Friday, December 17, 2010

Travel Can Make You Grateful

My husband and I recently returned from an absolutely amazing once-in-a-lifetime trip that checked off the top item on his Bucket List. We took a two and a half week trip to Cambodia and Myanmar to photograph the ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples in the Angkor Wat complex in Cambodia and the plains of Bagan in Myanmar (Burma). We also saw the sights in the cities of Phnom Penh in Cambodia and Yangon and Mandalay in Myanmar and photographed people engaging in day-to-day activities in the markets, fishing and farming villages, shipyards and monasteries and nunneries.

Once my husband processes the thousands of photos we took, I'll blog about the trip on my personal blog, probably after the holidays. However, in keeping with the theme of gratitude, thankfulness, and grace of recent Inkspot posts this holiday season, I wanted to talk about one experience I had on the trip that really touched me.

We took a break from touring temples in the Angkor Wat area one day to visit the Cambodia Landmine Museum and Relief Centre in Siem Reap, Cambodia. This center exists to tell the history of war and landmines in Cambodia, to show how landmines are removed, and to tell the unique story of Aki Ra, a former child soldier of the Khmer Rouge who after the war began clearing landmines and caring for dozens of wounded, handicapped, orphaned and destitute children affected by landmines. He was chosen by CNN as one of their Top Ten Heros for 2010. The center is also a place where these children live and receive medical care and an education. I hope you'll go to the website to read more about the center.

We were lucky that William Morse was at the center that day and offered to give our group a personalized tour. William and his wife are Americans who now live in Siem Reap and work at the center. She is an experienced teacher who teaches the young children at the center, and he is a project manager, fundraiser, and organizer for the American charity, Landmine Relief Fund, that channels money to Aki Ra's Self Help Demining nonprofit organization. I hope you'll read about these two organizations at their websites, too. While there are many NGO's (non-government organizations) working in Cambodia to clear minefields, only Aki Ra's organization is entirely run by native Cambodians and works with people living in small, low-priority farming villages to clear their croplands of dangerous mines.

By giving up their cushy life in the US to live in Cambodia and help landmine victims, William and his wife are inspirational examples. But even more so is Aki Ra, who survived the trauma of being forced by the Khmer Rouge to become a child soldier and is now helping people affected by the war. And the courage of the children is inspirational. While we didn't meet them, we saw pictures of their smiling faces as they learned how to live with missing limbs or other disabilities.

Compared to them, I couldn't help but feel gratitude for my health, my safety, and my relative wealth. I hope you, too, will read this and be grateful for your blessings, and maybe decide to share some of those blessings. You may have your own favorite causes to support, but if you're moved to support the causes I mentioned, there are at least three ways you can contribute:

- Support the museum operation and care and education of the children
- Support the museum's outreach fund that constructs rural schools
- Support the clearing of landmines in rural Cambodian villages


Lisa Bork said...

Beth - Sounds like an amazing trip! I'll be looking forward to your other posts about it.

Vicki Doudera said...

I checked out Aki Ra's page and some of your other links. I had no idea how huge this issue is. Thank you for enlightening us regarding Cambodia. Travel definitely teaches as well!

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Thanks for this wonderful post, Beth. I've read quite a bit about this issue, but to see it up close and personal is something you will never forget. Glad you had such a lovely trip all around.

Darrell James said...

Beth- It sounds like a truly worthwhile experience. I'll be looking forward to seeing photos. Thanks for a very enlightening post.

Kathleen Ernst said...

What an amazing experience you had. Thanks for sharing, and for reminding all of us how fortunate we are.

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone. This trip included many once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and the visit to the landmine museum was just one of them. Visiting poor rural farming villages or fishing villages and seeing how happy the people are with so little is yet another way to feel grateful for what you have.

Jessie Chandler said...

What a lifetime experience you and your husband had, Beth! Amazing. Thank you for sharing. I hope the holidays find you all safe and healthy.