Growing up I was fortunate enough to travel with my family, both interstate and internationally. The process was simple. When my parents had time off work during the school holidays we would look up places to go, book, plan some activities in advance, go and come back. Of course in between was full of fun and excitement but despite the photos and few souvenirs I collected, I didn’t take away much else.
In 2013, my dad had become the director of a charity called help2help. The charity was based in Sydney, started up by a good friend, with the purpose of providing aid and education to the Cambodian people. After visiting Cambodia on charity trips, my dad decided the rest of the family should join him: my mum, my older sister and myself.
Being only 16 at the time, and with the trip overlapping with school, I didn’t think much of it except that it was a good excuse for missing class that week. While my dad warned us that some things we would see and experience were going to be difficult to absorb, I never took much notice, thinking it was just a precaution he felt obliged to give.
It wasn’t until I was over there, deep in the rural Cambodian villages, sweat pouring down my entire body with no air conditioning within a 30 kilometre reach, everything changed.
I witnessed the hardships these people face every single day. Yet they were so bright and so happy, they were blessed that they were alive. And while I did face moments of sadness, as dad had expected, the most overwhelming feeling was gratitude. I was so grateful to have met these people, because not only did I change their life by providing charity aid, they changed mine in ways they would never imagine.
Since that trip I have been back to Cambodia six times. And I wish I was capable of going more often.
People are astounded by the ways that I crave being back in that country, assuming that the charity work is exhausting and as far from a ‘holiday’ as possible. But, not only do I get to experience their culture in the richest form possible (being fully immersed into their lifestyle), I have been able to form some of the most amazing bonds with the Cambodian people. They may not speak English, but they have taught me that there are so many more ways to communicate without words and this a lesson that has stuck with me, even in my own career as a writer.
Since being a vegan for the past three years while travelling, I have always packed food expecting my options to be limited. Recently, I found some of the greatest plant-based cafes while in Cambodia. VIBE Café in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap is entirely vegan, selling super healthy and delicious bites.
Just walking through the city, I never had trouble finding a beautiful vegan meal to eat, so if travelling with a dietary requirement into a developing country like Cambodia was a worry, I can assure you that you will be looked after.
It is extremely important to take ‘down-time’ in this non-stop world and for many that can involve booking a relaxing holiday, but travelling for charity is something everyone can and should experience. I've taken part on charity trips with people of ages 12 to 75, so there really are no restrictions on who can participate.
Unfortunately we live in a world where poverty still exists, and there will always be someone out there who could use your help.
To find out more about help2help and the work we do, visit help2help.com.org.au.
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