Getting while giving

When we do activities that others may see as altruistic, we typically get back at least as much, usually more, than we give. I noticed this during my recent visits to Thai and Cambodian orphanages and schools I support through the Together We Can Change the World Foundation.

Even though it was barely 10:00, it was already over 100 degrees as we entered the Future of Khmer Children Organization (FKC). Theany, the Director, runs a school for over 200 local children teaching them useful life skills, including English, technology, sewing and traditional dance.

The kids lined both sides of the long driveway to greet our TWCCTW team of 10. Theany and her staff greeted us individually as a child placed a hand-made silk scarf around my neck. I was the first down the path and shook hands with each child on one side. Kids leaned forward from the back to shake hands. I felt like a foreign dignitary!

With sweat now tricking down my face and back, we set out on a tour of the facilities. We started in the office, where a dozen girls sat on the front porch’s floor weaving designs in colored silk thread around pencils. They asked us each to write our names down, and they began weaving our names into the design on a pencil. They also made bracelets for us in this fashion with our names interwoven. They would sell trinkets like this in the markets to help support the school.

In the English classroom 20 kids crammed the benches around each large table — there were 6 or 8 of tables in the room. They said, “Hello, what is your name” in unison to each of us. My TWCCTW teammates all said our name and the kids repeated it.

Next was a visit to the technology room, a 10×10-foot room with 8 computers and 20 kids. They shared the laptops as they worked through their lessons on Word, Excel and other programs. Then off to the sewing room where the kids (usually girls) showed us their sewing machines and the goods they made to sell in the markets.

In the music room the band played for us and the choir sang. They invited us to learn the hand movements for the songs. On a large covered patio I noticed a class on a traditional dance. I moved closer to watch the instructor correct tiny movements and poses on the boys and girls. Kids who master this can earn a living by dancing for tourists at the many exhibitions around the country. The teacher saw my interest and invited me to join and learn. Quickly I saw that one has to start at a young age to get one’s fingers to bend back as far as the children’s did!

We were then beckoned to help serve the kids lunch. Large pots of noodles and separate pots of curry were brought to us to ladle out into bowls. The kids were polite but clearly hungry as they waited for us to serve them. We were asked to help because we had bought them lunch this day — an upgrade to their usual lunch. It took a long time to serve 200 kids, but they seemed used to it. Afterwards, we needed a break from the heat, so sat down to the same lunch on the office patio. We joined some college kids from the UK who had volunteered for the summer teaching English.

After lunch was recess — always my favorite part of the school day! We’d brought some toys for the kids, including some balloons. A few girls near me had a balloon and we began hitting it to each other. They quickly understood the concept of not letting the balloon hit the ground. We were all soon laughing at the near misses and heroic saves. Even with our limited shared language, I found this activity to be bonding as we shared our giggles and glee.

Did my visit to this school, or any of the orphanages we visited, change these kids lives? Most likely not. However, the financial support we offer can provide them some long-term improvements, like the $5000 we secured for them to upgrade their tech classroom. But we could just send them the money and not bother going to remote locations in 100-degree heat. We visit them for us. We like to see the faces of the kids we’re helping. We like to see the environment they are in and if we can help in other ways. But mostly, we know that visiting them is going to change us.