Cambodians are a very interesting bunch and to fully experience this a trip to a market or two is needed. It is one thing to do this on your own but another as you go with a Cambodian for a specific reason; to help those truly less fortune in a country where everyone is in some way part of the less fortunate.
Garnett and I, with the help of some donations from wonderful friends, wanted to purchase clothes for the the children at the daycare center. They come to the center each day with mostly the same clothes on that hardly fit and are filthy, even after washed. We had to endeavor very carefully as not to get taken advantage of by the daycare or the market. To my surprise the center was ethical and understood that we had a budget and our mission was to cloth the children as we were giving the center supplies such as soap and nappies, understanding fully that they too have a budget and are given money to fund their program. We wanted to make sure that they did not pocket the items so they could take more money home for themselves.
One of the fellow teachers took us to the Olympic Market, the locals market that is set at a cheaper cost. This was a painstaking ordeal for 3 hours in a hot, sweaty, cramped market. I was amazed at the experience because I truly saw Cambodia at its finest and the means of negotiation that have been passed down generation to generation. When I say this, I mean I was surprised at how much the Cambodians were trying to screw each other on the price, quantity, and quality of items. It was rather ruthless and unfortunate because this is for a good cause. But as I was advised, this is what has been passed down from generations and the way business goes. Needless to say, you are always on guard as a consumer.
Throughout this process, I had to keep my patience and remember what this was for. It was to give these kids a much needed new piece of clothing. I just wish it wasn’t laced with such a haggling process. But as I said before, luckily we had a Cambodian with us to negotiate and to translate. It could have been worse.
In the end we were able to get the kids a new outfit and purchased much needed shorts for their uniforms. As we dressed them in the afternoon they were very grateful and I can’t tell you the difference it made from what they came in them. But I noticed that my heart was not as full. I didn’t have this sense that I did something good. My head knew it was a good thing but my heart was missing something.
That night I went home and cried. I realized my ego took over. I was heartbroken because I had to bartered for their clothes and they still weren’t the best clothes….it was what we could get yet I know much better than what they have or have access to. But I was stuck in thinking that I wanted them to look like my nieces and nephews. I was really caught up in the girls for some reason as I wanted their outside to match the princesses they are on the inside. I wanted them to know what it felt like to have a beautiful outfit and how clean and new it felt. I wanted them to have a closet full of clothes like that. It still breaks my heart. This is when after a good cry and a nights sleep help gain some perspective.
This is part of my battle as a volunteer. I have to remember what is for me and what is for them. I may want them to look like my nieces and nephews. I may want the world for them as I do my nieces and nephews. But then it becomes about me not them. I can’t change the world in one day and I can’t take these children out of their situation. Actually these kids are perfectly happy. They do not know any different. But I and my ego do.
This leaves me reflecting on the difference in giving of gifts and giving of service. Giving the clothes to the children was very heartbreaking for me and a reality check of how impoverished they live. On the other hand, each morning, I have woken up excited about my day of service and am full of energy afterwards. I treasure my time of service with these children and hope that imprint lasts longer for them than any thread of clothing. I know it will for me.