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Christmas in Cambodia

Posted: 22 february 2013

We are Marius and Marcelina, a young couple from Germany and we have been living in Asia for 2.5 years. During that time we visited most of the countries in the region. One of them was Cambodia in December 2012. It turned out to be one of the most special trips of our lives. Having learned that education is overall not much supported by the government and the children need to pay for school lessons every day in cash to their teacher, we felt happy to help some of the kids hanging around at the temples of Angkor who sell postcards and other souvenirs. The poverty is obvious all around and after a while it felt not satisfying at all to help with a dollar or two or to dispense soap or a one-way toothbrush from the hotel. We knew there must be more we could do.

It was only by chance that we found a flyer from SOID in our hotel. We asked for an appointment with the director Mr Sok Vanna who was happy to introduce his project to us. As the first time we met him at the school was on a Saturday, he asked us to return on Monday when the children are back for their lessons. This Monday was not just any day, it was Christmas 24th December. Very quickly it was apparent that this Christmas would become unforgettable. We met the first shift of children in the morning, treating them with sweets and chocolate. As the venue of the school is not big enough to teach all 150 children at one time they arrive in morning and afternoon shifts. Vanna also showed us the orphanage where 8 of the orphans live. We saw that there is a need to help not only with rice but also with concrete furniture etc. That's why we decided to donate 2 closets for clothes and a big rice cooker so that all children can eat together at the same time instead of waiting for the next portion to be ready. We also sponsored 150 toothbrushes and toothpastes for the children at school and loads of rice. In the afternoon, we met the rest of the kids at school and had a special experience that we never have had before: we were attending classes and found ourselves in math lessons of the secondary level! This was quite fun as the 24th December is always a very special festive day in Europe and nobody is ever seen in school.

Much to our surprise we learned that the kids also celebrate Christmas at school. The Christmas party took place at the very next day and we got invited! We felt like special guests of honour although the children deserve most of the attention of course. These kids start life from a very miserable and unfortunate place and just don't have the chance at home to experience a celebration with presents, sweets and treats. So we played games with them, danced like crazy and just celebrated the joy of Christmas. However, when it came to presents we learned again a big lesson! We have been asked to dispense the presents to the little ones: a pencil and a notebook! Of course, this is what they need most. If they cannot write along in school, they cannot learn properly. For the western world, it is tough to compare the presents that our children find under the Christmas tree with the gifts these children receive - and only thanks to SOID they even get them!

Surely, Christmas season celebrations cannot happen without special yummy snacks and sweets. Another shock for us, as we found ourselves handing out to every kid a small bottle of fresh water, a piece of watermelon and a piece of toast with condense milk!!! That's it - for Christmas! We were fighting tears of sadness and the kids had tears of joy. To see the children playing and jumping around was an overwhelming experience. They were just enjoying themselves because they had a toast with condense milk as if it was THE best thing in the world. It was this moment when we knew that SOID will become a part of our future in order to support this school.

The feeling of happiness thinking back to these 5 days will never disappear. Once someone touches your heart you will never forget! The first time that "Christmas spirit" was not just a word but reality.

Marius and Marcelina, Singapore