetime of experience into a beautiful quilt.

Date posted: July 30, 2019 | | Comments Off on My 8 weeks in Cambodia | Health & Care Uncategorized