AAP staff report
In collaboration with Global Connections Project, the Pan Asian Office at Augsburg College invited students from its campus along with others from Cardinal Stritch University, the University of Minnesota Augsburg alumni and community members to participate in its annual service trip to Cambodia.
The group spent two weeks in Cambodia last winter break and included Nikki Yang, Houa Lor, Rayka Huq, Jayzong Chang, Maizoua Vang, Mai Yer Vang, May K Vang, Tasha Soundara, Alex Pongmany, and Penh Lo, group leader.
“Cambodia… a land of contrast,” said Penh Soni Lo, director of the Pan Asian Center at Augsburg. “Being back and seeing the changes over the past 10 years fills me with hope.
The two-week trip was a chance to volunteer at New Life Center, an orphanage that the Global Connections Project built last year. The students helped to teach conversational English in Neanglem village about 20 miles from Battambang.
Tasha Soundara said the experience of teaching the students was a very humbling because it made her reflect on how different her life could of been if her own parents hadn’t come to America.
“I could of been any of those students sitting there and all the things that we take for granted in America become insignificant when you see how far the students travel to come to school and how little supplies they need to learn,” said Soundara. “We get consumed with so much materialistic needs that we forget that an eager mind is all that is needed to learn.”
Rayka Huq said the students were well behaved. They all stood up when she entered the room and did not sit down until they were told. “They had a real eagerness to learn,” she said. “This is something you definitely don’t see in the U.S. every day.”
Alex Pongmany said he had a great time with the kids at the orphanage. “They are full of energy and accepted us in open arms,” he said. “They will be missed but never forgotten.”
The students explored the effects of tourism on Sihanoukvillle region while shadowing two young women that the project has been sponsoring.
Rayka Huq said the two women became so close to the group that is was difficult to leave them after just a few days.
“It’s crazy to think about the fact that they work to pay for their school, house, and food,” Huq said. “At merely age 16 and 12 they are the main providers for their families. I can’t imagine supporting my family at the age I am at now, and it saddens me to know that they weren’t able to enjoy their childhood like I was since they had to mature quickly in order to provide for their families.”
Houa Lor said she is reminded of what it means to be thoughtful stewards in our own community and the world we live in.
“Stewardship is not merely a volunteer service for one day or when I have time, but is rather the responsibility and commitment to cultivate the lives of other human beings,” said Lor.
Maizoua Vang said she was paired with two students who she taught classroom conversational English. At first, she said it was difficult to communicate at all but that after some creativeness from herself and her students they were able to accomplish a great deal.
“I am more than thankful to be a part of this great opportunity for them, as it is a great opportunity for myself as well,” Vang said.
Nikki Yang recalls the Angkor Wat temples as an amazing historical and magnificent place. “Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t the Angkor Wat temples that made a significant impression on me, but the children that we had saw there,” Yang said.
Nikki Yang recalls visiting the infamous Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It was a former school that was turned into a concentration camp during the Pol Pot regime in the 1970s.
“It was such an eerie and heavy feeling walking through the buildings knowing that people were tortured and killed in the same exact ground that I was stepping on,” Yang said. “If you look close enough at the photo, you can see the stains of blood left behind from the victims that were tortured on the bed.
“Living in the U.S., I think we often forget how much our parents have had to go through in order to give us the opportunities that we are so privileged to have now. The stories and struggles of our parents and grandparents are such amazing stories; we must never forget where and who we come from.
Rayka Huq said the S21 Genocide museum was a horrifying experience to seei the actual rooms and prison cells where victims were tortured, along with paintings showing exactly how they were tortured.
“There were so many emotions running through my mind while visiting this museum,” Huq said. “Sadness and pain for the massive amounts of innocent victims that were killed, and anger and frustration. I felt a lot of anger and frustration because I just can’t comprehend how a single human being can kill so many innocent people and not feel any remorse for it.”
Four high ranking leaders of this genocide are alive today, including Leng Sana who was finally taken to prison in 2007. Sentenced to death, Leng’s attorneys negotiated a life sentence for him while his Khmer Rouge regime ordered millions of people killed that did not enjoy such a system of justice.
Founded in January 2010, Global Connections Project has been the lifelong work and vision of Shawn (Tuoch) and Penh (Soni).
Shawn and Penh are children of the wars in Southeast Asia which resulted in the mass exodus of Southeast Asian refugees to the United States. After several individual trips to Southeast Asia for charitable projects, they recognize the need for humanitarian work in Southeast Asia.
By luck, they met through various networks and started collaborating. As a result, Global Connections Project formed with an all-volunteer staff and board. www.globalconnectionsproject.org