When I first heard that Tommy More was planning a trip to Cambodia I was drawn to take part
yet unable to consider it due to financial strain at the time. It wasn’t until Briana Fiore inspired me to go to the first meeting, that I actually allowed myself to consider it. For this reason, I am eternally grateful to the Outreach Residential Advisor for 2017, because without her actions, I never would have experienced this truly life-changing journey.
But how can one describe something like that? Well how does one describe seeing the unequivocal rush of joy in the eyes of a stranger at the mere utterance of their name? Or perhaps the serene beauty of an afternoon Mass spoken in a language foreign to your own. In both cases, such experiences seem almost elusive to the average Australian, so often swept up by the multitude of luxuries we become accustomed to in everyday living.
My most memorable experience in Cambodia is similar to those aforementioned. It was a moment of pure bliss following the conclusion of the Angkor Wat Half-Marathon in Siem Reap and the crowd was animate with joy. I had just finished the ten kilometre race and in the corner of my eye I noticed the children of the Arrupe Centre dancing and calling out in exultation.
We were a strange band of Cambodians, Spaniards and Australians, all slung together wearing the same dark blue shirt of the Arrupe Centre. Music was blaring from speakers set up all over the ground and by pure luck, Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” began to play. Given that Ed was one of my all-time favourites, I was overwhelmed with the desire to dance. So I took hold of a small boy named Samet - a child no more than seven years old, who’d lost his hand in a landmine accident.
We began to dance and I spun him around over and over until the song came to an end. Picking him up off the ground, I spotted a smile beaming across his face. He was so overjoyed by the experience that he began to mumble word after word in Khmer. Despite my obvious efforts I couldn’t understand what he was trying to communicate. So I decided to ask a volunteer to translate for me.
“He said that he would like to go swimming with you,” the volunteer replied; Samet just smiled and nodded.
At the time it seemed like such an odd thing for a small boy to say, so I assumed it was nothing. However, following a great deal of consideration, the true meaning of Samet’s words struck me. Recently, the Arrupe Centre was fortunate enough to fund the installation of a brand new swimming pool; a small slice of paradise in the lives of children who have so little.
Despite my ignorance at the time, I realised that Samet hadn’t simply wanted to go swimming with me. He had felt so overjoyed and filled with appreciation that I’d danced with him, that he wanted to share the best thing he had to offer in his life; he wanted to share the greatest spark of goodness he had with a stranger he had only known for a few days.
This was just a small moment amongst hundreds during my time in Cambodia that rattled my being to the core. No matter the hurdles or difficulties these people seemed to face, they did so with a smile and an outstretched hand towards those unable to do it by themselves. If this trip has taught me anything about humanity, it’s the unbreakable power of the human spirit and its ability to find any spark of goodness in the face of adversity.
We left Australia as a group of random people living at St Thomas More College, driven by the desire to learn more about the world than what we already knew. Following the experience, we returned as a shared collective, joined by the unshakable strength of a culture that will never give in to cruelty; the warm nights spent with laughter and singing in the company of a stranger; and the effervescent smile of a young child struck by tragedy, yet always able to find that spark of goodness in all they see.
Looking back on this experience I realise that true happiness comes from appreciating all the little things that come between the big things. As soon as you start to view the puddles as lakes, the hills become mountains and suddenly you’re no longer divided by the circumstances into which you were born, but rather joined by a shared appreciation for all the incredible things that life has to offer.
“If a human being dares to be bigger than the condition into which he or she was born, it means: So can you!” - Maya Angelou