An idea, an ah-ha, a glimmer of inspiration, a simple “what if” has led to this precise moment. After years in the making and a rather long stream of consciousness Lang in Cambodia, a course in civic engagement, came to be and is now at its 5-week conclusion, or so we think.
The synthesis continues despite the conclusion.
While one might hope to leave the Kingdom of Cambodia with some grand understanding of the world, the fact is…it is too much to make sense of now. Views of the countryside, waving smiling children, deep conversations, hours and hours of listening, dialogue between two who do not speak the same language, witnessing the work of PLF collectively brings subtle realizations and tremendous affirmations that saturate and spill over into my mind. In departing from this beautiful land, I hold the few realizations and affirmations close and find peace in the fact that the learning isn’t done. I look forward to what ideas, understandings, and actions Will emerge as I reintegrate myself into my Brooklyn neighborhood, my work, my family, my community.
For now, I can say that I leave the Kingdom of Kampuchea all the more affirmed in the knowledge that quality vs. quantity is at the core of making change. The Ponheary Ly Foundation demonstrates this in ways that I have never, in all my years in the nonprofit sector, seen carried out in such tangible and genuine ways. One building block at a time, PLF has built its organization, grown its capacity to feed, provide medical care, grant scholarships and create enrichment programs that allow children to expand their minds and critical thinking skills. PLF’s comprehensive, one stone at a time approach, proves to me what I have known intuitively for a long time, slow and steady does win the race. Let us follow their lead.
PLF embodies real engagement, actively seeking out voice from the students they work on behalf of. No decision is made without asking what they think, what they want. This value guides PLF and in my mind makes the slow and steady pace even more solid. For whatever reason engagement equals innovation in the US, and many struggle to attain it, that is if it is even in the realm of thinking. Why!? Community participation, engagement, simply inciting voice is the single most powerful act any NGO, parent, school, and community can make. Let us do away with top down, inside outside notions of what it means to “help” a community and to instead open up the doors to place the power in their hands. I make a strong call for this action and make this my life’s work!
More than anything, I leave here knowing we are all connected and that we must actively choose to understand and participate in the world differently. I make this call to the world. Think critically and actively about what we see around us, asking questions of yourself and those around you. Who made the shirt you wear? What might that person’s life be like? What is your country’s history and impact on the globe? Why do most people worldwide not have their basic needs met while others relish in luxury and gems? Where do those gems come from and who has died in vain so that we can have them? What does the future hold for all of us and how can you, we positively influence it? Not asking those questions means living in the darkness, with blind eyes turned to the world. Step out into the light. I make this call to the world knowing we all have the capacity to be active change agents in this world but to do so we must engage!
To Ponheary, Lori Jas, the Lang students and most importantly the Khmer people we have encountered along the way, thank you for bringing all of this into my thinking, my worldview, my knowing. Your profound reminder to believe in the possibilities will always be with me. In solidarity, I stand with you.