Monday, January 21, 2013

Yorn Chea's New School or How Travelers Support Travelers

It's a big, small world out there. Yorn Chea with map.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to squeeze in a visit to Siem Reap (and a return to the serene RiverGarden!) to serve as courier for generous donations from Ohio-based friends to Yorn Chea's new school.

A bit of a background story first.

Many years ago, I went to visit one of my favorite travelers in the world in Columbus, Ohio. The inimitable Bruce French, activist, traveler, chef, was cooking for some rock band or another and I drove up to spend some time with him. We went to dinner with an old chum of his from grade school and his wife, Jamie Rhein. Jamie and I connected instantly. She is a bundle of hilarity and intelligence and goodwill. And she is also a lovely writer.

A couple of months ago, Bruce came back through Columbus while on the road as chef for the band Rush. So I went to visit again and we all had dinner again. I told Jamie of my upcoming trip and she rallied her Peace Corps Alum group in Columbus to donate $400 of their funds plus some cool maps to Yorn Chea in Cambodia. All of this happened with extraordinary ease and very little conversation.

I recounted the tale to Lisa Stegman who accompanied me last year on my Asia service trip. She gave me a sweet donation also to give to our mutual friend, Yorn Chea.

Fast forward to a week ago. I found out my brand new friend Tamara Duarte, whom I met NataRaj Yoga Studio in Phnom Penh, was going to be in Siem Reap. And then a few days later, we were wandering the back streets of Siem Reap with our monk friend to visit his new school. As it was a weekend, no students were there but we could just imagine the 150 children on the wooden benches working to learn English, French, math and computer skills.

I have had the opportunity to take on many different identities over the course of my life, but "traveler" is one that I treasure the most. I write this post from Bali, where I will enjoy a wander-about day with a new photographer friend I met at breakfast. Last night, at an open-air screening of a Spencer Tunick documentary, I ran into Sterling, a woman I met last year. And in a few days, I reconnect with Annie, another traveler and now Bali resident I also meet here last year.

There is an ease to the flow of connecting when you have not much of the familiar to ground you besides human contact. And once you have been out and about, particular in any sort of service capacity in developing countries, you feel compelled to either go back or give back.

So thanks to my fellow travelers and for those who work to make it easier for people like Yorn Chea to do his good work.

(And double special repeated thank you's to Jeff Syroney who made it possible for me to do my good work this year.)

Getting blessing from Yorn Chea!

Yorn Chea tells us about the blessing.

Yorn Chea and Tamara Duarte in one of the classrooms.

Tamara and Yorn.

Better view classroom.

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