Onwards and upwards

Two years ago I came across the Project Trust stall at a careers fair. Something in me began ticking and one thing quickly led to the next. Soon I was fundraising and telling my friends that that I was going to be a volunteer in a country called Cambodia, somewhere I knew nothing about. Yesterday, I looked into the little faces of the children and hugged them for the final time. Lexi and I held hands as we walked away from our home, driving away from waving and crying figures until they became pinpricks on the horizon.

For the last couple of weeks, I had been feeling pressure to make every day spent with the children matter. This had left me all over the place; it’s impossible to make every single moment memorable and special, particularly in an environment as volatile as Group Home. Realising that this was too unsettling a way for me to live, I tried to relax. I resigned to just talking to the children, cherishing their beautiful chattering and following them around the house.

Something pretty horrible happened just before we were due to leave the Home. Our relationship with the NGO that we have been working for hasn’t been without difficulty throughout the year, but problems had mounted meaning that we had to leave Group Home one week early. Lexi and I were in no way ready, and the children were stressed by this sudden revelation. At the time, the prospect of our early departure was heartbreaking and we both thought it the end of the world that we couldn’t leave our children in a dignified and deserved way. But through support from our steadfast families and Project Trust, we gained clarity of thought and maintained the mantra that the children are and have always been our priority. If we had to leave them early, we would respect that, because this year has taught us that we must adjust to what can’t be changed. We decided to hold a farewell party for the children which happened yesterday, the last thing that we could do for them as volunteers.

I am grateful for something that I found time to do before the chaos of leaving changed everything. A brilliant person sent me some sunflower seeds (and Mars bars) in the post. One morning, I asked some of the boys to choose a good place and dig a flower bed. As we were putting the seeds into the ground, I broached the topic of us leaving. They were a bit concerned and asked if we were coming back. With wet eyes I said that when the sunflowers grow, they can look at them and think about our time together. I’m so glad that I managed to do this, and I remember that the friend who sent me the seeds once told me that ‘From little acorns grow big trees’.

Our leaving party was humbling but immensely difficult. It was hard to hold it together whilst being given presents and handwritten notes, being presented with a good luck speech on behalf of all 30 children by an older boy, and trying to say individual goodbyes to all of the little people I love so deeply. Lexi and I felt thankful; I was surrounded in love which is a remarkable indication of the capacity of the children’s hearts. Where they come from backgrounds of negligence, and where they have grown up in a life where they don’t receive constant and reliable love, they are still full of love and willing to let us see and feel it. The farewell became emotionally heightened when the taxi arrived and we had to say our final goodbye. We were in floods of tears and some of the children were distraught. Usually when they are crying, we are able to comfort them. But this time we had to turn our backs which might have been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to and it has left me with overwhelming guilt. Some of the younger children were disconcerted by our tears and cried because they were confused. Sitting in the taxi we clutched the teddy bears we had just been given and an air of sadness took hold of us. Yet we also felt relief and freedom, from now we will try to move onwards and upwards.

So far, Lexi and me have spent today in bed together, not being sure how to cope or begin our holiday. But rather that mourning the things that I’ll desperately miss, we’ve been happily reminiscing about the children. I think leaving felt right to both us and I am ridiculously proud of what we’ve accomplished. My heart is bursting with admiration for Lexi, who has managed to keep going when not many people could summon the same inner strength. Like forlorn parents, we have been reading the children’s farewell letters to us with fresh eyes, and laughing at the surprise ‘I miss you’ videos that they left on our cameras.

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2 thoughts on “Onwards and upwards

  1. What a wonderful experience you have had in Cambodia and what a wonderful legacy you have given the children. Throughout yours and Lexi’s time out there it comes shining through that the children’s welfare has been the main priority and from your heartfelt blog it is obvious they appreciate all you have taught them and the happiness you both have shared with them. We are very proud of all you and Lexi have achieved through hard work, persistence and of course, love. Now it’s time to start the next part of your adventure in the Far East. Make the most of your travelling before coming back home. Xxx

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