'For Adventures of a lifetime'

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Personal Reflections - Cambodia and Laos

The symbol of our trip :-)
“How was your trip?” This is a question I used during one of the final reviews I had with the Challengers (the youngsters I was taking care of). I asked them to assume they will be asked this on numerous occasions during the first few days home following the trip and for them to share/tell everyone within our group what they would say….The answers were different!
This, obviously, is a question I also get asked a lot on my return from these trips.

My answer??? “Emotional!”

I’m not sure why this trip seemed different (in the end) from the many others I’ve been on? I’ve tried to reflect and deduce why it has been such an emotional trip. I never allow myself to get too involved with either the Challengers or with the children we meet while on the project….but for some reason I did this time…with both! Perhaps it was the group itself, they were a little younger than my usual groups, the majority being 15 years old, 8 (9 including the young teacher) were female…and from Australia….. Perhaps my protective instincts were heightened by this? Perhaps being a father of boys made me feel I needed to protect the girls more…I just don’t know. Perhaps my emotions were heightened knowing about the horrendous atrocities the Cambodians (Khmer) suffered at the hands of Pol Pot during the 70’s and early 80’s (not that long ago really), and finding out even more from the very friendly locals we met, from the visit to the Killing Fields and from the books (‘First they shot my Father’ by Loung Ung) that we all (on the trip) seemed to read. Or is it the fact that following these nightmare years the country was to be plagued by HIV and Aids and still is even today?

Our visit and stay at the HIV orphanage, New Hope for Cambodian Children ( made me feel emotions I’ve never felt before and certainly impacted on the attitudes and behaviour of our group. My heart strings were pulled by one young girl in particular. She actually didn’t have HIV but one of her siblings did. Her mother and father both lost to AIDS! Seeing her play, communicate, interact and dance with our group made me happy but often I would find myself thinking about her, without the love of a parent, no one to tuck her into bed at night, no one to share the love most of us feel at Christmas from our families….many things I think we all take completely for granted! I plan to continue communications with this girl but only if she wants to. I feel my care, even my love would be but a token but I want her to know there are people out there who do care! What happens in the future is destined to happen!

Being the leader of the expedition I often find myself taking on a parental role with the groups I work with. However, it’s never the nice parental things, it tends to be more the discipline, the pep talks, the positive mental attitude and when they let me down the disapproval type things. Sometimes I doubt my methods and wonder if I’m actually being of any benefit whatsoever! Results and reassurance is what I need!

Outside the fabulous Okay1Villa...Still a long way to go!
 This time around I got what I was after. I saw and witnessed positive changes in people and a more appreciative attitude in respects of the life style we lead and the people we have in our lives. I know the Challengers hearts were touched as much as I was by the children in the orphanage…well judging by the amount of tears that were released on our final day there and the amount of talk about going back there during the subsequent weeks of our trip. I received two very special notes (never happened before) from a couple of the challengers and a few notes on my return home thanking me for my time with them and for allowing them to be exposed to the experiences they had during our 4 weeks on expedition. This touched my heart in a way I wasn’t quite ready for and reassured me about my methods and approach I have while away on these trips, I’m so thankful they made the effort, thank you (you know who you are):-).

I still have mine on!!! 
 I feel I made friends on this trip! Not just the usual….well we’ve shared experiences and so therefore we feel close, but the genuine friendship that lasts more than a few weeks / months following a trip. Socrates has a lovely quote about friendship which goes like this: “Be slow to fall into friendship; but when thou art in, continue firm and constant”. My promise to these people (and you know who you are too), is that I will always be here for you, either to listen, to help and guide or even to advise, but I will always continue to be firm and constant in our friendship my hope is that you do too. Only time will see, and if things take a natural course then that’s ok too.

I’m sure the group would agree that they were not the best team players in the world, but I hope they realised the impact they’ve had on me. Individually they are entertaining, caring, and even lovable people. I wish you all the very best for the future and I hope you use the experiences gained while on the trip to aid and mould your futures.

Thank you for reassuring this old F**T that what he is doing is still worthwhile and fulfilling.

Written by Cliff Lowther (Expedition Leader St. Mary Mackillop College, Cambodia and Laos 2011)

Thumbs up all round - Great trip guys :-)

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