Friday, February 11, 2011

On volunteering...

As I 'mouse over' the bottom right hand corner of my computer, a box appears to warn me that it's already February 11th. We leave in less than four weeks.  The days continue to go by far too quickly.

 When we were here last year, I taught hand sewing and embroidery to about 60 students.  As we neared our time to leave last March, I was able to look back and see what those kids had learned, and what I had accomplished, and I derived a great deal of satisfaction in knowing I had left something tangible here.  I dreamed that this skill I'd brought to these kids might somehow live on and make their lives a little different at some time in the future.  This year, I came to Cambodia with soaring hopes, good intentions and great ideas of what I would be doing....helping a doctor at a health clinic, teaching sewing and embroidery.... and none of that happened.  My volunteer work here now consists of playing with kids all day, serving rice at lunch, picking up toys, rocking little ones to sleep, sponging down feverish little bodies, guiding tiny hands holding a crayon, doing jigsaw puzzles, and handing out reams and reams of drawing paper to endless calls of 'Som grodah' (Paper please!). 

Last year, Gordon came here to do woodworking, and he built 10 computer desks and a complex shelf unit.  This year, he's building ten more low desk/tables, as well as several other things (a meditation bench, easels, shelving), and he's also doing a ton of repairs.  There are days I look at the work Gordon is doing, and I am immensely jealous, because he can visibly measure what he has accomplished here, and I cannot.  All my life, I have measured my usefulness in observable, tangible ways, and I now find myself with no benchmark to gauge my value or success here.  Many times, when there are five or more full-time volunteers onsite, I feel like the odd (wo)man out, like a tit on a bull, and I dream up ways to make my moments here count.  I've made the commitiment to paint the PVC water pipes so they won't deteriorate from the sun.  I've already learned that Gordon expects me to varnish the desks he's making.  But is this the way I want my time here to be remembered?  I remind myself that all these jobs need to be done by someone and it might as well be me, but deep inside I know that I am fighting that desire to feel like I have done something important, like I have left my mark here. 

Today I was asked to accompany Sreylean (one of the house-mothers) who was taking seven of the kids with various complaints to Angkor Hospital for Children.  It was a tight squeeze as we all piled into the tuk-tuk, and I automatically wrapped my arm around one of the young boys to keep him from falling out  He grabbed my arm with both of his, and pulled it tight to his thin little chest, and snuggled up to me as close as he could, and we rode all the way into town that way.  It just felt so right.  As we rode along, I wondered when was the last time he'd been hugged or cuddled.   

Deep inside, I wonder if he'll remember me years from now.  I doubt it.  But I do know that this afternoon, I was just the person he needed.  After we get on that plane for home,  there probably won't be much physical evidence of my having been here, but I hope that somehow I've helped to make this world a better place, even if just for one lonely little boy. 


  1. Connections with people cannot be measured in tangible units, but that doesn't make them any less valuable.

  2. Emotional support and physical closeness are wonderful gifts you're giving these kids. Their smiles are forever in your heart. You may be giving them intangibles but they will have your love and caring with them for their lifetime.

  3. I often felt the same way when I was volunteering at HVC in December. I think the kids will remember. I plan to visit again this December and I think they will remember. I will be like an aunty or a cousin that sees them once a year for Christmas holiday and that will have to be enough until I have the opportunity in my life to stay in Cambodia more long term. Seeing your photos and reading the stories has made me so happy! The changes are immense and the children look great. Thank you!! ~Louise