Friday, September 26, 2008

Children of Cambodia

I've travelled to many countries, each one leaving me with distinct memories. One country that I could not forget is Cambodia. The Angkor Wat is beautiful of course, but it is the people, or more accurately, the street children of Cambodia who left the most lasting impressions on me.
Most of us have no idea how lucky we are to have all that we have now. It is the same with me, unfortunately, that is, until I went to Siem Reap. My sole intention of going to Siem Reap was to visit the world famous Angkor Wat, a wholly selfish reason. I got my wish of course, but I also gained something else. I gained an insight on how tough life is for the street children who had to work to ensure their survival. Most times, it is not just their survival, but that of their families as well. Such heavy burdens on such small shoulders.
The street children of Siem Reap do not go to schools, a luxury unknown to them. Instead, children no taller than 3 feet are out on the streets daily, cajoling tourists like me to buy their wares. "One dollar, you buy?" is but a popular phrase. If the tourists do not understand English, no problem, there's Japanese, French, Spanish, German, Korean, Mandarin that they are able to converse in, just take your pick. I am amazed by their will to survive and adaptability, to make that extra dollar that will make such a huge difference to their families. An extra dollar that means practically nothing to us who are so used to our lifestyles. Certainly, their willingness and ease in learning a new language puts some of our local graduates who gripe about learning English to shame.
It's a sad sight to see street children who wait outside the many restaurants and ice-cream parlours in Siem Reap catering to tourists because such luxury is out-of-reach to them. Do we not feel guilty indulging in such luxury, bubble-wrapped in our worldly comforts while the children outside have barely enough to eat daily? How do you even begin to comfort a small child waiting outside with such hope in his eyes? How do you feel seeing a child without legs propping himself on a makeshift trolley begging for your spare change? I am ashamed that on the first day of my visit, I haggled with the lady selling books that are already so cheap. That feeling of shame never left me, so long after I left. How I could have thought that I got myself a good deal, when I am actually depriving them of money that they so needed? Money that is just spare change to me. I actually looked for her on the subsequent days, hoping to redeem myself, but sadly I never found her.
The children showed me so much more than the beauty of Angkor. They showed me that in order to survive, we need to be resilient and driven in the midst of adversity. It is not self-pity they wallow in, it is hope. They have shown me that in times when things look bleak, there is a glimmer of hope. The children have given me much more than I could ever asked for and I am forever grateful to them.


gRaCe said...

Thanks for the insight, Sharon. Indeed.. we always seems to be asking more in our life when others can only hope that they will have enough to eat everyday. It is thoughts like this that teaches me to be more appreciative of what i already have in my life..

Sharon said...

You're welcome Grace! It's been a long time since I left but what I saw there never left my mind. I hope this post will at least create some awareness about the kids somewhere.

Chasing-Thoth said...

the most precious gift you can receive, is when you can give yourself without expecting anything in return..people don't even need to have money to give.. i enjoyed this posting of yours!

Sharon said...

Chasing-thoth, I agree with you. Sometimes living in a material world makes us forget that it doesn't take much to give.