What do you want to be when you grow up? This is a question that everyone is asked over and over again when they are young. At the age of 5, we say we want to be astronauts or fire fighters. At 13, we say doctors or lawyers. When we get to 18, the adult world suddenly puts a terribly heavy weight on our shoulders which is full of decisions and choices that push us towards taking the ‘right’ path, the path that will lead us to a well-paid job, buying a house and starting a family. Being 18 for the last 10 months has made me realise that I am nowhere near ready to be a part of this cycle. When I was 5, I wanted to save the world. When I was 13, I still wanted to save the world. And now at the very young age of 18, I don’t just want to save the world, I want to change it.
I started volunteering with the Cambodian Kids Foundation (CKF) when I was 15. After a year of working in Color Me Cooper, a fair trade clothing retailer run by CKF, and volunteering at CKF’s local fundraisers, I had the opportunity to travel to Cambodia. No one ever told me Cambodia would become such a big part of my life, and that my volunteer trip, at the age of 16, would change how I see the world forever.
Arriving in Cambodia, I experienced things I never imagined. It was extremely hot, everyone drove wherever they wanted on the roads (there were no left or right lanes, or ones that were used properly), and the streets of Phnom Penh were tremendously confronting. The half an hour tuk-tuk ride from the airport to the centre of the capital made me realise that giving, teaching and helping is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Soksan International School located in Soksan Village, 4 hours out of the capital of Phnom Penh, was opened 7 years ago by CKF. In the school, I taught English, health, music, dance, sport and art. I participated in women and children’s outreach discussion groups, answering and discussing questions about sexual health. I formed close relationships with the Khmer teachers at the school, working with them to improve their classes and teaching methods.
The days were long with beautiful 5am sunrises, and late 10pm bed times. They were filled with teaching, soccer and adventures with children all over the village. There was also night classes, delicious Soksan Village style meals, and late night discussions with the other volunteers.
Volunteering with the Cambodian Kids Foundation was the most eye-opening and life changing experience. When I came back from Cambodia, I was so motivated to help the children and teachers of Soksan Village, I initiated ‘Busking for Change.’ By gathering local musicians, street performers and other talented acts to busk on the street, with all profits going directly to CKF. We were extremely grateful for the amount of talented friends and local musicians who were willing to give their time to raise money. I found a new talent to perform every weekend, and we ended up raising over $2,000 for the foundation.
When I was 18, I went back to Cambodia to Soksan Village and got to visit my friends I had worked with the previous year. I formed even closer relationships and I again taught many subjects alongside the teachers. Having the opportunity to volunteer twice in Soksan Village allowed me to see the incredible changes that happened in the village. All the children I had met the previous year had improved in their English speaking, writing and readings skills; there was an amazing new cooking and gardening area that had been designed and made by the students and teachers; and there were new lesson plans and classes that had been developed by the teachers to provide students with a larger range of subjects.
I have a very close friend in Cambodia who I met the second time I travelled there called Pidor. When I first met her she was very shy and unsure of herself. After I left Cambodia, we talked once a day for 6 months. We would call each other and I would ask her how she was, and what she was doing. She would tell me that she was tired and had no job and very little money, and I would try to motivate her to apply for jobs and do things that made her happy. After 6 months of speaking to her every night, she called me to tell me that she got a job at a private school and that she was extremely happy because she and her husband were having a baby. I was very proud of Pidor and I feel like I have formed an incredibly strong relationship where I can help to empower Pidor and motivate her to achieve her best. Forming relationships and empowering individuals is something I am very passionate about, and I think it is important for people to not only be taught the basics of maths and English, but to have the opportunity to learn about the world and be able to share our stories with each other, because experiences and friendships are the most important part to achieving a happy life.
This year, new and exciting things are happening! I have been selected as a Youth Ambassador for the Global Volunteer Network. I want to be a part of a global movement for positive change, and I believe that with Global Volunteer Network, I can expand my vision and knowledge as a change maker. GVN has given me the opportunity to experience and volunteer all over the world, and with my passion to make a positive difference in this world, I have a responsibility to create change to reach that vision. To change the world, I need to continue on my journey of travelling to other countries, meeting new people, forming new relationships, and empowering every person I meet to work towards achieving goals that make them happy.
In two months I will be 19, and when I grow up, I want to continue to make positive changes all over the world.
*To support Bridie with her goal of travelling with us to Uganda as a GVN Foundation Youth Ambassador visit her fundraising page.*