I sit on the porch of my rustic bungalow, feeling the warm ocean breeze against my sun-kissed skin; I hear seashell chimes singing its familiar tune and children at play in the background. I’m on a tiny island off the southern coast of Cambodia, where time isn’t of anyone’s concern.
Koh Rong, Cambodia is an island village with heart. It is small ocean side village with the kindest people you could ever meet. Although its population is around 200 and a very close net community, they welcome foreigners with opens arms and enormous smiles.
I came here on a last-minute decision to visit my daughter who is currently living here. She is a team leader for volunteers working for a non-profit organization called Reach Out Volunteers She has been here a month, and will be here for another six weeks.
Since she won’t be coming home for the holidays, I wanted to bring her a little holiday cheer, and with me, love and hugs from everyone back at home who will be missing her this year.
The project her team is working on at the moment, is building an artificial coral reef to place into the ocean, aiding in marine conservation. The volunteers work on their land project in the hot blistering sun, mixing cement and pouring it into molds. If they haven’t already been scuba diving certified, they study and earn their PADI scuba certification to later scuba dive “with a purpose” by diving with the cement bricks under the sea, to the area where the artificial reef is being built. Reach Out Volunteers have already placed 500 artificial coral reef blocks into the ocean since the start of this program.
I feel quite guilty, as I can view them working from this very porch I sit. My days consist of sunrise gazing, reading, swimming in the ocean, taking leisurely walks along the shore, ocean hut “vegan” dining and afternoon naps. However, the volunteers don’t seem to mind at all, and watching them makes me feel very proud of them for what they are doing. I’m their official cheerleader for the week.
They are a small group this time, probably due to the holidays, only five, (usually being triple that number) but the group is happy with the size and has already become a little family. I have been even fortunate enough to get to know each of them myself.
There is Magnus from Norway who is a big teddy bear. He made it a point for me to join them one night to play a game of trivia. The random facts stored in his head is unreal! I think that’s why he wanted me to play? To show me his skills. And yes, I was quite impressed! I call him a walking Wikipedia and this gift of his is great for him, since he is in college studying education to become a teacher. He also loves Oreo cookies more than anyone I have ever met.
Then there is sweet Jess from Australia. She is the youngest of the bunch, only 17, but very mature and has a heart of gold. She reminds me a lot of my daughter. She loves to surf and anything to do with the ocean and is planning on becoming a sports physical therapist. I also learned her love for chocolate. She always gets her chocolate shake before bed, which is as sweet as she is. We shared a sunrise together talking about her future goals and I see her going very far in life.
Next, we have another “Jess” and Kelly. A young couple from Australia as well. Jess is already scuba certified and loved it so much that she wanted to go for the next level of certification and brought Kelly along to so he could get certified also, while they give back to the world together. I haven’t gotten to know them too well, but they are very nice and taught me about a famous Australian sweet called Lamingtons, which sounds totally delicious. I wonder if they sell it on Amazon?
Last, but not least, there is Sophie. Yet another Australian volunteer. She is always happy and smiling no matter what. Her upbeat attitude is contagious and her smile makes everyone around her feel happy. She loves movies and music and is studying to become a psychologist, which seems to be the perfect fit for her, since she is so approachable and accepting of others. I’m positive she will help many people throughout her career. She also taught me the correct way to eat Vegemite; on toast with butter or crackers, but a very thin layer. I’m still not sure if I will ever like the stuff, but I’ll try it again just to give it another chance.
I’m so glad that I got to come here to Koh Rong, to see my daughter working on this beautiful island with these beautiful people. It is something that I will forever cherish. Before, I could only imagine in my mind what the location was like, what the project was all about and who she would be working with. And now, I know!
Although I couldn’t spend a lot of time with her, I loved our morning sunrise ritual together before the volunteers would wake up, talking about the day upon us and getting morning kisses from the hotel family’s puppy Joop Joop. I looked forward to her frequent stop-bys with updates of what they were up to next. I also enjoyed a few nights hanging out playing games or watching movies with these wonderful kids, who gave a few weeks of their lives to give selfless-service, in helping to save the oceans.
I cannot put into words how proud I am of my daughter. She is fearless, determined and passionate and touches every soul she meets. Watching her lead and making connections with people from all over the world is the best Christmas gift I could ever wish for. My heart is overflowing with pride, joy and gratitude.
In these times of sadness, devastation and constant turmoil, a week witnessing the younger generation giving back, gives me hope that they are the change that we wish to see in this world. The future looks bright and they are the light!