Published: September 21st 2011September 21st 2011
Stung Meanchey Garbage Dump
This is where many of the children at Aziza's Place lived prior to coming to this NGO. I've tried visiting this area but guards would not let me through. Photo from news.bbc.co.uk
The children at Aziza’s Place (AP) are amazingly resilient and beautiful souls. When I look at their healthy and happy faces it’s hard to imagine the horrific places that they’ve come from or where they might be had an organization such as this one not been around to give them the life and opportunities that they deserve. These children who for the most part came from Phnom Penh’s Stung Meanchey garbage dump now have the opportunity to attend school, get tutored in the evenings, take traditional Khmer dance lessons, hip-hop classes, Karate, music, study English and Khmer and so much more. The gap in opportunities available to them between the literal garbage dump that most of them came from to where they are now is immeasurable and beyond what my mind can comprehend.
Since starting my volunteer position here I've discovered that the kids at AP are just regular children. An obvious statement perhaps, but I guess I was expecting to see more remnants in their behaviour from their previous challenges that they’ve experienced in their lives before arriving at Aziza’s. Although I guess I do have the benefit of arriving at AP after the children have been there for
The AP crew
Posing with the hip hop instructor!
years and much of the processing and transitioning necessary to help them work through their past has already been done.
One little darling who I have never seen without a smile on her joyous round face apparently sat in the corner and screamed for the first six months after arriving at AP. She was the first little one to approach me when I arrived at AP and casually jumped right on my lap. As we laughed and played I noticed the barbed wire-like scar wrapped around her wrist and also what looked like scar tissue from a burn going up her arm. As she giggled and teased, I kept a smile on my face but could feel that it was no longer present in my eyes. As she tickled me and laughed my mind began to wander, wondering what this small child had endured to end up with such horrific scars. I find it so overwhelming to see the potential that has been realized in these children here at AP and grieve for the many other children in Cambodia who haven’t been so fortunate.
I also often wonder what the children here remember from their past. Some of
them have been at AP since they were quite small and might not remember much at all. For the ones who do remember, I wonder how they make sense of the massive changes in their lives. Can they still relate to the time when many of them lived at the city’s Stung Meanchey garbage dump where they were originally found? There’s so much I want to know about these children’s lives but wouldn’t dare to ask them. Our newly formed relationships lack the depth that might make it appropriate to broach such a sensitive and personal topic with them, and perhaps placing any energy in the past at all is pointless and a step in the wrong direction anyway.
I do know that I love talking to the children and am amazed by every single one of them. I hang onto their words like small jewels that I’m collecting and will value, cherish and revisit for the rest of my life. Everything about their lives fascinates me. I look at them the same way I would look at someone who came back to life after a near death experience, with each passing day a gift that they almost didn’t
get the opportunity to enjoy.
I don’t think that there are many things in this life that are more inspiring or uplifting than seeing lives changed so dramatically and so magnificently as they are here at Aziza’s Place. AP may only be impacting the lives of a very small portion of the children who so desperately need it in Phnom Penh, but for those 21 children what an incredible and indescribable difference it is. Margaret Mead, a cultural anthropologist once urged us to never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens could change the world, and that indeed, it is in fact the only thing that ever has. Aziza's Place appears to without a doubt be on an excellent path towards changing the future of Cambodian people for the better.
I notice sometimes that people seem to feel powerless to change the many travesties that occur on this planet every single day. However for me the real travesty is in witnessing those individuals who think that this excuses or exempts them from even trying. Imagine if all people accepted even a modicum of social responsibility for the wrongs of the world and made small efforts to
The kids take Karate twice/week and have been for years- they are really good!
help those around them. I truly believe that the conditions of our planet and the lives of the people on it would improve exponentially as a result of even the smallest of efforts towards positive change .
Being here in Cambodia, it’s hard to imagine many other things that a person could do with their lives that could be more worthwhile in regards to helping those who need it. I feel a nagging in my gut that tells me that I won’t be happy unless I choose to keep working someplace like this where what I do has such a direct impact on people in need. I take much inspiration from the writings of others and I’m reminded these days of something I read in a book by Wayne Dyer where he talked about trusting our elevated thoughts, especially those that stir up passion, and then acting on them as if they were unquestionable. I don’t know if I’m cut out for this work or if I could actually hack remaining long-term someplace as intense as Cambodia can be; however I worry that any other work I do will now feel largely insignificant in comparison. Each day out here
seems to bring more questions than answers for me and I’m starting to wonder if the answers are ever going to come.
As seems to happen so often in my life, a dear friend sent me a quote today (that she read on a box of laxative tea no less) that was so incredibly fitting I found it hard to believe:
"Have patience with everything unresolved in the your heart... and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually without even noticing it, live your way into the answer" (Rainer Maria Rilke).
I feel such strong connections with so many different people that are on the other side of the globe at the moment and it never ceases to amaze me how they reach out to me with perfect timing and wisdom just when I need it most. I feel sadness at
being so far away from these amazing souls, however there is no denying that we are still connected in ways that we can’t fully appreciate or comprehend.
I experienced a wonderful moment last night where I was out for dinner at a local Khmer restaurant with about a dozen or so people from AP, many of whom are fast becoming my new friends, while working my chopsticks like a pro (sort of), enjoying traditional Cambodian dishes and learning the Khmer language. I recalled a time just a few short months ago when I left my home in Canada completely on my own and set out to explore the world with absolutely no idea what to expect. I knew that I was flying into Bangkok, but had no clue where I would find myself after that or how long I would be gone. Last night I looked around at the table of great people that I found myself having dinner with and marvelled at what can happen when you put yourself out there and take some risks. It seems that the possibilities are endless and I was so happy and proud to find myself amongst this diverse and wonderful group
of people. ‘Look at where I am…’ I kept thinking as I looked at their faces and enjoyed the surreal moment and wondered ‘How on earth did I manage to get myself here?’
I have similar moments of wonder when I’m out travelling around Phnom Penh and hear someone call my name to say hello or run into a new friend at a café. Although I will not be in this city long enough to call it my own, I can’t help feeling in those moments that in some small way Phnom Penh is now a part of me. There is no doubt that I crave a sense of connection and community and I guess the question to now be answered is regarding exactly where I will land myself and allow that to happen in a more permanent way.
I also unfortunately got word today that my friend ‘Star’ in Australia finally lost her incredible battle with cancer and passed away late last night. Noticing that I was upset, my supervisor at AP compassionately gave me the day off to sort through my thoughts and begin to grieve the loss of this incredibly dynamic individual. I struggled with
this grief, wanting to be around the people who knew her so that we could share in the stories and memories of her life and support one another. She lived life to the fullest and I can definitely feel a void in this world now that she is gone. I will treasure our memories of time spent laughing and discussing the complexities of life and I’m sure that thoughts of her will stay with me always.
Although I’ve met countless astonishing people on this trip who have moved me and touched my heart in so many wonderful ways, there’s one person who although they are currently on the other side of the globe has managed to support, inspire and connect with me in a way that no one else out here has. In a recent email this incredible person explained that sometimes things just "become". You can't really help it, or stop it. It just happens. As confused as I might feel sometimes, I am definitely becoming something and someone different than I was before I left. I’m changing, and I know that there will be no changing back.
These past days have certainly brought their emotional ups
AP student taking pics with my camera ;)
This little one sitting on my lap is one of my small buddies. Her English isn't great but we still have tons of fun together!
and downs; however despite it all I remain positive, inspired and excited about both my present and future. I believe that each day has a lesson to teach and I’m working hard to not miss out on what those teachings are. I’ve also had a ton of fun out here, including one wild Saturday night out on the town where I made some fun new friends. I think it’s important to keep that balance and that although there are many serious things in life, it’s important not to take yourself too seriously. I’ve noticed that sometimes, as author G. Reuben stated so eloquently, that it’s easy to be heavy and hard to be light. So maybe for today my lesson is to relax about the big and heavy aspects of life and focus on happiness for a while. Don't sweat the small stuff as they say...and remember, at least according to some, it's all small stuff.
There are more photos below