Crash Course on Cambodia
“What we know matters, but who we are matters more. Being rather than knowing requires showing up and letting ourselves be seen. It requires us to dare greatly, to be vulnerable.”
-Brene Brown, Daring Greatly
Four days have passed since I walked into my NGO – backpack on – feeling like a little kid again entering a classroom where I knew no one. I wasn’t nervous, but anxious. Anxious to meet the people I’d be working with, but more anxious that my time was too short to really do anything meaningful for an organization that has been serving its community for more than 20 years. What was I possibly going to do in three months that would help them advance their work?
Throughout our volunteer orientation, I had to keep pinching myself. Was this real? Was I really preparing to live in Cambodia for three months and thinking I could provide some level of help to an NGO half a world away from life as I knew it?
I don’t have any level of clarity yet, but I’ve shown up for four days and have begun to learn a tiny drop in the bucket of what constitutes the human rights issues and violations occurring today in Cambodia. Women’s issues, gender inequality, sex trafficking, unemployment of young people, water sanitation, climate change, land ownership rights being violated – the list goes on. And, it’s a heavy list. One which makes my head ache as I commute home from the office. A list that reinforces the fear that I’m not going to be able to do much in three months.
On my third day, I had the privilege of a attending an NGO forum held in Phnom Penh for a group of member NGOs. The forum provides an opportunity for NGOs to discuss and advance issues, specifically with government representatives who attend the forum. The room was packed with NGO workers from International and Local NGOs. As I sat with my headphones on listening to the English translation to the Khmer-spoken presentations, I was struck by the thought that up until a couple of months ago, I had no idea what was happening in Cambodia. And the thought that has continued to run through my mind since then – how many other countries am I totally ignorant about? The answer unfortunately, is a lot.
But, as I’ve been reminding myself since the beginning of this, these few months are not about me. They are about showing up. About daring to immerse myself in a reality I have not known. It’s about being vulnerable and being okay not knowing, but just seeing.
My greatest accomplishment here (besides helping to write a grant for my NGO that hopefully gets funded) will be measured in what I learn. The things I see, the things I find out by asking questions and the things I take with me and share with others. As the sign says, if I want to be a teacher (or a sharer) of things, I must first study.