I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy. – Kahlil Gibran
The rickety drive up the bumpy, pot-holed path to Savong’s School was always one of suppressed excitement; the pit of my stomach would all at once fill with a joyful anticipation and a minute apprehension, mingling and coalescing into a nervous sort of thrill.
It was always a delight teaching the children; they have a voracious appetite for knowledge and face learning with an avidity hardly seen in other kids – an ardor love for learning born from the acute need and want to improve oneself. The children have not forgotten how to dream – they still believe that anything is possible – and it is that belief that unknowingly propels them forward and drives them to learn. It was a blessing to be able to teach them and aid them in their journey towards a better future – many of these children will eventually go on to university and perhaps even find a job as an accountant, lawyer, or doctor – a much brighter future than most orphans in any poverty-stricken country could hope for.
And yet each day I returned, I faced a mounting apprehension.
Everyday we came back, the children’s faces would light up with a profuse joy, and their angular, spindly arms would hug us tighter, their bubbling voices would belt out tunes louder; and every evening we left, Melise would make me pinky promise we’d be back the next day.
It was touching, but it was also incredibly saddening to know that we would eventually have to leave for Singapore.
And that’s when I began questioning myself – what were we doing? How were we benefitting the kids? Why were we doing this?
It certainly wasn’t for the children. That may have been an initial (and slightly delusional and presumptuous) intention, but the more attached the kids were to us (and vice versa), the more unsure I was of just how much we could help the kids. The last day/ ‘goodbye’ was a heart-wrenching, hour-long affair that included long hugs and hidden tears.
I can’t imagine living that sort of life – one filled with sporadic bursts of affection from strangers; strangers that had become best friends in a matter of days, and then left.
How were we making a positive difference in their lives? Granted, we were teaching them English in ways their Cambodian teachers could not (and throwing them incredibly hard maths problems!), but the short term nature of our service would have barely made any impact on their lives. Our continual coming and going, however, would eventually affect their take on the nature of love and affection – and not entirely positively.
And so it is with a heavy heart and a murky sense of confusion (and even guilt) that I return to Singapore.
It was a genuinely rewarding experience for all of us, I think. I always feel incredibly humbled after coming back from service trips; and I always thoroughly enjoy teaching the kids. The most wonderful feeling in the world is feeling like you’ve made a difference in someone’s life. (& Claire finally developed a tolerance for children!)
But going to an orphanage for a transient spell hardly merits a sense of self-satisfaction or pride.
And so we will return to Savong’s school soon enough.
Anyone up for a trip next year?