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Day 1 - Commitment
What does it really mean to go on Mission?
For me, simply to spend my time meaningfully; hopefully in making a little difference to someone else. Be it in sharing a story, playing a game, enjoying a meal, conversing in a get to know or simply through a smile.

I was on a 5 days mission trip with World Vision (WV) Singapore to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to service two local schools and primarily to teach the students to wash their hands! This knowledge and skill might save their lives now with the Covid-19, Coronavirus crisis!

Setting off with the the most awesome bunch led by World Vision

Second time to Cambodia, Phnom Penh, after many years and the sense of poverty still lingers the moment one steps out of the airport and onto the road toward the 2hrs drive south to Takeo Province.

The slow, unruly traffic, dusty unmarked roads and low raised city buildings on both sides of the streets provided a sense that you are indeed in a third world country. If not for the mission trip, there was honestly no reason to journey to Takeo Province, located in the south of Cambodia to the west of Bassac River.

There was a sense of adventure and an uncertainty of what to really expect.

Road conditions and traffic extended the journey on the road to about 3 hrs before we arrived at Alice Villa Hotel, a 3 star villa resort like hotel similar to those of which you might find in Bali.

My room at Alice Villa Hotel. Comes with en-suite hot shower. What more can I ask for!

Our local World Vision representative, Kun Tier or more affectionately known as Ah Tier shared during dinner about the situation of children in Cambodia. A large population of children in the provinces do not complete education in school, many are forced by their families to seek work at a young age to bring more income back home. 1 out of 6 children experience abuse in one form or another. Most never escape the poverty cycle. Kun Teir herself was a World Vision sponsored child, and her mom was able to find proper work through the scheme. It was heart-warming to see the program by WV actually making a real impact to her family. I am reminded of my own sponsored child in Thailand, and how WV is also supporting her community.

Day 2 - Fulfillment

The sights you witness enroute to Kampong Speu

Today is D-day in helping WV fulfill their commitments in 2 local schools. We took another 1.5hr journey to Roth Mony International in Kampong Speu. In this small provincial school, we had the chance to meet with 150 students and construct for them a water tank and hand washing facilities.

Roth Mony International

The first half of the day was the laborious work site construction. Being part of the water tank team, we quickly formed a human chain to fill a 1m deep pit with both large and small gravel pieces. This would eventually form the foundation base of the water tank. Part of the construction was to put together 4 leg stands on a grid of reinforcement bars. I picked up the skill of reinforcing the bars with metal wires. A skill worthy to be indicated in my CV.

I found a sideline job! I was pretty good with the re-bar! 

We filled up the pit with rocks and cement, this formed the foundation of the water tank

Pampered with coconuts!

As it was the school holidays till November, the peaceful morning surroundings was broken by streams of children filling the school grounds after lunch. The afternoon activities included hand washing, mural painting and two classrooms of art and craft activities; the comic adventures of Hand-washing Heroes, the environmental crafts of recycling bottles, caterpillar paper crafts and telling time with a clock-face.

The boundless energy of these children...

The comic story of Hand-washing Heroes

The comic story of Hand-washing Heroes was an instant hit with the children. With the help of Supliat from WV who helped to translate the fabulous story of Super Heroes jumping out of the blue to warn kids to wash their hands before eating cake! I loved how the story was enhanced with a colouring sheet to paint in the Heroes! I was later told by Liang from WV, that superheroes like superman and Spider-Man are extremely well liked by the kids, and a hero with capes will be popular with them. Liang shared that when he was young, he would fearlessly climb trees and jump off into rivers, thinking he too was invincible like a Super Hero.

Every child received a goodie-bag with a towel, a tube of toothpaste and a bar of soap

We even drew them murals!

Day 3 - Servant Leader
The 2nd school, Tulsala International, had a bigger compound enclosed with a beautiful temple and community space. We stuck with our previous groups from the previous day to maximise the learning curve for the similar laborious tasks to build the water tank stands and hand-washing station. I was quickly back at work on the re-bar while the guys had a tiresome task of digging the foundation hole. Unlike the previous day, this pit was not yet dug and serious muscle power were involved. It was pretty much a guys' job, but Samantha and Zaira both jumped into the pit and started ploughing and shoveling. In exhaustion, Roman commented he burned enough energy for the rest of the year!

The team over at the hand-washing station also made quick progress despite a distance to fill the station with gravel and stones. The students who were already in school graciously helped to carry the baskets. Classic example of many hands make light work.

Another team started on a wall for mural painting and Zaira and myself were called upon to render our assistance for another wall in a different classroom. We picked a simpler drawing to ensure we could finish the artwork by the end of the day.

The students gathered and assembled 

There's no better way to learn than through an action song and dance!

About 300 students returned to school for our activities in the afternoon. Unlike Roth Mony International, students here were dressed in their school uniform and gathered orderly in their class batches to have their attendance taken. With the larger student population, we decided to run 4 concurrent and different craft classes. This would also mean the craft teams had to be split up and individually lead a class for the activity. I facilitated for the craft workshop for recycled bottles, teaching the students to love our world through recycling or using waste materials for arts and craft. It was an extremely popular class, overflowing with students excited to colour their bottle and hang them up as class decorations. I had only enough materials for 2 classes, but a 3rd class stood outside the classroom waiting for their turn! Thankfully, there were enough bottle bases to be coloured!

The recycled bottles craft thought the children about the environment and added a lovely touch of colour to the classrooms

All hands on the murals!

What the 70% completion of the water tank looks like. I'm still in awe that I helped to build this!

And the washing stations

Day 4 - Talents
After 2 different school visitation, WV planned a visit to 2 vulnerable families. We were to bring them some household groceries and assist in the planting of banana trees! Enroute we visited the local market which was definitely a feast for the sight and senses. Lining the dusty sides of the roads were make shift stores selling anything from vegetables, raw meat and local daily necessities. We wandered the market and battled the brutal morning heat for groceries and ingredients as Romel volunteered to prepare a simple meal for the family that we will be visiting. We hunted down oxtail to make assam oxtail soup and chicken for a stir fried chicken dish. The market was a feast to all senses. Raw meat were displayed out in the open without refrigeration, exposed to dust and flies! It made me wonder what happens to unsold meat? Where does it go? This would hardly have passed any food hygiene inspection in Singapore, but it was very much the way of live to put food on the table.

The family that we were assigned to is a single mother with a young 8-12 year old boy. This family have a decent shelter with a small piece of land at the back of the house where we helped plant 6 banana trees. It was hard work to dig up a hole deep enough to plant the banana tree. I was drenched in perspiration when the work was completed. Romel was already hard at work with his chef's specialty. The family only had one pot, so multitasking was impossible. While we spent some time interacting at the home, the rest of the village Kampong trickled by to witness the commotion. We came to understand that the mother chose to stay in the village (with fewer good job opportunities) rather than seek work in the city so she can care for her son who is still in school. To substitute her income, the mother weaves bamboo mats. I was told that 1 month of tedious weaving only brings in US$10. The two cows at the front of house were on loan. As a reward for caring for the cows, the family is allowed to keep the 2nd calf when it is born. The family has the basics, a roof over their head and sustainable means for income. I am hearten that WV is offering a helping hand to support their situation.

I planted this banana tree!

Bamboo mat weaving

By mid-afternoon, we bid the family farewell and headed back into Phnom Penh city to retire for our last night.

We stopped over at this scenic place for lunch. We took some time to marvel at the beauty of what Cambodia had to offer

To celebrate the successful completion of the mission and Ah Tier's birthday, we feasted at Hai Di Lao Steamboat.

Day 5 - Home Sweet Home
Douglas made arrangements to attend mass at The Catholic Church of the Child Jesus in Boeung Tompun. This was my first Khmer mass by a considerably young looking, French priest. He conversed just like Father Arro and I wouldn't be surprised if he comes from the same mission. 2019 was particularly interesting as I went around the world and attended mass in native languages of French, Dutch and Khmer.

I didn't think I'll make it for Eucharistic Celebration that weekend. God has a way of reminding me to always give thanks

There were just a couple of hours before our flight home and we made a quick stop to the Russian Market where I picked local handmade souvenirs.

5 fruitful and very meaningful days of spending time with the village locals and children. They reminded me that one can be generous in any circumstances. With what little they may have, we were greeted with a feast at every meal, we were blessed with delicious freshly plucked coconuts, endless cans of Coke, 100-plus and Redbulls and their zealousness and openness to learning was infectious.

At the end of the trip, my heart was very full!

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh ; rather, serve one another humbly in love. - Galatians 5:13 NIV

40acts: The Lent Generosity Challenge 
Day 17 - Leg Up #legup 

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