Why Cambodia?

In December of 2013, a consultant working for my company sent an email to his clients to wish them happy holidays and inform them of a charitable donation he had made on their behalf. That particular year, his donation was to an organization called EduGo to purchase bicycles so that orphaned children would have transportation to school. That got my attention. Kids. Education. Bicycles. It was the perfect convergence of three of my favorite things. My interest was piqued.

This probably deserves a bit of context. At the time, I felt like I had no real purpose or meaning in my life. I had a vague memory of a long-ago time when I had felt idealistic and hopeful, wanting to make a positive difference in the world. But somewhere along the line, that fire had all but gone out. I felt run down. Worn out. Empty. Maybe that’s a common occurrence as we age. We fall into ruts. We worry too much about what others will think of our dreams. We get distracted by all the stuff we’re supposed to do and have. We stop believing we’re capable of making a difference. We stop trying...

Or maybe that was just me. At any rate, I was going nowhere in a hurry, on the brink of a full-blown existential crisis, wondering how I had managed to fail so badly at life. And there it was - one simple email with one simple message: Buy a bike. Give an education.

It was perfect.

Of course, I didn’t do much with it right away. I thought to myself that it sounded like an amazing cause. I mentally admired the kind of people who do cool stuff like this. I think I may have made a menial donation. That was about it. But a seed had been sown. And, like all seeds, it took some time to grow.

Fast forward to May of 2014 when I attended Pinchflat, a celebration of art, music and bicycles. Donations were being collected for EduGo that night, which again caught my attention. When I asked about it, I met the founder, Jeremy Slagle, who passionately shared more about EduGo and their partnership with Asia’s Hope. When I asked whether he knew my consultant friend, I learned that they were, in fact, good friends and would be traveling to Cambodia together with their sons just a couple months later. Small world.

To make a long story short (if it’s not too late for that), I fell in love with Asia’s Hope that summer, living the trip vicariously through their blogs, photos and Facebook posts. I can’t adequately explain why, but I knew I had to get involved with this organization. I have come to believe that it has to do with divine intervention and a greater calling – but that’s another story for another day.  I’ve heard it said that our purpose in life can be revealed by those things that bring us the greatest joy - by those moments that make our hearts sing. On the other hand, there are those who maintain that our purpose can be revealed by the things that break our hearts. I’ve come to see that these seeming contractions are not mutually exclusive, but rather that both can point in the same direction. The children of Asia’s Hope bring me tremendous joy. Their stories break my heart.

There’s a lot to be said about the global orphan crisis. It deserves its own post another day. But of the many ways to approach it, I believe Asia’s Hope is doing it right, by providing not only basics like food, shelter and medical care, but by also creating a family for each child. Kids in Asia’s Hope homes don’t just survive – they thrive, with a loving mom and dad in a permanent home.

The thing that really sets Asia’s Hope apart in my mind is their commitment to education. For any child who finishes high school, Asia’s Hope has vowed to provide a university education or vocational training – whatever each child needs to become a successful, self-sufficient adult and break the cycle of poverty. Kids don’t turn 18 and “age out” of a system here. Again, they are members of a permanent family. And while some of the Asia’s Hope homes are now on campuses with on-site elementary schools, the secondary schools are often a great distance away, as are the universities. One of the biggest obstacles to getting these kids an education was the ability to get the kids to that education. And that’s how EduGo was born – a 100% volunteer initiative specifically geared toward providing bicycles for elementary and secondary school kids and motor scooters for university students.

The more I learned, the more compelled I felt to get involved. As a bicycle enthusiast, I reached out to Jeremy about the potential of planning a charity ride in support of EduGo. It was my great honor to work with him last year to plan the inaugural Road to Success Ride. For a first-time event, we were thrilled with our results, as nearly 100 participants raised about $8,000. And what a tremendous joy it was to see a tangible result just a couple months later when dozens of bicycles were delivered to kids in Thailand.

Jeremy was scheduled to lead another trip to Asia’s Hope this summer, and at some point during the ride last year, he invited me to go along. Actually, he didn’t so much ask as tell me I was going… But who was I to say no to that?

So here I am in Cambodia. Because it’s where I believe I am meant to be – doing what I believe I am called to do. Because there are children here whose stories would break your heart; who live in a part of the world where they face particularly high risk of sexual or economic exploitation; who, without a family and without an education, would potentially be living on the streets, likely facing a future even bleaker than their pasts. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Asia’s Hope gives these children a new chance at life. It gives them hope and a future, and I want to do everything I can to support that.

I haven’t fully processed our first day on the Prek Eng campus. It was, quite honestly, a bit overwhelming. We’re not here to really do anything for Asia’s Hope – the indigenous staff here are fully capable of taking care of all their needs, and of doing it much better than we ever could. We’re simply here to provide support and encouragement. We’re here to learn, to play and to get to know the kids.

And play we did, running barefoot in the yard, hitting and kicking balls around, playing tag, “ninja” and various other creative games the children have invented. It was an evening full of love and laughter.

My feet are dirty. My heart is full.