Service Above Self – Habitat Trip to Cambodia

Written by Arwyn Workman-Youmans ‘16

I have been on three Habitat Service trips so far, and describing my experience throughout the years has always been somewhat of a challenge. I have mostly found it difficult to find the right words that could best articulate the breadth of my feelings and encounters. Each trip so far has been unique and has enlightened me as a person in so many different ways and each has brought its own specific value and rewards depending on the circumstances I was put in.

On our most recent trip, I think that all 28 of us who traveled to Siem Reap, Cambodia can tell our own story, but also, all collectively can speak about how we each came back changed and with new perspective. This is my reflection.

The teams built for 6 days on two separate work sites working on the final stages of houses that had already been started. I can honestly say I have never worked so hard in my life. With the hot tropical sun beating down on us and 40 degree heat punishing us as we toiled, we nevertheless left the site each day with a feeling of accomplishment and pride for how invested we were in our work. Each evening as we boarded the bus, we were sweaty and dirty, but that was okay because a little discomfort on our part was so others could have some comfort and a place to live.

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The days were long but rewarding as we built block walls, mixed cement, parged walls, and assembled scaffolding. We also made new friends. The family’s children continually ran around us, always smiling and giggling which managed to keep everyone’s spirits high. All of this brought to me a new perspective as to how fortunate I was to have grown up in Canada, and also how grateful I am for, among other things, the incredible opportunity for education I have been afforded.

Living in a first world country such as Canada makes it so easy to take for granted the opportunities we have been given and the circumstances we have lucked into, but seeing children like Tida, who played with us every day, and how kind and happy she was made me question why I deserve these opportunities when they don’t exist for children like her.

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We also formed bonds with the skilled workers who worked on the sites with us and we were able to learn more about their lives and come to an understanding of just how hard things can be for people without a fixed salary or a secure job.

At the end of our build we were able to thank our families for allowing us to contribute to the building of their home and they conveyed to us, as we all celebrated their new homes, just how grateful they were even for our small contributions. As someone who has always left habitat build sites where the house was never complete, I cannot describe how rewarding it felt to leave a standing house, that could be lived in, behind.

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Cambodia itself is very poor but was also a beautiful country filled with lively markets and busy streets. As a group we were able to experience the current culture, food, religions and people of this wonderful place. We also explored some of history by visiting the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, truly magnificent buildings located in Siem Reap. In Phnom Penh we also traveled to the Killing Fields, a sobering and sad moment that granted us another opportunity for reflection on how selfishness and greed can ruin lives. This left us with a feeling of horror for the millions who were killed and also gratefulness for all we have in life.

The second part of our trip consisted of a cultural tour of Vietnam, which is a place I hope to return to one day soon. We biked for 3 days along the Mekong River, visited temples, houses, and the bustling city of Saigon, all while living on a wooden riverboat which allowed us to see the beauty of Vietnam, explore the culture and experience it’s history and customs.

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Overall this Habitat trip was filled with memorable moments and incredible experiences. I know that I speak for all of the students who went on the three trips this year when I extend my thanks to all the chaperones, team leaders and especially to Father Jason for organizing and making these joy-filled trips possible. To truly engage in service like this has allowed all of us who participated to better understand what it means to meaningfully and selflessly transform our globe. Once again, I have experienced the real world and have gained some new perspectives and understandings of our place in this world and how we can further bring justice and love to those who most need it. Whether it was El Salvador, Guatemala, or Cambodia and Vietnam all of us formed new bonds with one another and the people we served and I think it helped us to create our own life paths and see the world we live in in a new light.

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