Al: Perhaps my most significant experience ever
An Bình A, Vietnam
We are winding down our time in Cambodia. Yesterday was my last day with two of my teachers and our students. On my way in the tuk-tuk I was reading some comments I wanted to make to my kids. I knew I was in trouble when I teared up as I reviewed my notes. It really hit me how significant this experience has been in my life. The health issues I have experienced were worth it because of my deep connection with the children.
Onn is my favorite teacher. We worked as co-teachers throughout my stay. The class was waiting for me and gave their formal greetings to their teacher asking how you are. Onn and I hugged and cried before I could even talk to the class. Onn always refers to me as pa-pa that he describes as a word of respect and love.
I gave him a gift and a note expressing how I felt about him. We exchanged e-mail addresses so we could stay connected.
I addressed our class and told them how honored I was to be their teacher and that I loved them. I told them how lucky they were to have a teacher like Onn and they should always pay attention to him. I told them they must get educated to be successful.
We took many pictures and cried together. These children had a dramatic impact on me. Maybe because of how unimaginable their lives have been on the dump and they still have such positive attitudes and zest for life. They have had no idea where their next meal might come from. I truly love them.
After doing the same thing in Boray's class, I returned to Onn's class and every child was pretty much crying uncontrollably. Onn asked them to say what they would like to me. (All in Kami). One boy was hysterically crying and spoke many times about what I meant to him. Another boy asked me to be his father. The whole scene blew me away emotionally.
Onn came up to Joyce and me and asked if we would be his pa-pa and ma-ma. Truly a moving moment. When I was waiting for the van afer class, 30-40 kids swarmed around me and hugged me. The kids gave "I love you Al" notes and a stuffed kangaroo with a baby in its pouch. To me it symbolozed Pa-Pa and his grandkids.
I believe being an older male had a great impact on these children. I suspect there are few grandfather figures in their lives given that there's a life expectancy of 63 along with their recent genocide history. There is great respect in Cambodia for their elders.
This was the most moving experience I can remember. It's hard to believe that a Chicago Westside kid could be so blown away. I just needed to share this experience.
Thanks for listening.