As we round the last bend towards our new home the sun has just sunk below the palm lined horizon, and we are filled with a sense of excitement and anticipation beyond most things I’ve felt before. This is it. The moment we have been waiting for and planning for over 12 months has finally arrived. And now here we are, pulling up in a tiny rural village about to make the final 100 metre march across the beach to our bamboo hut. I step off the bus and let my bare feet feel the red dirt beneath them, looking all around, taking in a scene so foreign it feels like a dream.
The village is no more than 1km squared and consists of huts made from scrap tin metal, palm fronds, bamboo and any other materials that can be found lying around. I’ve seen this kind of housing and abject poverty before in India and Africa, but had never actually given consideration to the fact that I’d soon be living in it. It hits me hard, much harder than I ever anticipated and a groundswell of mixed emotions run through me. As we unload our packs however, we are immediately greeted with screams of “Helloooo” from a handful of local kids with smiles so warm and bright that I can’t help but laugh out loud. One minute into our journey and it’s been confirmed for us – we have made the right decision. These kids are beautiful and they are reason we are here.
We are in southern Cambodia, about 7 kms from the Vietnamese border where we are working with Baby Tree Projects to build the Sophia Saly School. We have joined a group of about 12 volunteers from Australia who have been here for a couple of weeks already, laying the foundations and bricks for the new building. Tomorrow Louis and I will hit the ground running and have our first full day of building and we both can’t wait to get into it. The whole crew here have already made us feel so welcome, offering insights and advice without hesitation, and more importantly, providing us with an almost endless 24 hours of laughter. I’m so excited to get to know each of them more and more over the next 2 months and continue to laugh as much as we have this weekend.
“Home” is a 10×5 metre bamboo hut set back from the water line by no more than 30 metres. At the back of the hut is a small kitchen/cooking area and toilet, with the rest of the hut divided by ten double size mosquito nets, or “Mong’s”. Each mong sleeps two people, so privacy is now officially a thing of the past. We sleep on straw mats on the floor with a single blanket each and no pillows, although a few of us brought along self inflating air mattresses which has turned out to be a stroke of genius in hindsight. There is no running water, and we have a small window of electricity most nights to charge essential items. It’s a simple existence, and it is beautiful beyond words.
Village life is not only centred around working as a community but completely dependant on it, and it’s no different for the volunteers. We are paid US$3 a day for our work on the school build, 70c of which goes to rent for the hut. If we are to survive as a team then we need to pool our wages together and work as one when buying food for the week. Cooking, Washing and cleaning is also on a rotating roster with each person playing a role in the day to day running and up-keep of the hut. It’s not like anything either of us have ever done before and to walk this new path already feels incredibly liberating…
I’m not sure what to expect of the week ahead, and I quite like the idea of having no expectations. All that I know is that if it get’s any better than my first impressions, I’ll be the happiest I’ve ever been. I now know what people mean when they say that following your heart and your dreams gives you a feeling so sensationally beautiful it cannot be described nor replicated in any way. I feel full of love, gratitude and light like never before and only hope this feeling grows throughout our time here and beyond.
Drew & Louis