Today, we woke up in anticipation of a reunion with the Mango Tree Staff and children. After the experience at Shalom Valley this past weekend, we were really excited to now be visiting the kids and teachers in their school at Oudong Village.
The Mango Tree School was started by the organization Manna4Life, who work with the Tang Khiev community, people that were forcefully evicted from their homes and displaced twice, leaving them without access to clean water, food, schooling, medical care, or housing.
Upon arrival at the school, we saw a bright mural with mango trees, green foliage, and lively flowers. We found out that Marissa, a woman from Tenth, and many of the children and staff from Mango tree had recently created this art - a collaborative project and joyful invitation for play, laughter, and of course, selfies.
We walked through the school doors to see dozens of our new friends - those who had experienced camp with us the weekend before. I recognized four girls I had played games with, who were now dressed in formal school clothes and writing at their desks. It was impressive to see the kids switch between waving and smiling giddily to focusing on their teacher and lesson with such ease!
Leakhena, mother and co-creator of Manna4Life, smiled and laughed as she told us of one young boy who in eager anticipation of our visit caught one of his family's chickens to cook for us to eat! His kind plans weren't necessary, however, as Mango Tree has a lovely school cook who welcomed us with a lunch of rice, pumpkin and pork, vegetables, fish, and delicious fruits.
After lunch, we assembled into the groups we had played, celebrated, and connected with during camp. Many of the kids were eager to take us to their homes, so we walked through Oudong Village in different groups to see them. It made me happy to see how proud the young girl in our group was of her family. As she showed us where she stayed and introduced us to her mother, sister, and cousin, she hugged them affectionately and had everyone laughing while playing with her baby cousin's toes.
It was sad to hear that the farm their family used to own and enjoy was recently sold in order to pay for other things, like medical costs. I looked at the land on the edge of their property and assumed it must have been the farm.
When we returned to school, a powerful rainstorm began. Dozens of us hurried in through the front entrance and quickly took action, shutting all of the windows and doors and running to retrieve speakers. There was an intense clatter from the downpour on the metal roof and music began to stream from two large speakers. It was Cambodian music, and everyone was dancing.
As we danced, rain poured. And as rain poured, our hearts opened to laughter, healing, vulnerability, connection, and ultimately resounding love - reminiscent to our experience at Shalom Valley.
Before Cambodia, no prior expectations could prepare us for how impactful these experiences and connections would be. As the rain turned to a drizzle and we began to say our goodbyes, multiple people started to cry. It was hard to say goodbye to the Mango Tree students and staff, but I am still in awe of the experience we had with them and thank them for the impact they have made on my life.
Read more about Tenth and Shalom Valley
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