In 3 days, after a little over two years, our stay in Cambodia comes to an end. It is difficult to know where to begin to sum up what our experience has been like. The fact we came here for six months and then stayed for 26 tells its own brief story. But in this case brevity would do Cambodia an injustice as it would mean failing to point out what it is that makes this country so special.
During our time here we learned how to cross the chaotic streets without getting killed; realised that motos are not just there for transporting people; had breakfast with ‘Angelina Jolie’ at Angkor Wat; and even ate a tarantula. We also fell utterly in love with the country’s beautiful landscape which ranges from picturesque rural villages nestled amongst seemingly endless rice-fields, to some of the most idyllic tropical islands you could ever wish to set bare-foot upon.
But for us, by far our overriding memory of Cambodia will be the people. During our time here Chris and I have been fortunate enough to travel across this small, heart-shaped country working on a range of social justice issues and wherever we’ve been and with whomever we’ve worked, we’ve been overwhelmed by the kindness and warmth that has been shown to us.
We’ve had the honor of working with people who – despite, or perhaps sometimes because of, what has happened to them and their country in the past – have turned over their entire lives to the service of others, educating indigenous communities about their rights, enhancing access to education and political participation for women and girls, and helping protect those human rights defenders who have been imprisoned not in the defense of their own rights, but in the defense of others’. It has been humbling to momentarily cross paths with such people and to a very minor extent fleetingly tread their path. In two short years it is unlikely that we’ve achieved anything but in failing to do so we at least hope we’ve been tolerable company.
In any event we leave Cambodia with a huge sense of optimism about its future. In part this is due to the fact that small step by small step, women and girls are increasingly able to play a role in Cambodian society, helping to un-tap the enourmous potential bound up in 50% of the country’s population. But it is also due to huge transformative potential which young Cambodians have increasingly grasped in recent years. Nowhere was this more evident than during this year’s national elections which proved that with enough persistence, determination, and courage, social change is possible and in Cambodia’s case, firmly within reach.
The most important lesson we learned was that going to Cambodia was not an escape, but a calling and as sad as we are to leave Cambodia, we leave with our hearts and minds greatly enriched, determined to share what we’ve learned in our short time here as we continue our adventures around the world, and with a promise that the friendly smiles, warm hearts, and indomitable spirits of those we have met will serve as a guide and inspiration for us always…