A Missionary Letter from Cambodia

Michael Walter in Cambodia

Michael Walter, a young Cagliero missionary volunteer from Melbourne, who is currently working in Cambodia wrote to SNAP recently about how he has been helping the poor in the war torn country.

Life in Cambodia is different from life in Australia. When I first arrived the differences were all I could see. I would notice the crazy traffic with motos (which are small motorcycles and the most popular form of transport in Cambodia) whizzing in all directions carrying at least 3 people, Asian cows ambling in the middle of the busy road, minibuses filled to the brim with half the people sitting on the roof; I would notice the family homes made of tarpaulin and sticks, beggars aged from a difficult history. I have met students diligently studying so they can go back home to their family (on the other side of the country) to earn a living. I spoke with a guy my age who was sold as a three year old to a rich family for one thousand dollars, and now doesn’t know who to call his family.

Michael Walter in CambodiaSo life can be tough. But the longer I stay I find the similarities outweigh the differences. People love one another, people pray together, people eat meals together, celebrate together. Students study hard so eventually they can earn money so they can afford university; teenagers obsess over their hair, fashion, possessions, girlfriend/boyfriend; people complain about the weather. I realized early on that when I focused on what was different I completely ignored what was the same.

Currently I teach English at Don Bosco Technical School, Phnom Penh. The school trains youth (aged 18 – 24) in mechanics, automotive, computing, electronics and electricity. I also live, work, study and pray with 28 teenage boys (aged 13 – 19) of Vietnamese heritage. The boys live at Don Bosco because they do not have a citizenship for either Vietnam or Cambodia and therefore they cannot access education. Don Bosco supports them to get a high school education at the local government school. I also teach guitar, play music at mass and have assisted in running activities for the retreats that are held for all the students studying at Don Bosco.

When I used to think of Cambodia, the words: Pol Pot, Khmer Rouge and death would pop into my mind. This would cause me to stop thinking about Cambodia. Now I know about the people and students studying for sustainable jobs to rebuild their country. They are aware of their past but more aware that the future depends on what they do now. Worrying and pitying is not sustainable.

Don Bosco lives and breathes in Cambodia; the works of Don Bosco empowers the youth to see that they can bring their country out of poverty.