The Always Evolving and Partially Unwritten Five-Year Plan

Cry Baby in Cambodia

I’ll be honest with you. As much as I loved Cambodia, I cried every day we were there.

And as long as we are being honest, when emotions get the best of me, my automatic default is to cry. Getting yelled at? Cry. Lost in a new city? Cry. Overcome by the raw emotion of the Biggest Loser? Yup, you guessed it…I cry. I wish this wasn’t true and that I wasn’t quite such a cry baby, but after 32 years, I have come to accept it’s just the way I am, and I even let myself cry it out without feel too bad about it.

At first glance, the utter poverty and apparent hopelessness of Cambodia is enough to make my tear ducts start to water. Throw in children following you around temples begging you to buy their postcards for a dollar, and mothers begging for formula on the street for their baby? I never had a chance…let the waterworks begin.

The children at the temples run to meet the next van that shows up to try and sell them trinkets.

I know, I know. You are going to say, “What did you expect? It’s Cambodia, one of the poorest countries in the world!”  I have traveled enough and seen enough poverty to know that it’s not all sunshine and unicorns everywhere, but all I can say is that it is different when it happens to you and you actually have to look at the child or the baby or the person that is standing before you begging another human being for money or food, and decide what you are going to do to help or not.

Now, I know these kids at the temples had my number from the get-go. I don’t pretend to blend in over here and I’m sure from the moment my blond little head popped out of the car we were being driven around in, they started calling dibs on me. I hesitated after the first ten times they asked me if I wanted to buy a postcard from them. I did a double take when they asked where I was from and upon finding out it was America, started reciting the capitals of all 50 states! I added a “No thanks, sweetie” to help soften the blow. PLEASE! I was toast.

But the thing is, I didn’t care that I was toast because all I could think was that these little girls should be in school, jumping rope, giggling and playing. All I could think was: THEY SHOULD BE IN SCHOOL.  If they are doing this when they are seven or eight, what are they going to do when they are 14 or 15?

Of course, the American politician in me just wants to take all of my money and throw it at them to help fix the problem. But if you start handing out dollars at the temples of Angkor Wat or at your local community center in Ohio, you have a different problem on your hands and have you really helped anyone over the long haul? There’s that whole adage that comes to mind about giving a man a fish versus teaching him to fish… But then you do the math and realize there aren’t even enough “fish” to give out in the first place to fix the bigger problem. And yet, you cannot just walk away and do nothing.

We did finally buy some postcards from a little girl at one the temples. Actually, I don’t think we took the postcards, we just gave her the dollar and I cried all the way to the next temple. When approached by a teenager with a baby, asking for milk, we followed her to the store and bought her formula for her baby. But for everyone we helped, as much as it hurt my heart, we had to turn away ten more just like them. Sigh.

Click Here for Part II of our stay in Siem Reap (Savong School)

This girl was selling postcards at one of the temples we visited.

A Cambodian baby and his mother on the streets of Siem Reap that needed formula.

Finally, on the last day of our trip, I had a breakthrough when we volunteered (teaching English) at a school for rural children in the afternoon. It was an incredible experience, especially when I realized while driving away from the school, that…I didn’t (believe it or not) cry. Why? I’ll tell you all about the experience tomorrow. After I go grab a box of tissues.

Dan being thanked by a man (translated by our driver) that owned a orphanage in Cambodia.

Click Here for Part II of our stay in Siem Reap (Savong School)


2 responses

  1. Meaghan

    Oh Jenny- you and me both….defaulting to crying, that is. Can’t wait to read about what your break-through was. I just returned from 6 days in Guatemala with an organization called Cooperative for Education- we handed out books and school supplies to kids at schools that have NEVER HAD ANY BOOKS EVER. It was amazing and incredibly heartwarming- the teachers and families were so grateful and thankful. And these kids were naturally selfless and wonderful. And all we did was give them pencils and books so they can learn to read and form an appreciation for learning…so ultimately they can go out and get jobs they never could have before…and perhaps they (and we) could play a small part in breaking the cycle of poverty through education in Guatemala.

    Having said that- even though 75% of Guatemalans live below the poverty line (by Guatemalan standards), I imagine that this does not hold a candle to the poverty you saw in Cambodia. I would have been a crying mess, too. God bless you and your great big, bleeding, people-loving, crying heart.

    February 29, 2012 at 1:01 PM

    • jgmcrew

      Stop the crying!!! The thing is…I hate it when other people cry, but I can’t help it myself! I can’t wait to see pictures from Guatemala. I know you guys had an amazing experience there and did so much good. Did you go with a church group or another organization? Did you miss your girls? Thanks for commenting, so good to hear from you! 🙂

      March 1, 2012 at 1:41 AM

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