I showed up to NIBC this week wearing flip-flops. Turns out digging a trench in flip flops doesn’t work too well. I spent the week at Kontrac school doing what was at face value a tedious task, but experienced a fulfilling and heart-warming week instead. Inbetween spurts of inspired digging, we took water breaks to play with the school and village kids. Once, when I was taking a water break, one girl came up to me and tickled my side. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by kids tickling me and a laughter-filled combination of tag and tickle fight ensued. If I learned anything this week in my work at NIBC, it’s that Khmer people value relationships, not completing tasks, and sometimes it’s not about checking something off your “to-do list,” but taking time to enjoy each other. So do I think my work at NIBC was valuable? Well, if they’re looking to hire someone to dig trenches for them, no. But if the aim was to connect with kids, yes, it was a complete success.
The most impactful part of our week was visiting the kids’ homes in the village near Kontrac school. I had a knot in my stomach after we walked around. As I tried to understand how I was feeling about seeing the bare, simple houses made of bamboo and corrugated metal roofs, I realized what made me so uncomfortable. These kids had almost nothing material-wise, but what they lacked in material things, they more than compensated for in joy and contentment. These kids are surrounded by their playmates in the village, they laugh and have fun and act like kids without all of the complications of material things or the desire to have more iPods or whatevers than their neighbor. They don’t focus on what materials they don’t have! How many times in my life have I wanted something because I thought it would make my life better? How many times on this trip have I wanted something because I just couldn’t live without that souvenir? I have so much to learn from these kids. Seeing into the homes of the Khmer people was something so sacred and beautiful–they let us into their lives, and we are just rich Americans with some convoluted idea that we are the ones helping them, when really they are the ones teaching us. Praise God.