Chris and I arrived in Phnom Penh yesterday afternoon. Waiting around at the luggage carousel, it became apparent that our packs had not arrived with as much ease as we did. However, with the promise they would be delivered the next day we caught a Tuk-Tuk to our accommodation. The ride was great! The traffic is absolutely crazy and we both loved it. We saw everything from babies, to puppies, to monks, to families of four, riding on motor bikes. There seems to be no road rules; no helmets, several bikes in a lane, and people riding up the wrong side of the road. Despite our small travel hiccup we were totally joyous as we analysed the cultural system of traffic. We came to the conclusion that the most assertive person has right of way. This has led us to simply walk across insanely busy streets and make it. Our packs arrived today and the journey of cultural immersion and the personal and emotional challenge to think through global and social issues has already begun.
We went to the National Museum tonight to view a Sbaek Thom shadow puppets performance put on by Cambodian Living Arts. Cambodian Living Arts is the Non-Government organisation that Jessie and Chris LP will be working with here in Phnom Penh. One of the things Cambodian Living Arts said in the introduction to the performance was that their organisation does not just protect and promote a local traditional art, but they also empower disadvantaged individuals. Through teaching students they are able to have a profession in the art industry and are often rescued from poverty.
I can’t quite express how much I appreciated the performance. It was mostly in Khmer and at times I was lost as to what was happening in the plot. However, what impacted me was being able to see a visual result of this organisation that is driven to help empower lives. I am still waiting to clearly see the sorts of activities that I will be doing. However, the picture tonight has made me even more passionate. All along I have believed my Non-Government organisation works for good, and I have been excited to be a part of that. Tonight has made me more excited to see, and be a part of, actions, results and individual stories.
For lunch today we went to a restaurant that works as a community project by taking in young street kids and training them to work in the restaurant. I was so impressed by the project. Again, to me it was a picture of individual lives being changed.
We have been talking a lot about giving recently. The many conversations we have had are beyond the words I could put in a blog. However, one question that has been raised has been about giving to people who are begging. There are still dozen of questions surrounding this one, but one of them has been; is there somewhere else the money could go where it could be better used? We’ve been talking about altruistic giving; giving effectively, in a sense. There’s an argument that says if your friend needs $500 to fix their eyesight, but an organisation can fix ten people with $500, than according to logic you are helping more people by giving to the organisation.
We went for a walk tonight. I didn’t have a dollar on me. I heard a voice whisper so softly “Money please, sir?”. He wasn’t actually speaking to me, but I think I was the only person who noticed. So many thoughts struck my head. I barely heard the man and didn’t even comprehend what he was saying until we had passed him. Once I realised I felt like asking if I could borrow some money to give to him. I wondered if he whispered because having someone reject a whisper hurts less. All the conversations we have had about not giving to individuals in order to give to a more effective cause went through my mind. The whole time we were walking further and further away. Finally I decided it would be a bother to borrow money and run all the way back to him, and so I did nothing. However, not helping that man just broke my heart. I cried. I felt like I had done the wrong thing for seeing a need that was so evident, a need that I could so easily fill, and not doing anything about it.
I totally believe there is great benefit in giving to organisations. I imagine that they can do more than me, and much more effectively. However, I decided for me personally that giving to empowering organisations will not exclude personal giving. I would be terrified to become numb to the pain of sympathy and ache to give just because I believed I had satisfied my giving quota. I believe there is something healthy about giving personally, and being able to be personally connected to the results of your gift; to see the impact it has on someone’s life. And to the individual you are giving to, it becomes far more impacting. So while I am sure I have not solved this question we have been stumbling around for several weeks. I have decided that I will give to individuals. There are still so many things to consider. However, next time I don’t want to be paralyzed by questions. In fact, I want to be prepared to give.
There is just a tiny snapshot of some of the things we’re trying to think through and engage with.
Tomorrow Chris and I visit our Non-Government organisation to hear about the projects in store for us.
All the best