BY SASHA HUANG & WENXIN KANG
The lush greenery seems to spread for miles, yet the tall palm trees fail to provide shade from the scorching sun beating down on the backs of running children. Screams of high pitched laughter fill the open field. Clouds of dust whirl into the air as the kids chase one another barefooted, as cows, bikes, workers and families busy themselves back and forth along the barren pathways. Humidity and heat prove to be a source of discomfort in this tropical place, yet the smiling faces on the people leave you with a feeling of warmth and tranquillity.
This is how TES students experience Cambodia on their Tabitha trip every year in June: A country filled with gracious people who seem to be content with the complexity of its history and the simplicity of their surroundings.
Tabitha Cambodia is a non-profit organization that aims to improve the living conditions of the less fortunate in Cambodia by empowering families through the Tabitha Family Savings Program. As part of this process, families that have progressed through the savings program can opt to save for a house. A family will have to make a down payment on a house of around US$25, with the Tabitha team covering the remaining finance. Although this may seem like an insignificant amount of money to many, this sum could take a family years to save up.
The TES Tabitha team runs a range of fundraising events throughout the year, from a fundraising “Pop Idol” talent show, to hosting a series of talks with Cambodian-born American Human Rights Activist Loung Ung, to the Primary School Tribe Council contributing nearly NT$300,000 from this year’s Reverse Christmas Tree fundraiser. It was amazing seeing children from Reception, all the way up to Year 6, getting excited about helping the people in Cambodia.
The preparation for this trip has been eventful, teaching us the importance of organization skills and time management. At times, we have felt lost in the array of events and projects. However, with the collaboration of teachers, a lot of effort, and hard work, anything seems possible.
Going to Cambodia is the opportunity to experience the entirety of the project from its beginning to its end. Not only will we be building houses and meeting the Cambodian families, we will also gain a real-life experience of Cambodia’s essence.
With some uncertainties still remaining in my mind, I decided to interview some of the leaders who went last year: Yuko Nogawa, Elizabeth Lin, and Anne Chang.
Q: What did you first expect when you joined Tabitha? And was it what you expected?
Yuko: I wasn’t expecting it to be as hard as it was.
Eliza: We thought that it would mostly be fundraising, but we realized that Tabitha wasn’t all about raising money or building houses. It’s also raising awareness of the situation in Cambodia.
Q: What was a challenge you faced in Tabitha? And how did you overcome it?
Eliza: I can say that all the leaders (main and sub-leaders) learnt that organization is how a team works. It’s always emphasized in class, but being a part of the Tabitha team really taught us
that we always had to be organized to make sure that events went on smoothly.
Yuko: The most challenging thing for us is that none of us had prior experience about leading such a big team. We didn’t really have any training to direct people, or what the most effective way of communicating with our group members or with the school community was. But towards the end of the year, we became more used to it.
Q: What was the most memorable part of the trip?
Anne: Our most memorable part of the trip was actually building the house, because we were the only group with five people. It was difficult, but we got the hang of it and it made us feel really proud of ourselves.
Eliza: Seeing the moment when the people moved in and just seeing their transition from living in between stilts underneath houses and using hammocks as beds was really rewarding.
Q: What were some of the things you didn’t expect?
Eliza: Even though we all learnt about the Khmer Rouge prior to going to Cambodia, we didn’t understand the full impact until we got there and saw the killing fields and people living near the borderline of poverty, with no running water or clean shelter.
Anne: Actually going there changed a lot of people’s mindsets. The prison area was really shocking because we could actually see the blood stains on the floor. After seeing that and understanding the past, everyone wanted to help as much as possible.
Q: Any long-term takeaway from the whole trip?
Yuko: That we are really privileged. We often hear that we are really privileged, but it’s more than that. On a bigger level, Taiwan is a really safe country. Even though we have had a history of violence, Taiwan has developed, so that we are not held back by our history. But Cambodia is still recovering from that mass genocide.
Eliza: Once we got there, we realized how a small bit of money, just from selling breakfast or hosting a concert, can make a huge difference in someone else’s life. It taught us that even doing little things do matter, and can improve someone else’s life.
Q: Did you meet the families? What were they like? How did you feel about working with them and seeing where they live?
Yuko: We did meet the families at the end. Even when we were building, because we were in the village, we were surrounded by the people who live there.
Anne: We had some time to get to know the family and got to play with the children there. They were really excited. It was an amazing experience of how we were able to communicate with them, even though we don’t share the same language. I played tag with them and it made me really happy how I got to help them. Also seeing their happiness because they got their houses built was just very touching.
Q: Did you learn anything new about yourselves?
Eliza: We are really privileged. We can’t stress it enough. It’s really hard for people who haven’t been there to understand the idea of privilege.
Yuko: The gravity of that message (privilege) doesn’t really sink in until you are actually there and interact with people who, compared to us, have so little. Especially if you take into the account [Cambodia’s] history. It puts things into perspective.
Sasha and Wenxin are first year IB students who have been part of the TES Tabitha Project since October 2018 and will be going to Cambodia this June.