Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The most often asked question is.....

Wow! This week is the first week of lessons and meeting classmates. The most exchanged greeting is "Happy New Year" and the most asked question is "How's your holidays?" My answer to the question is "Tiring but Fulfilling!"

It is definitely a tiring holiday as barely a week after the 25th Anniversary celebrations of the Seminary, I packed my bags and left for a week with the young people from my parish for a retreat in Malacca. Less than 48hrs after it ended, I was on a plane to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, for a 6-day mission trip with the ACTs (Advent Cambodia Trips) from Queen of Peace Parish. Less than a week after I returned, it is Christmas, New Year and the start of Seminary year!! See how packed it is..... Phew!

This Cambodia mission trip is the second trip orgainsed by this parish and this year, almost 120 people signed up, with young and old and even a group of youths from St Vincent de Paul parish. We had the priviledge to have Fr Erbin, Fr Joseph Yao and Fr David Garcia with us in this trip.

What did we do there? The youth planned some lessons and taught the children in some of the schools run by the Salesian Sisters. Don't know how successful they were because of the language barrier, but all of us, teachers and students, definitely enjoyed ourselves. We also helped to distribute the lunches to the students.

As you can see in the picture, it is just a simple meal of rice and soup, maybe too simple for the majority of the children in Singapore, but this is a precious meal for these children, which may be the only decent meal they get in a day. I can still remember that there was a young child crying loudly when he approached the serving table to discover that the rice had finished. He must have thought that there was no more rice for him. Thankfully the kitchen had prepared more than enough for everyone.

I joined them for the lunch as well and though it was a simple meal, it was one of the best meals I had, and it really tasted good. The simple things in life......

Besides the teaching, there were also games planned. Hey! These are youths you know... young people with tremendous amount of energy...

The adults on the trip were busy for the first few days packing goodie bags for the children to be given during the Christmas Party and also some basic necessities (like rice, sugar, soap, canned food etc) for the poor villagers.

You can see some of the villagers queuing up to receive their 'goodie' bag as well. There was really a lot of hard work involved if you know the number of bags that were packed.

We also went to the Jesuit Vocational Training School and the Missionaries of Charity Home for HIV infected children and distributed some of the of the goodie bags to them.

Some of the children were so excited in receiving the presents that they opened them and enjoyed themselves with the contents immediately, as can be seen in the above snapshot.

We were also brought around to visit a small village.

The villagers have no tap water and relied on a pond filled with lotus plants, for their water needs. They will get water from this pond for their drinking and cooking. How fortunate for us to get drinkable water straight with a turn of our taps.

Was there mention of a Christmas party for the children? You remembered right. The School organised a Christmas party for the children and they put up performances and of course, the Singapore youths put up some items as well. There was also Santa Clause who was flew over all the way from Singapore! Don't really recognise him but he looks suspiciously familiar though...

Finally, here is a picture of part of the mural painted by the youths from Singapore.

Remember that Jesus is always waiting to welcome us into his arms like little children.

For more pictures, you can visit my FaceBook page to view them.


Rebecca said...

Hi, although I do not want to be a wet blanket, I want to highlight a point that many NGOs told me when I was in Phnom Penh.... that many church/university groups from Singapore and Malaysia who went to Cambodia on "missionary trip" are to them "poverty tourism". Many traveled in air-con coaches, go for sight-seeing and perhaps pop in one or two orphanages and spent some time with the children all in a period of 7 to 10 days. Although, they very much welcome visitors, but to the humanitarian workers (many of them are doctors and lawyers who choose to live and work for the poor) such "missionary trip" is but a total failure to really experience the city and rural poverty of Cambodia and it's only sympathy not empathy that were given to them... none actually look at them through the eyes of Jesus, perhaps just a peep.... I felt so "embarrassed" when they shared their sentiment that while many who have gone for such trips felt an "ecstasy" of having done a good deed and some even brag about it, it is SIMPLY NOTHING at all. To the children in Cambodia, you are all nothing but a passing cloud. sigh.....

The Corn said...

Hmm... I do agree with the NGOs. Indeed I was asking myself if out presence there will help the people there in any significant ways or are we just there for a 'holiday'. Even the 'goodie bags' of rice and other necessities will last them for a month at most.
I feel the exposure on these trips will depend on the people planning it. Sincerely, I think even on a well planned trip, even in building houses, digging wells etc, the people who will benefit most are still these 'mission workers'. I guess it serves to give them some exposure to the living condition of the underprivileged in other countries. It needs to be balanced with spiritual reflection as well so that they will think deeper into what they have seen and not be a passing phase to them. Maybe we do not actually need to go to these places but just contribute money and let those who are full time there do what is necessary but them these exposure do make the wallets open easier.
Another point to note also, not all of us are called to be full time workers in these lands. It is a divine calling and an important one. All we can do is be convinced of their work and try our best to help supply what is needed to them.
Finally, imagine if there are none of these 'poverty tourists'. There will be significantly less tourist contributing to their economy and less people will actually see the conditions these people are living in. It will be more difficult to raise funds, especially to provide the children with a decent education and hopefully, they can live the dignity God has meant for them.
The only way is to have a spiritual element in these trips and help the participants, especially the younger ones, reflect deeply their experiences and, as you put it so truly, to see it through the eyes of Christ. If not it is just another task orientated, or even worse, a holiday that can be spent in a better place and environment.