By Miriam Hammer
I’d like to preface this article by pointing out how incredulously fast time has flown. I feel as though just yesterday I was sitting in Reamer reading last year’s Fellows’ articles, thinking to myself that in one year, that could be me. I have gotten a bit sentimental about the passing of time over these last seven months, so forgive me if I begin to sound self-indulgently soppy.
My days in Cambodia are filled with smiles, laughs, dust, sweat, questions, classrooms, books, bike rides and a whole lot of rice. The NGO that I work for, The Global Child, is a non-profit school and safe house geared toward saving the lives of Cambodian street children.
Our organization takes impoverished and disadvantaged children from Siem Reap and the surrounding villages and pays them $1 for every day that they come to school in order to make up for the monetary loss of receiving an education. A more fitting, albeit colloquial, way to describe TGC is as a family. These kids have grown up together.
They learn together, spend their weekends together, and eat two meals a day together. TGC provides them with everything that they need, from clothes and shoes to soap and toothbrushes, notebooks and pencils to dentist and doctor appointments. They are each other’s family and they have become mine as well.
Although I have only been here a short time, Siem Reap genuinely feels like home. I live on the third floor of a house that overlooks a small garden and street-side coffee shop. Our landlord, a sweet old Khmer woman with the most adorable grandchildren, also owns a pseudo-pet store that she runs from the front yard, with fish, birds and rabbits (including many bunnies, which are the cutest things in the world).
We are probably a two-minute walk to the school and only a five-minute bike ride to the main part of the city, where the markets and many of the tourist attractions are.
There is a wonderful community of expats in Siem Reap that has fostered in me a sense of social entrepreneurship and global citizenship.
I have met people from all over the world and become friends with the unlikeliest of souls.
I work seven days a week at TGC, teaching English Reading, Speaking and Listening Monday through Friday and running programs with the students on the weekends, the likes of which range from dance class and chess class to art projects, women empowerment programs and writing workshops.
In addition to my time spent at the school, I am kept busy with soccer practices and games, private tutoring sessions, scheduling duties, exam preparation, grading and helping out at TGC’s social venture, the Joe to Go Restaurant and Café, where I assist in public relations and help to manage the upstairs art gallery.
It’s a full schedule but a happy one. Especially when it comes to the kids. The relationship that I have formed with my students is unlike any relationship I currently have in my life. There is something unique about the connection between a student and a teacher. This is a connection I am forever grateful for, having had wonderful relationships with my professors at Union; yet, it is different to be on the other side of it.
I am so touched by my students. Not only are they hard workers both inside and outside of the classroom, but they are grateful for their education and take advantage of every opportunity that comes their way. Above everything else, they are a blast to be around. They are always smiling and laughing, hugging, tickling and teasing. I look forward to seeing their bright faces each and every morning.
The Minerva Fellowship experience has allowed me come into my own. I’ve been able to examine who I am as a person, and it has instilled in me a sense of fulfillment I never before possessed.
I’ve discovered a perspective in life that I feel blessed to have. I am grateful to have been exposed to the realities, both good and bad, of life in this part of the world. My time here has allowed me to grow in understanding and compassion.
I’ve gained immensely from my students. They provide me with a sense of purpose and give me great joy.
As excited, as I am to come back to Union in May and share my experience with the campus, I am going to miss Cambodia with all of my heart.