Hands behind the bigger picture

Simla Sooboodoo

Upon our travels, a heartwarming moment is seemingly around every corner; brief lapses of time that epitomize. Entering a tiny village, outside the ancient temples of Angkor near Siem Reap, our group was greeted with broad smiles and open arms.

Rising from her hammock, the matriarch of the community comes quickly to meet familiar and new faces alike. Yeay , a charismatic 76-year old woman, is surrounded by children of all ages. As more people empty into a common area, it becomes quite clear that the average age of the community is well into the teens. For Yeay, the essentials are hard to provide to this group of orphaned children and few adults.

The opportunity to empower these people is clear, but simply giving a handout is not enough to create a long-term solution. As hard-working as the people may be, it is clear that simple can-collecting is not a feasible way to allow the community’s ingenuity to shine brightly.

Some of the smallest acts can speak volumes for the spirit of humanity. A few months earlier, I met a girl in this particular village with a bright smile and a twinkle in her eye. As our relationship developed, she slowly revealed one of her talents, one of many… I expect. With a sharpened stick and a dusty road as a canvas, this teenage girl, Kaneya, drew a beautiful caricature of me that drew a tear to my eye. Despite a lack of the fancy art supplies that we are so familiar with in the developed world, her artistic skills thrived.

Once armed with a pack of colored pencils and a proper notepad, Kaneya was able to do one of the things she does best; furthermore, she was able to inspire others to develop their own skills. By the end of our visit, each of us had drawings safely folded in our pockets. If this young woman is able to inspire with such a small gift, then what potential exists within the community on a larger scale?

Very much like the artist with ample ability but limited resources, the community as a whole, need an opportunity to produce the best portrait possible. Cambodia, along with the rest of Southeast Asia, is a hotbed of street food culture. People with a small investment can take to the road to sell local specialties of all flavors. Our mission this go-around was to provide these wonderful people with a way to sustain, grow, and bloom brightly.

Through the advice of elders, a food cart was identified as a necessary tool for sustainable income. With every hand involved, no matter the size, the cart was built and recipes were taught. Hearty laughs were shared by all in the kitchen as concoctions were tested, tweaked, and distributed generously to everyone.

Now colorfully painted and fully stocked, the new cart was wheeled to the local market with anxious anticipation. Realistically low expectations were squashed quite quickly as banana and Nutella pancakes began to churn steadily from the mobile stove-top. The concerns of weary cooks were relieved and nervousness turned slowly into pride. As the day roared along, like the motos along the village road, the cashier’s pockets filled with tattered U.S. Dollar and Khmer Riel notes

Collecting more money than nearly 3-4 weeks’ worth of cans, the first phase seemed to be a success. Smiles of success were cast upon face as the first day of work was full-heartedly completed. No matter how small the contribution, every member of the village had put a piece of themselves into the cart. Through the help of skills found within people from around the world, the dusty road towards true empowerment was paved.

Thankfully, HOJs Tribe Travelers and the other children’s drawings upon the cart will be proudly exhibited for years to come as the new business grows from the bottom up.

By Simla Sooboodoo

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