FROM PHNOM PENH
Charity begins at home...
I would like to share about a recent activity in Teuk Thla Don Bosco School with you, which I hope will be an encouragement for the work you are doing with ACTS.
Last December, a couple of high school students approached my fellow volunteer, Clare, to suggest organising a charity concert, to raise funds for the poor; not for the poor students in Don Bosco but for the poor in Cambodian society. We were pleasantly surprised by this suggestion and the Sisters agreed to support it. The money from the concert would go to a local public school in Tuolvihear village in Kampong Cham province, about 2 hours away from Phnom Penh.
After 5 months of planning, the inaugural Don Bosco Charity Concert took place on 28 May. There was much excitement among the students and staff. This was the first time we were having an event like this and all 800 tickets that were put on sale had been sold out. Held in the high school hall, a variety of items were on show, including songs, dances, a magic show and even a taichi demonstration. Most of the performances were put up by our own students together with some of our past pupils and other invited groups.
During the event, groups from both the food technology vocation school and the high school sold food and drinks, adding to the carnival-like atmosphere. While it was hard work pulling the whole event together, I believe our students and guests, many of whom were the families and friends of our students, enjoyed themselves in the process.
A visit to the local school
On 24 June, about 35 students from Don Bosco Teuk Thla made a trip to Tuolvihear to visit the local school that the funds from the concert will go towards. Together with a few teachers and Sisters, they cleaned the classrooms, planted flowers, put up a mini-concert and danced and played with the Tuolvihear school children. Our students earlier also pooled money to provide a yoghurt drink for each of the 300 children, in addition to the donut and stationery supplies that were given to each child.
As I watched our Don Bosco youths, I could see how much they enjoyed themselves doing this for the local children. After we left, I asked some of our students how they felt. Many were very happy and felt fulfilled. A number shared that their happiness stemmed from being able to help others and share with the poor.
Cultivating a spirit of giving
Personally, I was very touched by our students’ initiative to have a charity concert for a few reasons. First, as you know, Don Bosco is a school for the poor. While some families of our high school students are now better off than when they were first admitted into kindergarten/ elementary school, there is still a good proportion of families who are not well to do. It is wonderful that they are able to think about others who are in worse off situations than themselves.
Secondly, over the past months living here, I have come to realise that the culture of giving to the poor is generally not very prevalent in Cambodian society. It seems that there is a large reliance on foreign aid that far overshadows the efforts by people in Cambodia to help their own Khmer people. It is a view that I believe, is shared by other foreigners who are involved in the social mission here. Thirdly, I am grateful that while our students have been receiving and continue to receive a lot from foreign groups, they are sensitive to the realities in their society and have a heart for the poor.
I believe this gesture from the students is an affirmation of the work that the Sisters have been doing in Cambodia, as well as of the mission trips that ACTS has come on. In the Don Bosco school environment, there are constant reminders about loving and giving to others both in words and in tangible actions, not least through the way the teachers and Sisters care for and approach each student. Besides this, groups like ACTS who come to give of themselves to the children would most likely also have an impact on them.
One question which my students asked me when I first came to live in Phnom Penh, “Why did you come to Cambodia?” It is a question which they may consciously or subconsciously ask when other friends from overseas come to spend time with them. It may only be a short 1-week that ACTS is here every year. But I believe that the consistent repeated visits together with the love and care we show through our activities and interactions with them would have made an impression in one way or another. Only God knows how He has used each person to plant the seed of love and the spirit of giving in the hearts of our Don Bosco children.
Through this sharing, I hope to encourage each of you in the journey that God has called you to, both in your individual lives as well as in ACTS
In the words of St Paul, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.” (1 Thess 5:16-19). Let us continue to open our hearts to the promptings of the Holy Spirit as we pray for the courage and strength to do what God calls us to.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!
With love and blessings