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Posted by on Jan 31, 2013

Goodbye Thailand, Hello Cambodia! Our Chance to do Good While Traveling the World

 

Today is the final day of our volunteer orientation in Chiang Mai, Thailand. As some of you know, we will be spending the next three months living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia volunteering as part of American Jewish World Service‘s Volunteer Corp program. It has been five days filled with talking, thinking, reflecting and overall anticipation of what is to come.

There are 12 volunteers in our cohort, all who share a desire to do good in this world and who are bright, optimistic, shining stars. We come from many different places in the U.S. and have a variety of backgrounds, ages and experiences. As with many experiences like this, we’ve been humbled more than once by someone’s comment or perspective this last week.

Half of our group will stay in Thailand and work with organizations helping refugees from Burma who are living in Thailand (and have been for almost 20 years, escaping an oppressive government in addition to ongoing violence and fighting).

The other half of us will go to Cambodia. Most of us in Cambodia will live in the capital, Phnom Penh, and work with youth organizations who are dedicated to empowering the younger generation to advocate for their human rights and their community’s rights. Many feel the government in Cambodia can be doing much more to address the needs of their citizens, although it is at least somewhat stable after the years of mass genocide in the late 1970s under the Khmer Rouge regime (in which more than 2 million people were killed/died).

Two beautiful girls performing a traditional Burmese dance during our site visit to their village.

Two beautiful girls performing a traditional Burmese dance during our site visit to their village.

I met one of my NGO (non-governmental organization) counterparts yesterday and got to spend time getting to know her and learn more about the work of the NGO. There is so much passion and hope for change and peace among the individuals we met from every partner NGO. It has been inspiring, motivating and daunting to think of how much can be done to really create lasting change in their communities.

Tomorrow morning we fly to Phnom Penh to begin our three months in Cambodia. Friday begins a weekend of final mourning for the late Cambodian King who passed away in October. Friday through Monday will be his funeral procession and cremation. They estimate 1.5 million people will be in the city for the event.  It should be an amazingly interesting and historical time to be in Cambodia. While our fellow Americans will be watching the Super Bowl, we’ll be awakening on Monday morning to a city marking the passing of King Father Norodom Sihanouk. How different our lives will seem during those few hours.

If you’re interested in understanding more about what happened in Cambodia over the last 30 years and why they hope for change and a better Cambodia, I’d recommend reading the book, First They Killed My Father by Luong Ung. It’s not an uplifting story by any accounts, but is a well-written memoir about the terrible atrocities that were committed by the Khmer Rouge government to the people of Cambodia.

As Dave and I continue in our work, we will be able to share more about the issues our NGO’s and communities are facing, though not our specific NGO or names of people in an effort to protect the NGO, its staff and its communities.

We hope to help where we can and look forward to watching ourselves grow as we find our place among this work.

On a site visit, we see a woman opening her food truck for dinner in a Burmese refugee village. In the background is the construction of the housing development which is employing the Burmese people living in the village.

On a site visit, we see a woman opening her food truck for dinner in a Burmese refugee village. In the very far background is the construction of the housing development which is employing the Burmese people living in the village.