Why Cambodia?

January 10, 2011 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

The plan was to dislike Cambodia. It was a  convenient decision as my friend and I were carefully mapping out our ten weeks in Southeast Asia.  We knew we wanted to max out our 30 day visa in Vietnam, leaving us with six weeks to cover Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.  Besides, we had heard mixed reviews from past visitors to the country so it seemed like a no-brainer to get in, see Angkor Wat, and get out.

But from the moment I arrived in Phnom Penh, all preconceived notions toppled and behind the rubble I discovered a breathtaking place. Over the course of a week, I wandered towns, crossed landscapes and encountered people full of color and life that left me in an unexpected state of happiness.

As I was reveling in all the beauty, I also quickly learned about the tragic events that so recently plagued the nation.  In the 1970s, under the terrorizing Khmer Rouge regime, Cambodians underwent years of forced labor and genocide that left millions dead at the hands of fellow citizens. In the end, this once thriving country emerged as a fallen star of Indochina, its people displaced, many orphaned and with nothing.  After walking through Phnom Penh’s haunting Tuol Sleng, a school-turned-prison-turned museum, I felt ashamed at my utter ignorance before stepping foot in the country.

During my final few days there, as I was visiting the temples of Angkor, I couldn’t help but take note of the “Possibility of Visit” signs guiding the way.  That phrase stuck with me as I struggled with making a final decision on how to end my ten-week adventure: sunbathe on a pristine Thai island, which had always been the plan, or listen to the feeling in the pit of my stomach that was telling me to savor Cambodia a bit longer.  Ultimately I settled on the latter and after a serendipitous encounter with a woman who had spent time volunteering in Siem Reap, found myself doing the same.

After my week with the inspirational staff and children at the BFT Center, I couldn’t just leave.  I wanted to shout out across the ocean, bring everyone I knew to this place, to feel the warmth of their smiles, the good that transpires. But until the days of teleportation arrive, I needed to bundle up this energy and bring it home with me.

This endeavor took shape in a scarf.  Dozens of scarves for that matter. After multiple trips to markets around town, I left Siem Reap with my backpack and carry-on bursting with colorful kramas, the traditional scarves of Cambodia.

Back in Austin, I made a mobile boutique out of my car and zipped around town showing the scarves out of my trunk in grocery store and coffee shop parking lots. In less that 48 hours of returning home, through the generosity of friends and family, most of the scarves were sold and instantly hundreds of dollars were raised for the organization.

From this outpour of support and goodwill, a seed was planted for greater possibility.  Inspired by my friend Vanessa–who succeeded in driving a small group of us to raise enough money to fund an annex for a South African orphanage last year–I am out to rally motivated volunteers looking to make an impact and see a new part of the world.  This project will be tracked here, from Austin to Siem Reap, or Austin2Angkor.

The intention of this blog, which will document everything from enlisting volunteers to setting goals to recapping fundraising events, is to truly show the growth of this vision from the ground up.  While tracking the progress and evolution of such an endeavor is of course important for those actively or financially involved, it will hopefully also inspire similar projects to emerge from any community for any community.

The process will be tracked honestly and transparently, revealing both successes and roadblocks along the way.  If at the end of the day two worlds can be bridged through the grassroots efforts of this group, well then who needs teleportation?

***

Step 1: Find an organization to back the project in order to legitimately collect donations. Stay tuned for this update soon!

Coming Soon: Volunteer call!  Once the project is legit, stay tuned for a meeting in the coming weeks to discuss and get involved.

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Entry filed under: inspiration, project progress.

And We’re Official!

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