Paddling Against the Current
I plan to kayak 1000km along the Murray River! I hope to raise $20,000 to sponsor the education of 20 talented Cambodian girls with “Happy Days Cambodian Village School Inc”. Canoe please support us?
Hidden in the remote Cambodian village of Sreivibolke live some of the happiest people I have ever met. Having stayed there on multiple occassions, it has been very confronting to meet so many underweight and malnourished children. I was heartbroken to learn that 1 in every 5 infants die before their 5th birthday. I found it particularly frustrating to witness so many villagers ill with preventable diseases, and not being able to afford the medicine, that is so accessible to us. But of all encounters, the hardest was seeing that almost all students of the village drop out of school by the end of grade 10. Parents not only can’t afford education for their children, but commonly force them to dropout so that they can labor in the rice fields. In this way, these people are bound to poverty, and it will continue to perpetuate so long as education remains in the back pocket.
This wintery July, I plan to paddle 1000kms solo in an inflatable kayak along the majestic Murray River in 20 days. My goal is to raise $20,000 to extend high school scholarships to 20 very talented girls from the village. The hope is to empower these girls with the opportunity to make positive decisions for their future, and I am confident they will become leaders of their community to better the inhumane conditions that the village continually has to face.
Of these girls, I had the privilege of getting to know Nok Thary, a 19 year old whose story has reshaped the way I see the world. I was taken aback to learn that at the age of 15, her mother died from an undiagnosed liver disease, leaving Thary and her baby brother, motherless. Her father was a victim of the Khmer Rouge regime, having lost a leg to a landmine, and so his inability to work and earn money for their family forced Nok Thary to drop out of school to labor in the ricefields. During this time, her father also developed an alcohol-dependence – I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it must have been for Thary… Then late last year, her father succumbed to malaria and his only treatment was snakeskin oil, herbs and witchcraft chants, prescribed by the more affordable “village doctor”. To Thary’s distraught, she watched her father die.
But this was not the Nok Thary I knew; in the classroom she stood out as being one of the most colorful characters. If I did so much as to smile at her, she’d break into hysterical laughter! I came to see that all of the other students gravitate towards her and show deep respect. She is the mother hen of the school, always putting the interests of others before herself. Although not being the smartest or sportiest of the group, she has the biggest heart and her unique ability to transform the darkness of her adversity into happiness, is a quality that deeply inspires me.
Thankfully, ‘Happy Days Cambodian Village School Inc.’ continues to sponsor the higher education of Thary. However, without ongoing funding, these interventions would not be possible for Thary and many others alike. The long-term vision is to see this Cambodian village become self-sustaining, but the first step to achieving this is to educate students like Thary, to equip them with the tools to paddle against the current.
(Below: A rap I wrote as a teenager, to convey the hardships that many Cambodians had to face in recent history)