A rant, a rave, a bunch of jarbled thoughts.
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When I came to Siem Reap in the beginning of April to meet with Tobias and Will (hereinafter referred to as "the boys") about Human Translation's projects, I felt like I had a basic understanding of Cambodia and some of the problems Human Translation is trying to address here. I had absolutely no idea how big (or in this case, how small) the organization was or in what capacity I could help them.
The night I met the boys, we talked a good deal not only about the organization, but also about how each of us had landed in this remote little corner of the world. Hearing each of their stories (which are so similar to mine) was kind of heartwarming...but what really stuck with me was a conversation that I had with Tobias that evening over dinner. He told me his story of coming to Cambodia several years ago as a backpacker and randomly meeting a group of monks. These monks must have seen something in Tobias, as they insisted he join them in a trip to the outlying community of Balang....at which point they took him to a depleted dam (which had been destroyed in 2004 - leaving the community of 9,000 people without water to grow their crops - a virtual death sentence in a place like Cambodia) and asked him to help them to rebuild it. He continued his story and told me how he felt at such a loss - he wasn't rich, he didn't know anything about constructing a dam or raising the money for such a tremendous project...but he told them he'd see what he could do and returned home to Northern California, where he eventually founded Human Translation.
Through spreading the story of the people of Balang and relying solely on private funding through networks of friends and friends of friends, Human Translation has succeeded in starting the reconstruction of the dam, along with various other health initiatives for the families of Balang. This, of course, is the very condensed version of the Human Translation story...there are so many other people who have devoted their time, energy and money to this vision.
Needless to say, I was somewhat dumbfounded by this well educated, 26 year old who has given up a well paying job and a comfortable life in California to spend his time, energy and own personal finances to help out people who he essentially had no connection with. When I told him how impressed I was with his selflessness, he said something that really truck with me: he said that when given the opportunity, anyone would make the effort to help people in need.
Now, as much as I really want believe that, I come from a little different school of thought. While I do believe that people are essentially good, I also tend to believe that most people are essentially self-absorbed. At least, I know I am. I think that in theory, everyone wants to do things to help the less fortunate, but the reality is that the average person is more concerned with their own family, their career, their new car or being able to meet up with friends for happy hour and with the millions of people throughout the world who are starving to death, dying of diseases it only takes dollars to cure, or being forced into the sex trafficking trade. I think that we have all become numb to these things. We see it on the news, until we turn the channel to watch out favorite reality show. We catch glimpses of it in movies that star people like Leonardo DiCaprio...and for a little while we feel sad and say "how tragic", but rarely does it ever touch us or inspire us to actually go out and do something about it. We are so far removed from the despair, poverty and injustice throughout so much of the world (as well as in our own countries) that to many of us it's just something we catch a glimpse of while we're flipping through our 200+ TV channels. It seldom touches us or speaks directly to our souls. We forget that these sad looking people on our TV's are real people...and we easily ignore the fact that had we been unfortunate enough to be born in the wrong country, any one of these people could be us, our friends, our families.
It's not that I think people don't care. My friends and family are some of the most compassionate and caring people I know. I think it's that, as a society, we don't understand that everyone is capable of doing something to improve the lives of others...others who are desperately in need of help. I think that people turn off all these images on the TV because they feel helpless and it's too depressing to think about.
So now I come to the question I've been asking myself since I got here: What can I, someone with no background in nonprofits, someone who knows virtually nothing about fundraising, healthcare, medicine or building a sustainable water system, what can I possibly do to help these people? I've never been a "do-gooder", I'm not the person who is always vying for a cause and trying to get others involved. I've never been passionate about anything that didn't involve food, skydiving or traveling (ok, or men). It's humbling to realize how small and insignificant we all are, yet how much potential there is to band together to make a positive change in the world. Maybe I'm just getting to where Tobias and countless others before him started out. And little by little, I am learning.
I really believe in what we're doing over here, and I really believe that we all have the capacity to make the world a better place, be it through an organization like Human Translation, or through endeavors in our own communities. We just have to open our eyes a little to see the opportunities that are all around us.
Thanks for reading.