PLF volunteer, thirteen year old Larkin Dhillon-Richardson, joined Lang in Cambodia 2014 as a guest blogger.
I sit bracing myself for the sudden bumps in the road that will nearly jolt me out of my seat. Luckily, the tuk tuk has a yellow handle on the side that I can use to make a (usually futile) attempt to keep my balance. I have traveled this road numerous times over my past six weeks in the beautiful country of Cambodia. I now know to keep a look-out for the familiar sights that mark my distance in the hour ride to Khnar school, my destination. The Sunset Temple represents about 45 minutes left. The multitude of hats hanging in the front of a small countryside shop on the side of the road represents about 30 minutes left. The Cambodian Landmine Museum means that Khnar is about 2 minutes down the road. Finally, I see the familiar entranceway of the school in which I have invested the majority of my field project time. Sometimes, there is a group of children playing nearby the entrance who stop to wave hello to foreigners entering the school ground. When most children see the tuktuk, they stop and stare. I hardly blink an eye at this because I know I would do the same if I were in their shoes.
Stepping foot into a classroom filled with art projects and excitement from students made me remember how enthusiastic I used to be to do my own art projects. When I was about three or four years old, I walked to my own art table and reached across dozens of art supplies to select whatever I needed to create that day’s project. I also remember loving science; going into my backyard and examining different plants and looking through a magnifying glass at insects. Witnessing how eager the kids were to paint or color, for some the first time they had the chance, made me think about the privilege I had and still have. I took everything I had for granted, not thinking about how fortunate I was to have everything I needed, and more, at my fingertips. Looking at the thrill that these kids have when they lay their eyes on paint, or the light in their eyes when they see a microscope, forced me to consider how and why some of us have opportunities and others don’t. The only reason that I had access to everything I needed was because I was born into a family that was able to provide these things for me. The families here in Cambodia are rebuilding after years of war and the aftermath of the United States bombing. Many families are living in poverty and educational supplies are not present on their list of priorities because their basic needs are not met.
Things like that are out of a child’s control. And these children are not less valuable as human beings than myself or any other children on the planet.
What I have learned from my time here is that being granted different amounts of privilege and opportunity shapes children into specific kinds of people. Before I came to Cambodia and really got an inside glance into the depth of inequality in the world, I had no frame of reference to grasp all of the chances I have been given to learn. Now, I often think about how other people my age, thirteen years old, still look at the world the way I used to. Disturbingly, the majority of people my age in America and Canada, my two home countries, are too busy perfecting their personal image to even find Cambodia on a map or understand how the United States is connected to the lives of people here. Children who grow up having everything given to them have a different mindset than children who grow up having to worry about finding food and providing for their family.
And I am so grateful for my time at Khnar school and to the Ponheary Ly Foundation for giving me this opportunity to spend some time with the brilliant and energetic young children who make up this country. Ever since I arrived in Siem Reap, I have noticed something different. Not just with the children, but with everyone. It’s appreciation. It’s taking care of the people around you as much as you take care of yourself. It’s being generous. It’s being courageous. And it’s refreshing.