In November 2011, GLEF opened its first school, the Âng School. Once a dilapidated building ready to collapse at the next inevitable flood, The Âng School is now a fully renovated five classroom building that serves 425 elementary-aged children. The children also received new uniforms, desks, bikes and school supplies courtesy of GLEF, our partners Cambodian-American Community of Oregon and Joy for Tomorrow, and our gracious donors.
The project was completed in a year, but required a lot of hard work and collaboration between GLEF volunteers and Cambodian residents. GLEF worked with general contractor Yan Yat to build the school and worked closely with the school’s principal to ensure needs were met. During construction, GLEF Project Manager for the Ang School, Battambang Rotary President, Saroeun Nouv, reported to GLEF Building Committee Chair, Mony Mao and to the GLEF Executive Board with photos and written updates. The entire project was also supported by Battambang locals.
The opening ceremony was celebrated by many, including those who participated in the Humanitarian Tour, a special tour hosted by CACO and GLEF that exposes people to Cambodian history and culture. Read about the experience and the school opening through the eyes of one attendee, Bob Banister, and check out the reflections from other attendees.
“Through CACO and GLEF, numerous people had expressed a desire to visit Cambodia to further the work of both organizations. For GLEF this was a huge event as they were opening the new Âng School in Battambang, and we were all to be there for this exciting event.
We arrived in Cambodia in a rain storm but to the warmest of welcomes and we were presented with a Cambodian Lei. It smelled so fragrant and we felt so at home considering how many miles we had travelled to get there.
Our bus and the driver, both of whom would become dear to us in the days and weeks to come, were outside waiting to take us to our hotel. Thank goodness for A/C. The rain must have brought the humidity up to 110%, or at least it felt like it. Helping hands took care of our luggage, although many did wonder if we would ever see it again, but fear not, soon after arriving at Smiley’s the trucks turned up. We all spent a good hour sweating and heaving luggage to our rooms.
Every day had a highlight for everyone, this was the miracle of an impoverished country like Cambodia. They may be poor, but they always found a way to your soul.
In Kamphong Chheuteal we did an overnight homestay. They celebrated the Water Festival, the first time since the Khmer Rouge was vanquished. We shall all remember the luminaries as they floated on the tropical breeze over the forest. Many of us stood and watched as they danced in the sky. We danced and laughed with the villagers, most of whom could not understand a word we said, but emotion is a common language, so as we laughed and danced the villagers laughed and danced with us. It was so good to help bring this festival back to life.
We saw the architectural treasures of Ankgor while staying in Siem Reap. The Bayon, Angkor Wat, Ta Phrom and other greater or lesser Buddhist temples. What civilization built this? How did they build this? We were so grateful to see it and see that there are many ways in which Cambodia is protecting this true wonder of the world.
As we drove around Cambodia, we were able to be part of helping children improve themselves through education. This was especially true in Battambang. Here we were able to take part in and see the opening of the new Âng School. Many local dignitaries where present including the governor of the province and H.E. Heng Hem, the Cambodian Ambassador to the USA. We were able to see the parents proudly watch the ribbon cutting ceremony. For Kilong Ung this was, and always will be, a highlight of his life. Like many on the trip, he had escaped Cambodia and was fortunate enough to be blown to the USA like a falling leaf from a tree. I feel it is safe to say that a true Buddhist thinks of others before themselves. This is especially true for Kilong. The Âng school was the first school opening on behalf of GLEF, the first of many. There were tears, smiles, every range of emotion to be seen. All the children received new uniforms, books and pencils. Many were lucky to get a new bicycle and we watched as they streamed out of the school gates grateful to us and proud to be honored on this day.
An especially moving moment in the trip came in Pursat. A Buddhist nun saved Bonneary Simas (Sin) from being killed by the Khmer Rouge. As a part of the trip we had hoped to visit the village and pay our respects to the nun. However, due to the floods the road was washed out and our bus would not have been able to make it. Thankfully the nun, the village leader and others were able to come to Pursat and Bonneary was able to meet and thank her. With Bonneary were her daughters Satheara and Nitiya. Again many tears flowed as friendships and bonds were renewed. Each was able to see and speak to the other and try and catch up all those lost years. It was truly a heart warming experience.
We ended our travels in style at a ritzy resort in Sikanoukville. Three days of sun, sand and easy living. We had covered so many miles, lifted our hearts and those of whom we helped. Was it impolite to spoil ourselves? This was really a chance to reflect on what we had seen and what we could still do. Still do…there is so much that we can still do. My wife and I have since sponsored Sokear Korn through Sustainable Cambodia, others examples are Bo and Gwen Woods sponsoring an orphan in PP. Norm and Leah will continue to sponsor a child at Sustainable Cambodia and even got to meet her.
I came home from the trip more grateful than ever for what I have been lucky enough to get from life. My heart has never been so full and memories of the trip still lift me when I think about my two weeks in Cambodia. I was so lucky to have met Chanly and to have gone on the trip.”
Other reflections from Humanitarian Tourists
David – “We met some really smart and motivated people doing amazing work starting with really limited resources. Very inspiring. I was especially drawn to Angkor Hospital for Children. There are some real analogies to the Jewish Holocaust in terms of its impact on the individual, families and community from the Khmer Rouge period. Survivors are just now beginning to deal with the experience in each of his/her own way. About half our group were survivors or second generation children. Many individuals we met were affected by land mines, also many orphans.
From a travel perspective it is somewhat like Bali although the country is not nearly as well organized and there is more subsistence poverty. Same aggressive handicraft sellers and children forced by poverty to selling trinkets on the streets. The traffic is chaotic in a different way to Bali—millions of scooters. Cambodia’s religion is Buddhism instead of Hinduism, and is evident everywhere but not as evident in daily life as in Bali. Flat, rice paddy fields everywhere. Angkor Wat temple complex—incredible, beautiful, ornate, huge, better preserved than the Mayan temples we saw in Central America. The children are beautiful, the people friendly, and with genuine smiles.”
Sandy – “For me the GLEF 2011 Humanitarian tour was a journey to defy all the senses. From a small girl taking my hand and walking with me through the slums of Phnom Penh, to witnessing a young monk running free through the upper levels of Angkor Wat, sensing a renewed freedom as the rice fields unfold in abundance through the countryside, all this contrasted by the hideousness of Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek. Looking into the faces of the older generation I could only imagine what they had endured, and to be met with so much appreciation and humility as we bestowed precious rice and supplies on their children was priceless. To be part of a movement to restore hope and turn a hellish nightmare into a dream is truly a testimony to all that is good in the human spirit. I am deeply fortunate to be a part of and to bear witness to this transformation.”
Chanly – “Cambodia…my 10th trip since April 2001. A journey that left my heart aching and my mind just yearning for the return home. Why must a vacation to see family, experience Cambodia, and most importantly, to help the poor and destitute have such a profound effect on this survivor, this Cambodian-American, one of many Golden Leaves? Why? Is it the poor old lady that tends to her frail soul mate with his ribs and bones exposed through his wrinkled flesh? Is it the elder lady who is sick in bed calling out my name “gohn ma’dai, gohn ma’dai” (my son, my son) as she finds just enough energy to hug me, weeping and weeping uncontrollably? My tears fall as I lose my breath, as I try to hide my emotions. Or maybe it is the startled old lady who was thankful for the noodles, medicine, rice, and little money we gave her. Her words were for a better next life and wondering when her current suffering will end. How do I respond to such a statement? I am but lost for words, I have no words, no words whatsoever. Such sadness, such memories that will forever be etched in my mind, leaving me breathless. The little children with dirty clothes, the big beautiful eyes and beautiful smiles despite their daily struggles, they too tug at my heart and pull me back to Cambodia, my Cambodia, at every opportunity I get. The humanitarian tour with many collective hearts from America, Canada, and Europe is one I will forever cherish and be proud of. Because a huge family from many parts of the world took part in something that had a purpose, that meant more than words could ever express. Current and future generations to come will be proud, I am proud! Breathless, impactful, empowering, priceless! Yes indeed!”
Wendy – “What can I say? Who would have thought a chance meeting on Facebook would result in one of the most incredible experiences in my life. From the moment we met everyone at Smiley’s to the end, I felt I belonged to a family of the most sincere and compassionate individuals I have ever met in my life. To experience and witness first hand poverty certainly put my own life into perspective and I am so grateful and humbled for this. Every individual had life experiences and to listen to those who survived Cambodia’s past and to witness the most forgiving people has had an impact on my own outlook on life. I laughed and cried and felt safe and cared for. I still miss everyone today and the whole experience will be forever in my memory. I am so grateful to you all. Thank you.”
Donna – “In November 2011, my husband and I were lucky enough to accompany a group of incredible people on a humanitarian tour of Cambodia. I had worked with Chanly at EDS and when he told me about his experience and his visits back to Cambodia, I knew that I had to be part of it. It was humbling, heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time. We were so fortunate to be included as part of the family and I will never forget the things that I learned along the way. I am doing my best to share this experience with others!”
Leah – “I simply cannot pick one memory or one experience about our trip to Cambodia. Even if I could find the words to speak about this life changing experience I know I could not do it justice in 500 words. But I will say this trip, for the first time in my life, gave me the opportunity not just to visit and see a new country, but to experience and feel it. This was due to our wonderful Cambodian traveling companions who not only shared their homeland, but their memories as well, and for this I am so grateful.”
Kristi – “I have been blessed in my life to have visited many lands and cultures. Usually they have been second, third or fourth world countries. Seeing the magnificent “Wonders of the World” and UNESCO sites are always in the itinerary, and Angkor Wat has been on the list for over 20 years. When an opportunity to go to Cambodia through CACO came up, Steve and I signed up…what a great way to see Angkor Wat! Since we always travel on our own, going with a big group was a little scary. I had done one before to Burma (Myanmar) because it was required by the government, and we ended up with a lot of locals, and that was a big disappointment. At one point we talked about not going to Cambodia. But I am so glad we did. What a fantastic group…and traveling with so many new Cambodian friends and meeting so many more on the trip, I found out what a sweet, funny, joyful, thoughtful and loving lot the Khmer are. It really was a ‘Vacation with a Purpose’, Angkor Wat did not disappoint, but getting the whole picture of Cambodia aided by Cambodians was an added dimension.”