“My time in Cambodia was short; I spent 6 months volunteering at Don Bosco Technical school in Phnom Penh. It was life-changing, not in a cliché sort of way, as a nice thing to say upon returning, but it has genuinely affected the way I see the world and my place in it. These are some of the lessons I learned:
1. West isn’t necessarily best. I remember during my first few weeks in Cambodia, I was really frustrated when I’d see people driving new glamorous cars, when so many people were sick, hungry and uneducated. Then I realised that there are more glamorous cars in Australia, and we have the extra resources to help. It’s easier to judge someone else before looking back at yourself.
2. We are all the same. Sometimes it’s easier to assume that people are starving, poor, uneducated because they are different. This is wrong. While I was working with my students, who were from very poor backgrounds, I realised that in many ways we are the same. We all want to live life to the full, support our families, and fall in love. This made it harder to accept poverty; and then I realised I shouldn’t accept it.
3. I am accountable. Before I arrived in Cambodia I assumed that because I was a student I couldn’t make any difference. While I was there, I saw the lack of resources in the school, particularly English resources, DVDs etc. I also realised how cheap resources were. Before I left, a friend of mine donated $300 for my school. I donated it all to better the English program. $300 in the scheme of things isn’t that much money. In Cambodia it’s a small fortune which can greatly help build up educational resources. There are many people willing to help and give their time poorer countries, but they lack resources. Often people in richer countries have more resources than they can handle. It seems to make sense to share.
4. I am not a messiah. Being a missionary was an incredibly humbling experience. It was like becoming a baby and growing up again. Learning the culture, language, what’s appropriate and inappropriate. I learned a lot about how to handle stress, and that I had a lot to learn as a teacher. This realisation has been imperative for my career as a teacher. If you think you’re the best, you can’t grow. But if you’re aware of your weaknesses, you can only get better.
Going to Cambodia was just the beginning. 6 months was a short time, but I am so grateful that the Salesians gave me the opportunity to go. There’s so much to be done. I feel a real passion for Salesianity and since returning, myself and three others decided to live as a Salesian community. We named our community, “The Rinaldi Community” after Blessed Philip Rinaldi, the third successor of Don Bosco, who formed the “volunteers of Don Bosco”. In this community we pray together, help create a Salesian atmosphere in the hostel, and coordinate activities in the youth centre.
As Christians it is crucial to be active in our faith. It’s not enough to just reflect upon the world, and think about doing good things. We have to take charge and work towards making the world, around us, a better place!”
More info: Cagliero Website