I’ve been meaning to write about our recent visit to Cambodia for months now.
I’ve always got so much I want to share that I get overwhelmed about where to even start. Instead of just never writing about it, I thought I’d post about a couple of highlights of the trip, and also bring attention to some great initiatives happening over there.
I‘ll preface this post with a note: I still struggle with certain aspects of our connection to Cambodia. I’ve touched on it in a previous post and those things are still present. My privilege, the white saviour complex, privacy and dignity … all of it.
The stories of the Cambodian people we’ve come to know and love are innately personal and aren’t necessarily mine to tell. And yet, I find that if I don’t share their stories, then who will? How will people know what they’re going through? How will people know their achievements and their struggles? I think they deserve to be seen and heard and I do my best to remind myself of that when I’m struggling with the oversharing/undersharing cycle. It’s a constant battle, and one I take seriously.
Returning to the village
It’d been three years since we’d been there. Thanks to so many people we know (and even some anonymous donors) we were able to continue to raise money during the pandemic. Your generosity meant that local builders were given work, families were given new homes, as well as food and basic necessities.
On our return in October, we spent time with lots of children again and even reunited with some we had met years prior. Some of them didn’t really remember us, some vaguely did when we showed them photos of us all together and others definitely did – and didn’t leave our side.
Seeing the families again and hearing updates about their wellbeing was a relief. We’d been getting updates over the years via Sabet (our amazing guide), but to see it with my own eyes was pretty special.
<a href="https://hannahsmithauthor.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/IMG_1626-scaled.jpg" data-rel="penci-gallery-image-content" data-idwrap="penci-image_gallery_76639"><img src="https://hannahsmithauthor.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/IMG_1626-585x780.jpg" alt="" title="IMG_1626"></a><a href="https://hannahsmithauthor.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/IMG_1657-scaled.jpg" data-rel="penci-gallery-image-content" data-idwrap="penci-image_gallery_76639"><img src="https://hannahsmithauthor.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/IMG_1657-585x780.jpg" alt="" title="IMG_1657"></a><a href="https://hannahsmithauthor.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/IMG_1679-scaled.jpg" data-rel="penci-gallery-image-content" data-idwrap="penci-image_gallery_76639"><img src="https://hannahsmithauthor.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/IMG_1679-585x780.jpg" alt="" title="IMG_1679"></a><a href="https://hannahsmithauthor.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/IMG_3015-scaled.jpg" data-rel="penci-gallery-image-content" data-idwrap="penci-image_gallery_76639"><img src="https://hannahsmithauthor.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/IMG_3015-585x780.jpg" alt="" title="IMG_3015"></a><a href="https://hannahsmithauthor.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/IMG_1716-scaled.jpg" data-rel="penci-gallery-image-content" data-idwrap="penci-image_gallery_76639"><img src="https://hannahsmithauthor.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/IMG_1716-585x780.jpg" alt="" title="IMG_1716"></a><a href="https://hannahsmithauthor.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/IMG_1724-scaled.jpg" data-rel="penci-gallery-image-content" data-idwrap="penci-image_gallery_76639"><img src="https://hannahsmithauthor.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/IMG_1724-585x780.jpg" alt="" title="IMG_1724"></a>
<h3>Meeting Family #10</h3><p>We got to meet family #10 on this trip - Pron Chantou (the mother) and her two daughters (Yeoun Chantha, 13 and Yeona Makara, 9). The meet-up was an emotional one for me. The father of this family died last year from cancer, the mother had been trying to make ends meet, and the eldest daughter hadn't been going to school because she'd be taking care of her ailing father's health. It was a family in dire need of help and donations got their house built during the pandemic.
On the day we met, the youngest daughter was very hesitant of us at first. She was standoffish, didn’t smile and didn’t want to get close. We learned that day that whilst they had a porcelain seat set into the ground to use as a toilet – there was no plumbing. And on top of that, there was no privacy – just a hole in the ground out in the open.
We helped organise for a proper toilet to be built with a septic tank and work on that started straight away thanks to the amazing team of builders. When we returned the following day to see how things were progressing – the young girl was elated to see us. She threw her arms around my waist and hugged me for ages. With the language barrier, communication can be difficult and things get lost in translation. But through her actions and pure emotion, you could tell what she was happy and grateful. It was emotional and humbling.
This man is a highlight all on his own. Cheerful, funny and accommodating, this man has looked after us on every Cambodian trip.
We often take SO LONG buying stuff for the families and he never complains. He always makes me feel safe and gets us the best deals when we’re at the markets. Seriously, he will bargain with every single person who he thinks might be ripping us off.
He always arrives early to pick us up, he laughs at my jokes and even though Khmer people don’t usually hug (they place their hands together and bow slightly instead) we have an unspoken agreement of a hug at the beginning and end of our time together. He is a superstar.
Jaya House River Park
We have stayed here on each of our visits. Not only is it stunningly beautiful and tranquil, but we’ve come to know and love the staff and the ethos behind the hotel. Jaya House only employs Khmer nationals, support NGO’s, are big advocates for climate change solutions, have their own organic skincare (it’s amazeballs, we have everything) and run community initiatives such as tree planting and a nutritional book drive.
The book drive is really why I’m here.
Not only do I love books, but I’m right behind the initiative of providing underprivileged children with educational materials on physical and mental health. That’s exactly what this drive does.
Jaya House have selected two educational books:
- Nutrition Facts for Kids – Teaching Children the Facts about Nutrition, aimed at children 8-12 years
- How to Pack for the Journey Called Life – A Travel Guide for Kids, aimed at children 10 years and older
The idea is for future guests to purchase these books and bring them with them when they visit, where the staff at Jaya House will ensure these books get passed onto Cambodian children for whom books are not a given, but a luxury out of reach.
As we will be returning very soon, we will be ordering some copies. If you would like to contribute and have us buy books on your behalf, please contact me via DM/message and we can ensure your donation via GoFundMe goes towards purchasing these books. For larger donations, you can contact us directly for bank details to save on the donation fee GoFundMe takes. Once we have the books we will take them with us and give them to the staff to pass onto those who need them.
Alternatively, you can purchase and order the books yourself, and have them sent directly to my partner’s business address (just send us a message before you order to confirm). Both books can easily be ordered from the Amazon website via the links below. *These links are to the Australian Amazon site, but are available on multiple marketplaces.
Nutrition Facts for Kids – teaching children the facts about nutrition focuses on health and nutrition and gives children basic and more advanced knowledge about their nutrition. Good nutrition is fundamental for children in their formative years, and this book is the perfect example of what Cambodian children and their parents need and are able to use.
How to Pack for the Journey called Life – A Travel Guide for Kids focuses on both physical and mental health with an integral, holistic approach to a happy and purposeful life. This book offers life lessons, social skills, practical tools, insights and perspectives to live a healthy, happy and rewarding life. Timeless, yet timely advice for children of all cultures and (religious) backgrounds.
<a href="https://hannahsmithauthor.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/IMG_3850-scaled.jpg" data-cap="Poolside" data-rel="penci-gallery-image-content" data-idwrap="penci-image_gallery_98868"><img src="https://hannahsmithauthor.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/IMG_3850-585x780.jpg" alt="" title="IMG_3850"></a><a href="https://hannahsmithauthor.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/IMG_3478-scaled.jpg" data-cap="The magical dining room" data-rel="penci-gallery-image-content" data-idwrap="penci-image_gallery_98868"><img src="https://hannahsmithauthor.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/IMG_3478-585x780.jpg" alt="" title="IMG_3478"></a><a href="https://hannahsmithauthor.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/IMG_2529-scaled.jpg" data-rel="penci-gallery-image-content" data-idwrap="penci-image_gallery_98868"><img src="https://hannahsmithauthor.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/IMG_2529-585x780.jpg" alt="" title="IMG_2529"></a>
<h3>More highlights to come.</h3><p>There's so much more to share, including details about Handover Day and when our tuk-tuk broke down on the last day. I definitely need to spread it out.
Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram: @build.cambodia for updates on the families and to stay up-to-date on our next trip. We appreciate all the support – donations, follows and shares included.