Ten medical students from the National University of Singapore and 46 parishioners from Church of Our Lady Queen of Peace shelved their usual year-end holiday plans and, instead, went to a village 30 minutes from Phnom Penh called Phum Chreh, where they spent seven days in mid-Dcember. Leonard Koh was one of the enthusiastic missioners. This is his report on his experience.
THE GROUP CONSISTED of Catholics and non-Catholics with the youngest being only nine years old and the eldest 75. We coined a term for the trip – “Advent Cambodia Trips” (ACTs). The “s” at the end was added to indicate that there will be more such mission trips.
This mission trip was inspired by Dr John Lee and his family who had been to Phum Chreh six times before. Collaborating with the Salesian sisters of the Don Bosco Foundation of Cambodia, they helped secure funds to build a school for 400 children, provided medical care and basic necessities to the children and their families.
The Salesians of Don Bosco is a Roman Catholic order founded in the late 19th century by St. John Bosco to care for young and poor children through works of charity and education.
When Dr Lee was asked why he decided to make it a parish activity, he replied, “What other better way to manifest the spirit of Advent and to bring the parish community together?”
Hatching the idea was the easy part, then came the worry of not having the critical mass to even have a trip. But more than 40 parishioners signed up! The steering committee was quickly established. There was the inevitable clashing of ideas and personalities but they were quickly resolved in the face of a common objective to provide relief to the less fortunate in Cambodia.
The 30 youths taught elementary English, Science, Mathematics and Arts and Crafts to children from Primary One through to Primary Six, taught nursery rhymes and games to the younger ones, and exhibited their artistic talent through a mural for a kindergarten.
Deborah, 19, a youth of the parish and daughter of Dr Lee, upon seeing her father in action, realized her calling, “I want to be a doctor so I can improve the quality of life of these children.”
Towards the end of the trip, when asked if she would opt for such trips again, she proclaimed with a resounding “Of course!”
The adults packed “Love packages” for the 100 poorest families and 1,000 goodie bags for the children in Phum Chreh and its sister school in Tuek Thla. Each package contained daily necessities like a mosquito net, 10 kilograms of rice, bathing soap, washing detergent, and cooking oil. As it was the yuletide season, each child's goodie bag contained candies, biscuits and a tetra pack of fruit juice. In addition, they also visited the AIDs home run by the Missionary of Charity to bring Christmas joy and warmth to the children and infants.
For me, I never understood the joy of giving till I saw the tears of gratitude in the children's parent's eyes when we handed out the “Love packages”or the brilliant childlike laughter of the children we played with. Words of Mother Teresa suddenly made perfect sense: “You were not called to do big things, but little ones with love.”
I thought I was going to Cambodia to give but I received more in return and, in receiving, I now have more to give.