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Finding hope in Cambodia

World Vision
8 December 2014 by Darren Sterling
Finding hope in Cambodia

Australians visit a World Vision supported school in Cambodia during an Overseas Experiences trip.

Hope can be defined as “to believe, desire or trust”.

Recently I visited the Killing Fields just outside Phnom Penh in Cambodia with a group of World Vision supporters. I’ve visited the Killing Fields before, yet the inhumanity of humanity, never ceases to touch me. After 90 minutes the group got in tuk tuks and made our way to the old S21 Prison, a high school that the Khmer Rouge had turned into a place of torture.

Over the last few years I’ve come to love Cambodia and her people. So as I looked at the photos of each person who had been tortured, I felt an incredible sadness and despair descend upon me, and I no longer wanted to continue the tour. I sat on some steps outside and waited for the group to finish. As we head towards the exit we pass a stall where one of a handful of survivors of this “hell on earth” sit and sell his book.

I wonder how Bou Meng at 72 years of age can come to this place day after day. I purchase his book even though I don’t want to read it. Searching for hope, I ask through a translator how Bou Meng finds the strength to come here every day and whether he has found a way to forgive those who inflicted such pain and death. Bou Meng responds with a question of his own, asking if my family was tortured and killed would I be able to forgive, and I know from his eyes and tone that he has not. “No” I answer reluctantly, and it seems what I thought my last chance to find hope amongst such despair vanishes into the humid air.

Below the surface, this despair sits with me. In truth, I don’t want to give it up. I don’t want to forget the beautiful faces of Cambodian children whose photos were displayed in S21. I reflect on how in the minute way, this personal despair must mirror modern Cambodian society. Smiling faces, hiding the immense grief and pain of their loss.

The following day we visited World Visions Hope & Peace program and an informal school located on an old rubbish dump. Here I see a light in the eyes of these primary age children, a sense of value and potential in a community that lives off rubbish; the discarded, the unwanted. The schools young teacher continues to battle against financial pressure and family expectations, committing himself to these children. I have found the hope I am desperately searching for.

A few days later we arrive in a World Vision program near Battambang. This is a new project and last time we’d visited many in the group felt it was hard to see any transformation and new life. Yet barely five months after the previous visit, we arrive to clear strategies, news and evidence of a flourishing Youth movement and growing World Vision community impact.

Faith has been defined as believing though you cannot see. I’m inspired by the faith of this World Vision Cambodia team who battle harsh conditions and live away from their family for most of the week in faith that the hope they sow will produce results. This project in rural Battambang restored my faith.

It sounds clichéd but “love has been all around me” on this program through Cambodia. From the innocent love of little children, the care and nurturing love of parents, to youth and adults making significant sacrifices to advance their communities, to the participants on this trip who have formed close bonds, but most importantly given so much of themselves to those they have met.

And that’s what I will take away from World Vision’s Overseas Experiences program to Cambodia. Hope crushed, yet restored. Lives committed in faith that better days lie ahead for Cambodia’s children. And the powers of love to cross any divide.

You can see World Vision’s work in the field through our Overseas Experiences program. Take a look at the full list of trips in 2015 today.  

Darren Sterling Darren Sterling

Darren is the Manager of World Vision's Field Experience and Visits program.


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