After many unbearable hours on the airplane, we finally landed in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. My family and I were in a sense of bliss and cheerfulness to be once again reunited with our close relatives. I felt like I was home.
Without any hesitation, we headed towards my grandmother’s house by car and it was definitely a heartbreaking drive. On the way I could see that Cambodia has barely changed since I visited ten years ago. Enormous piles of trash and debris still lay along the sides of the road and the revolting stench of the wasteland roamed through the air.
Children with no shirts and blackened skin from the sun played in front of their homes or watched as car drove pass by. Policemen smoked their cigarettes while reclining on their rusty, old chairs and seemed as if they were not doing their jobs. Cambodia is an incredibly beautiful country, but it is apparent that it is still in the process of recovering from the war.
The feeling of sorrow and distress had overcome me. The thought that I lived a life that is far more luxurious compared to others who are less fortunate made me consider how life is truly unfair. Why should others who work harder than average Americans live a life that is full of suffering and torment?
The economy of a country inevitably determines what conditions it befalls in. I could tell by the facial expressions of my own ‘people’ that they were desperate for change. It seemed that there was so much for me to fix, yet little I could possibly do. I took the opportunity presented to me and visited orphanages located widely throughout the city.
Some of the orphans shared with me their personal stories. One boy in his young teenage years told me about how his parents died when he was only ten and how he had to take care of two younger sisters. The responsibility that falls on the laps of the children made me realize that there are no reasons to complain about the duties my own parents give me. A twelve year old girl told me her life revolves around supporting her family and doing chores in the morning, school in the afternoon, and then more chores in the evening.
She told me that life is too short to act immature and reckless since there are more important things to do in life. Most of the orphans walked for miles just to get to school because their parents were too busy tending with other needs or were at work. I realized that cars are something to be grateful for because it facilitates countless everyday tasks.
My most unforgettable memory of Cambodia was something that occurred every single day. It took place when I walked along the streets, left restaurants and sat in the park. Time after time a person came up to me and asked for money or the food I had in my hand. It came off as a little rude to me at first, but I noticed that, under their circumstances, begging was a way of life.
I had an opinion that if a person would sink so low to beg, he or she was somewhat pathetic since they were expecting freebies from those who actually work. However, after the four year olds and single-legged men passed by me, my view of the world changed. The dreadful glances at young children who suffered from malnutrition, the missing limbs of men who dragged themselves across the floor to their destination made it impossible for me to deny helping them. I clearly understood that I helped them because it was simply the right thing to do.
Staying in a completely different culture and society made me realize more about the difficulties in life. The Cambodian people need money to eat, transport, and make a living just like everyone else. Without money, they must starve, fight illnesses, and live off of the kindness of others. I feel that everyone who doesn’t have the necessities of life should at least have the opportunity. This is why I am obligated to help those in need. From this trip, I learned to appreciate that I do not have to go through the heartaches that millions of other are familiar with. Not everyone can experience the benefits of wealth, yet through generosity and gratitude they can definitely be shared.
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