I volunteered for NHCC(New Hope for Cambodian Children) in Cambodia, and my main job was caring for preschool children aged from 4 to 6. Those children are HIV positive which means that they have the possibility of developing AIDS. Most preschool students at NHCC are orphans, so they live in groups in small houses provided by the school. I expected a gloomy ambience before I arrived at NHCC, but that was a misconception. In NHCC, there were various children aged from 4 to 19. Because NHCC was built by The Clinton foundation, all education in NHCC is delivered in English. As soon as my volunteer team arrived in NHCC, middle and high school students welcomed us by saying ‘Hello’; some of the students even hugged us. Even in the case of preschoolers, there was no difference. Rather, the preschoolers’ welcome was more passionate than that of the older children. When I approached them, some children dashed over and hung on to both my arms and legs looking up at me with eyes saying ‘Hug me.’ Although I was surprised with their feisty love, what astonished me more was their farewell. Having to arrive at the Volunteer Center by 3:30 pm, we left the preschool at 3 pm. Their goodbye was so cool and simple. There were no children whimpering. They just said ‘Bye, teacher.’ I thought they must have become accustomed to farewells because they always had to part with people they’ve just gotten to know. The thought made me sad. As the time with the children became longer, I could feel the distance between us shorten. Although our communication was limited due to language barrier; they cannot speak English due to young age, I could gradually catch what they wanted from me. One day, we were preparing to go to the volunteer center at 3 o’clock as usual. Then surprisingly, some children came out from the kindergarten and grabbed my hands. Although I was surprised with this unusual behavior, I walked with them holding their hands. When they streched their arms out, I lifted them up onto my chest. Led by their hands, I arrived at a chicken farm. They touched the chickens with a boastful face. I guessed they wanted to show me how brave they were.
It was my last day in NHCC. We, as usual, rode in a Tuktuk, Cambodia’s most common form of transportation. After arriving, I played with the preschool children. Being the last day, I did not expect anything from the children who were familiar with parting. I did not want to show my feelings. But near the farewell time, the preschool teacher and babies asked us to come out. And under the dazzling sunlight shining through the trees, the children sang for us. I could feel what they wanted to say, even though I did not understand what they sang because it was in Khmer. Eventually, on that last day, everyone did not hide their feelings toward each other. We strolled together, sang together, stacked blocks together, and shared warm hugs. Unaware of the lapse of time, we hung around for the whole day. But by a certain time we had to leave to keep the NHCC’s rules. Eventually, we said goodbye to the children and left NHCC. On the day of departure, I realized the loved one was not the children but me, because they taught me that real love starts from eyes without streotypes.
From the moment we met to the last second, the children treated us without any discrimination. To be honest, due to the fact that they have the HIV virus, I kept them at a distance. But they did not treat me the way I thought they would. I want to express my gratitude again to the children who gave so much love to the people who were just meant to serve. Three months have passed since I came back to Korea, but the shining smiles of the little stars cannot be forgotten. One night when I could not sleep, the children came to me with twinkling eyes saying Arkun, meaning ‘thanks’ in Khmer.
Kim Min-soo email@example.com