Between Phnom Penh and Siam Reap Province exists Baray district in the Kampong Thom Province. A region dominated by rice making and exports, where I stayed for just over a week. I was with a group of friends doing some aid work at the time. Although ‘having an impact’ was not our main goal, we were there to assist where we could and build awareness in ourselves.
I stood readily to give out lollies from a bag I had in my hand. As I held out the lollies to the children they just stared at me and I stared back at them puzzled. Why did they not take my sweets that I was offering them? Why were they not receptive? Were they not all hungry? It just did not make any sense. Following this, the children looked at their mother(s); waiting for approval before they were allowed to take those sweets from me.
Even living in poverty, with no food, with no clean clothes, there was still a place for dignity and integrity. I was blown away that the children still respected the approval of their mothers under such conditions. It made me look at myself from an outsider and considered all the times I have disobeyed or disrespected my parents. Desperation kicked in and they swamped us like any hungry children would.
Having Nothing is Everything.
It is a common notion that the poor are always happier because they live day to day, are debtless and do not have to worry about the same things that 1st world countries do. Is this a fair statement? is it really always the case? I had to see for myself, I wanted to understand to what extent this was true. And low and behold, it was. Like me falling flat on my face, it hit me how small our issues are compared to those with nothing. They had nothing, but their smiles revealed like they had everything.
Life is really that simple, until we complicate things. I know, I am being idealistic again. Still, nothing beats seeing a child smile.
Time vs. Money.
Seeing this phenomenal occurrence of respect and dignity, it helped me to rationalise a very key aspect in my life. Not feeling bad for others. I know, its cynical. When I was on a stop over at a bus ride, I stepped off the bus only to find myself amongst beggars. One of which had only one leg and was begging for money from me. I refused to give any. When I came back from the loo, I saw him around the corner smoking a cigarette. What was the point of me giving him cash if he was just going to spend it on cigarettes? Why doesn’t he spend his money better? Coming from an area of extreme poverty, where people had dignity not to beg and ask politely to a city area where people do not spend their money wisely, gave me a firm understanding. The best charity I can give is my time.