Last summer, I had the opportunity to go on a mission trip to Cambodia for a week and a half with my church’s youth group as well as my father, the church’s pastor. We stayed in the capital, Phnom Penh, at our missionary pastor’s mission, Water of Life. Our missionary pastor, Randy, had visited our church many times in the past and had shared his experiences in Cambodia with us; however, actually being there myself was incomparable to what he had shared.
When we arrived to Phnom Penh, we were greeted by Pastor Randy, a group of excited Cambodian youths and a hot humid climate.
Upon arrival to Cambodia, I felt superior to the Cambodians around me because I came from America; however, as I talked with the Cambodian youths around me, I gradually began to respect and even envy them as they were able to show compassion to the people around them in such a religiously adverse environment, as Cambodia is 97% Buddhist. In America, religious persecution is prohibited by our First Amendment rights. Their ability to endure persecution by their neighbors and family is a quality I admire; yet, it is a quality that I cannot have due to the environment I grew up in.
In just ten days, I went through many life-changing experiences, but none as memorable as the trip to the rock quarry village. On our fourth day, we went to a small village 45 minutes outside of Phnom Penh. When we arrived, we were greeted by the sight of naked children, wandering animals and a towering wall of solid rock surrounding the village. Around the village, there were many shallow holes. I was told that miners used dynamite to break down the rocks and, in the process, created craters in the ground. These craters were filled with unsanitary water. Yet, all of the village children casually swam in the water like one would in a sanitized swimming pool in America. While one group went to build bamboo houses for homeless villagers, I went up to the rock quarry to help break rocks off the hillside. The rocks from the hillside were broken down into pebbles which were then sold to the government to make roads. A rock quarry worker would only earn ten American dollars in one month. Having worked in the rock quarry for only a few hours, I was already fatigued and worn-out. Compared to the backbreaking hours a villager had to work in order to receive ten dollars a month, an American can earn this same amount in just two hours. While these villagers had to work in life-threatening conditions to earn money considered paltry change in America, I was able to live in an environment where basic necessities are considered luxuries to these villagers.
Through these experiences, I began to appreciate what I have in America. I was no longer embarrassed to associate myself with such people, but I was proud to help them. The trip to Cambodia has made a substantial impact on my life as it opened my eyes to the conditions of people living in third-world countries. In America, we have everything conveniently given to us. Yet, in Cambodia, many people starve and live in conditions like those of animals. This trip made me more open-minded and caring to the troubles of others. Based on these experiences that have taught me to be humble and compassionate to those who are going through hardships, I began to volunteer at the local hospital in order to put my experiences to good use and help those that are in need.
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