I finally made it out here into the village. I applied for this role about 2 months ago, and I have been patiently awaiting for my time to come.
Where am I staying? It’s like a small commune area in the middle of a village about 15 minutes out from town. I first arrived while it was daylight and I was fine with it. I thought back to when I spent a month in a rural village as a first timer. When I look back on doing that, I wonder how the hell I did a whole month as a first timer. That’s the type of person I am, though. When it comes to challenges like these, it’s either yes or no – chips all in, or no chips at all. That is why I’ve decided this time around that this is going to be a long term stay. For what I want to achieve in terms of self growth and life experience, there is no other way about it. You go all in, or you just go home. For some, they may not look at it like this, but I do and so I have decided to go the full length.
These commune areas are pretty interesting, actually. You have students and teachers living within the commune. These organisations have a cult like aspect to them. The Cambodian family who I am staying with have openly admitted that they were once part of similar communes when they were growing up and they underwent major brainwashing. There was an Indian psychologist who once came to Cambodia to create an education program, using learning the English language as a way to entice people to come. Once the kids joined the commune, there was very little learning English. This psychologist who was awarded the nobel peace prize worked hard at rewiring the brains of these kids who seemed to be stuck in negative personal narratives – the types of negative narratives that are a result of being raised in poverty, scarcity and sometimes helplessness. I never thought about it until hearing this story, but poverty not only manifests itself in our physical world. It can also manifest itself within the mind.
Author, Simon Sinek refers to this concept of personal narratives with a story involving a homeless woman.
Most homeless people are found holding up signs, asking people for donations. Essentially, they are selling goodwill. People who give their money may feel good about themselves after they have gifted someone for a good cause.
Sinek set out to find a homeless person that would help him out. He found that this particular homeless person worked 8-10 hour days and makes around $30 selling goodwill. Simon changed her sign to say, “if you only give me money once a month, please think of me next time”. This new approach got the homeless woman $40 in 2 hours, compared to her average $30 in 8 hours. Once she made her $40, she packed up for the day and left. Sinek says, this lady left after making more than $30 because in her mind, she only needs $30 to live – this was her personal narrative.
You may be wondering where I am going with this. Well, you only have to observe the people who were raised through poverty or are still experiencing some level of poverty, and you can see that they lack a tremendous amount of confidence and self-esteem.
Back to the Cambodian humanitarian that I was talking about, earlier. She told me that she joined a humanitarian commune many years ago as a poor person who lacked education and basic life skills. As a result, she believed that she was only destined for a life of poverty and struggle – This was her personal narrative. Through personal development training conducted by the Indian psychologist, she was able to change her mindset and she is now helping other people do the same, empowering them, mentoring them and proving to them that they are worthy and they can too defeat this cycle of poverty.
I thought this story was quite extraordinary. This lady is intelligent and incredibly confident. She is now on a mission to establish more schools around the country that offer conventional and personal development education to the next generation of kids, working hard to help break this negative narrative, showing them that they can achieve more than what they could ever have imagined.
Half an hour out from town, I set off on my motorbike heading towards the rural outskirts of Battambang. The ride was stunning. The road stretches so far, displaying a variety of different settings. One minute, you are cruising along a stretch at 60km/p and you are surrounded by thick vegetation on either side of the road. The roof of the trees meet above the road, making way for beautiful shaded areas that relieve you from the burning sun. Once you pass these stretches, you turn to hear the angry rumble of a truck, as it picks up speed after spotting an open road. That’s when you give it some gas, and you soak in the breathtaking open roads and grasslands – vast and dry. This feels like the epitome of a farming town in Cambodia, with huge steel rice mills and random gas stations that sit besides extravagant Cambodian style mansions.
My first attempt at getting out to the school was a failure. The data on my phone began to cut out as soon as I hit the outskirts of town. That’s when I knew we were going pretty rural by this stage. I ended up taking a detour back into town, had some lunch and coffee at a nice cafe in the heart of town before setting back on the bike to head back out to the village. I am already loving this town for what it offers. It is said that the town of Battambang is at the forefront of the modern day art scene in Cambodia. You can see how that may be the case. There is an abundance of French influenced cafes and restaurants where you find paintings on the wall, sometimes with a price tag on them. You never fail to spot that token white person sitting at a table, immersed in whatever it is they are doing from their laptops.
After a half an hour trip down this big countryside road, I found the school. I was the only foreigner in site, so you can just imagine the attention I was attracting. I entered the school where I was warmly welcomed by some of the students who were either hanging around their classrooms, or outside. This experience took me straight back to that month I spent in a Thai village a couple of years ago.
I had an interesting discussion with one of the founders of the HDLF school earlier this morning. HDLF stands for the ‘Human-Resource Development & Language Foundation’. After this discussion, the name of the organisation began to make more sense to me. This organisation encourages young Cambodian adults who aspire to be teachers and educators to volunteer with their organisation and in exchange for their time and efforts, the organisation funds their university degree so that they can obtain qualification in the field of education. When I heard this, I felt so good about the fact that I was going to be working with such an organisation. I am really passionate about empowering the people, treating them as embodied agents of change. Donating money to a community or a cause is great, however that’s just one aspect of philanthropy. Solutions and processes that ensure long term sustainability; these are the aspects of philanthropy that I value highly.
We have discussed what my arrangements will be and I will be based in a different spot to where the school is. My place will be at the headquarters, about 20 minutes away from the school. That is where I will do most of my work. The type of work I will be doing is on the business development side of things. This fits well with my current skills and it is going to teach me so much about how social enterprises work.
Okay, I’m pretty damn excited right now.
I learned a lot during my time spent working alongside a team of Cambodian millennial professionals. I was impressed with the vast group of young, open minded individuals so eager to build a portfolio of skills that could be applied to this new age of thinking. I worked for a Cambodian company called eOcambo Hospitality Group. My main role in the company was digital marketing for hotels and for a volunteer program. Throughout my time with this company, I observed many interesting trends that played a huge role in shifting my perspective on how we obtain and apply our knowledge in today’s world.
I was so keen to find out where this thirst for knowledge that the young Cambodian’s showed came from. It’s a thirst quite different to that of a millennial from the West. In Australia, we have some of the best Universities on the planet. Not to mention, the access to a free flowing supply of educational content from individuals and companies who release digital content on a daily basis. This access to information is insane and it is starting to create an abundance of opportunity for those who engage in such material.
As I continued working alongside these Cambodian millennial’s, I began learning more about the country and it’s horrific past. The Khmer Rouge genocide in the 1970’s resulted in the death of half of the Cambodian population. Along with the destruction, all forms of education was obliterated, stripping Cambodia down to an agricultural society with a main purpose to ‘start over’. The highly educated were targeted first, resulting in the murder of many of Cambodia’s teachers, doctors, scientists and artists.
Besides the death of half the population, the destruction of their education lead to one of the most devastating crisis’ in the history of Cambodian society. Since then, Cambodia has spent the last 40-50 years trying to rebuild an education system that is relevant and sustainable. With the help of many Western funded and operated non-government organisations, more and more children are gaining access to better educational resources. That is just one aspect, however. It seems as though basic, conventional education no longer holds the title as being the main source of learning anymore – welcome to the age of digital dominance.
Once you look into the past of Cambodia and you connect the dots to the present, you then start to beg questions about the future. How has technology changed the game for these young individuals of contemporary Cambodia? The increase in connectivity has seen a rapid rise in employment opportunities in Cambodia, with now ⅔ of the population in work as of 2012. It is now easier for young Cambodians’ to reach larger audiences when branding their businesses or themselves. Cambodian’s now have access to educational resources from countries all over the world. With the sharing of information and this rise in connectivity, this may be the beginning of many good things to come for the young Cambodian’s of today who stand at the front line, striving to build a better future for their nation.
For most, growing up in a nation where poverty, illness and violence is prevalent, it is natural to find many individuals who have a strong sense of necessity. Being products of an environment where scarcity is ubiquitous, it isn’t a wonder why some of these young Cambodian’s are so thirsty for knowledge. I was extremely impressed to find out that some of my peers had access to the same online information as what I had. It is now as simple as purchasing a $12 course from online education platforms like Udemy, Skillshare and Shaw Academy, in order to learn a new skill. We are so connected now that we are able to learn from some of the most influential people of the modern day, and they don’t even need to know that we exist.
This opens up new doors for Cambodian educators, students, employees and entrepreneurs. This new trend in technology has seen innovative concepts like Cambo Market – free online food delivery service, and PassApp – online tuktuk service which operates like Uber, come to life and they are thriving. The fields of digital marketing, graphics design and web development are also becoming increasingly popular among many young University students, as the trend in online services continue to flourish.
One of the responsibilities I have taken on since noticing this trend in technology is to share as much information as I can. Coming from a place where education and information is in abundance, I have tried my best to share as much knowledge with my peers as possible, introducing them to Western online sources on topics like digital marketing, graphics design and much more.
I am interested in learning more about how we can use technology to help us move forward personally and collectively. I feel as though the internet is a representation of life, itself. The internet is and will continue to become a separate reality from that of the physical world. This begs the question – are there any lessons we can learn from our physical experience that can be applied to our digital one?
If we observe our physical world, there are certain things that we learn through maturation such as, you are what you eat.
Is the content on your Facebook newsfeed for your mind, like food for your body? If our lives are becoming increasingly more present in this digital reality, it may be important for us to be conscious of what we are feeding ourselves, personally and collectively.
Many believe that we are at the very beginning of the digital revolution; that we are living through the years that will one day be referred to as the internet’s infancy. So, how will this rise in connectivity and information transform humanity as we navigate our way through this never ending series of problems that we are required to solve?
Up at 7:30 am, I had to get my bicycle to the nearest hangout spot so my friend could pick it up. It was one of the many possessions I handed over to the friends who I was leaving behind in Siem Reap. I made my way to my favorite cafe where I said my goodbyes to the friends I had made there. A farewell coffee and the exchange of small gifts gave me a warm sense of comfort. Then, it was to the bus depot. My morning was structured and well planned. I guess, I had planned my exit from Siem Reap well because I knew if I hadn’t, I would put myself in a deeper state of emotional overwhelm.
About 4 hours later, we arrive in the town of Battambang and that is when the nerves began to really kick in. Having gone from a busy, tourist town like Siem Reap to a small country town like Battambang really threw me off. It wasn’t only the shock caused by the change of environment, but also the fact that I knew I was leaving behind a life that I have worked hard at building for the last 8 months. It was a life that took time, care and responsibility, as I had to fend for myself for the very first time in my life – survival wise.
I slept after a decent sized cambodian dish – beef curry. I thought, “maybe the pain will subside after a short nap”. It only intensified when I woke up. I spent 30 minutes on my bed, crying with a pillow over my face. I then took myself to the bathroom where I cried for another 20 minutes and then the deck chair by the pool where I just sat, lost looking at the reflection of the water – tears rolling down my eyes, profusely.
Why was I so emotional? What was it that I was feeling? I realised, it wasn’t fear, at all. It was grief. I was in a state of grief for the life in Siem Reap that I was leaving behind. So many memories were created there, so many deep connections and so much comfort was built and developed over time. Siem reap became my life. That shift in environment and lifestyle always throws you off. It’s the grief you experience for the old life you once clinged to. Everything becomes familiar and comforting.
It was around 9pm when I decided that I had released as much emotion as what was required, and it was time to move on with things. This journey will go on, and when things need to be left to the past, as hard as it is to let go, it is a must. With the help of a few whiskey and cokes, I felt relieved. I promised myself I wouldn’t drink until I had surpassed the eye of the emotional storm in my sober state of mind. I didn’t want to numb my pain because that would truly defeat the purpose of all of this. I never embarked on this journey for the sake of experiencing pleasure, and only pleasure. I came here to embrace everything for what is.
At first, you waltz in ready to save the nation – guns blazing, and all. You are a naive rookie. You have no idea what goes on here. Everything is romanticized. You are in this foreign new world, one that you have been searching for a long time. Your long search has come to an end; you have arrived at your destination. What a feeling that is. You are on top of the world.
After a while, things start to piss you off. Small things like the road rage that you have crippled yourself with must be contained because you know you are no longer at home. These rules aren’t yours to judge. Fuck, that is tough to navigate your way through. Thank fully, my defensive riding skills have kept me safe, but I won’t lie, there have been some close calls. Sorry, Mum.
Things that are completely unacceptable in Sydney are made part of the norm on these roads. You have people crossing big intersections, running through red lights and people pulling out in front of you, completely unaware that you are cruising at 40km/h. They don’t even look back, so it’s up to you to see them and dodge. If you don’t take responsibility, you ruin the day for the both of you. As raged as I was at first, I had no choice but to keep my composure and ride proactively.
Once the romance dies down, reality kicks in. There are no more big celebratory nights. It’s basically just you and your work colleagues. For me personally, I love alone time. Alone time is my most valued time of the day because I know if I give it to myself, I will be better off for myself and for those around me. But, I was not expecting this type of alone time. Alone time gets too much, so you immerse yourself in work. It’s not an issue for the first few months, if anything its enjoyable. It gives you something to do and when that work involves your passions and your self-growth, you give it all the love in the world. It’s an obsession more than anything else. You get to a stage however, where you begin to feel a little empty. You are happy and you love your work and you feel as though you are on the right track, the track that you want to be on, but then you start to wonder what else life may have to offer. I came to learn through my loneliness, that there is a lot more to life than your work and your passions. That’s all part of the ego. I’m talking about love, connection, laughter and support. These are far more profound concepts.
The upside to all of this is you now start to build new social networks. They can’t be compared to the ones back at home. However, they hold a very valuable place in your heart. When you are out here and life feels so intense on the inside and out, it’s always good to know that you have good people around you. The friendships I have made here are nothing but genuine, honest and supportive. I have no time for anything else. If someone shows genuine concern for me, I make sure I keep them close and I look after them just as much as they look after me. I have Australian friends here, I’ve met a fair few expats who live here and I have a lot of Cambodian friends. These are people who let me in their houses and the kitchens of their restaurants. I’m part of the family and I get invited to all family occasions.
After a while, you start to really settle in. You begin to learn the ins and outs well enough to go into semi auto pilot. This is one of the most interesting parts. This is when reality really starts to hit home. You realize how rough life can be here. I never really understood what human suffering in the third world was actually about. It’s interesting when I witness this type of suffering and then I think back to the suffering back home.
After building connections with people, you start to become emotionally invested in them. What went from chaos in which I felt so detached from now becomes a personal. It’s as if, every time I hear about the suffering that occurs here, I start to feel it in my bones. I feel it for the people and most of all, I have started to feel the pain of my friends. It hasn’t always been this way. In fact, I have spent months trying to reconcile with the fact that seeing poverty has had no real impact on me, emotionally. I have met people personally who are living in some of the poorest conditions, yet those moments were never enough to have me as emotionally invested as I am now. I guess, being emotionally detached can be a good thing out here. If you break down and lose your composure, you will pay for it. For what you witness here, it requires a strong stomach. There isn’t any time for dwelling. It’s all about getting down to work.
Now days, my connections with certain people have become so strong that I feel the pain. I witness the everyday struggle and it has started to wear me down. I feel for my friends. This has become personal for me now. To be able to witness life here in the depth at which I am witnessing it right now has been my fuel for achieving as much peace as possible.
You can’t save the world – it’s that simple. Sometimes, that is the hardest thing to accept. However, you begin to notice the nuances. Something as simple as spending a couple of hours mentoring someone can go a long way. Those moments of one on one mentoring have been the most fulfilling yet. If you can just make a small difference to someone’s life, then they can go on to do the same for someone else.
People are so grateful for the fact that I have given my time and energy to help them. I tell them that it comes at a cost, however. That cost involves using the knowledge that I have shared with them to bring someone else up when the time is right. Ambitions and aspirations of the young people are quite different here. It seems as though career goals have more to do with helping the community rather than buying a beach front property with a 10 car garage. That’s the beautiful thing about the people here. Never have I felt a sense of community like this one before. This is on another level, and I guess it has to be that way. It’s a matter of survival.
I had experienced some pretty good times throughout my childhood and my early adulthood. When we were 15 years old, I helped stage an amateur home video series. There were 6 of us embarking on an artistic journey. We were a pure rip off of the iconic ‘Jackass’. They were the dudes we were looking up to at that age, and there still remains huge level of respect for these guys. They created an empire that spread across the masses.
By age 19, I was re-telling stories in a black journal that I had purchased. I wanted to document all of the stupid, crazy things that we got up to during our partying years. I have considered burning that book on multiple occasions. I think I will be forced to one day, but I’m just going to enjoy it while it lasts.
I took that trip to south East Asia at the end of 2016 and before leaving, I made the commitment to journal every day of my trip. I stuck with it – I was impressed with myself. I have never opened it. I feel as though the memories are far too fresh. I don’t know when I will open it – my intuition will tell me when the time is right. On returning from that trip, it was about a month after getting back home when I had an ‘uh-huh’ moment after answering a huge question that popped up in my head. Why not write your whole life out? So, I began journaling pretty much every single day. I have been doing so for 2 years now.
For me, it is an art form; however it tends to go much deeper than that. Viewing from my lenses of reality, although I’m painting paper with words, I am also painting time in the present and the future. The habit of journaling has completely transformed my approach to life. It’s like, all of my actions and decisions are motivated by the fact that I know I have to come home and write about my day. Moving abroad to embark on this journey was inspired by this motivation to write a good story. If life is my blank canvas, than I want to paint something inspiring.
Slowly, I’m learning more and more about the life as an artist. There are obstacles and I’m learning that it takes a tremendous amount of authenticity, courage and resilience. It’s a tough game and it’s so hard not to get caught up in all of the background noise. This requires deep work. Deep, deliberate work. Since reading the book, ‘The War of Art’ – by Steven Pressfield, I have become aware of what some of these obstacles are; the procrastination, the frustration, the gut wrenching fear.
A quote that has stuck with me since reading Steven Pressfields, ‘The War of Art’ is, “If you were born to overthrow the order of ignorance and injustice of the world, it’s our job to realize it and get down to business”. Pressfield refers to the artist as being one who has been given the responsibility of sharing their work with the world. It is a reference to this notion of self-sacrifice, responsibility and duty – a duty to serve others with the work you have to offer.
If you have something to put out into the world, put it out. I feel as though there is more to this than just expressing oneself through good writing. There is an altruistic stance to be taken here. If the expression of yourself, your imagination, your visions, your ideas and your beliefs can pave way for positive change, then you owe it to the rest of us to put your work out there.
It’s now time stop putting on the front in front of the camera. I promised you that I would keep this as real and as raw as possible.
I have been struggling with the thought of moving out to the village. It is a thought that disturbs me for many reasons, regardless of how much I want to do this. I moved to Siem Reap 8 months ago and it has now become my everyday reality. I’ve developed close friendships here, I have support and I have a lot of stimulation to keep me busy. I’m about to move out after 8 months of trying to settle in to a town so foreign – a challenge in itself. I fear a lot of things right now. I fear the nostalgia I might feel after leaving my new home, Siem Reap. The memories I have made here are so close to my heart, they have become part of me, part of my identity – that may be the issue. On a journey like this, it’s important to remain as detached as possible. You don’t know where you are going to end up, and becoming attached and comfortable with one thing or one place can lead to emotional turmoil.
I struggle with the thought of going to the village and being bored and lonely. The taste of loneliness I have experienced since being in Cambodia is unmatched compared to anything I have ever felt. I can only imagine it will be more intense once I move out to a rural region.
Ill lay it out for everyone straight up. I have been trying to overcome a particular obstacle that has crippled me my whole life – caring too much for what others think of me. Since starting ‘This is Philanthropy’, the thought of being in the public eye has caused some issues for me, personally. I fear putting my stuff out there and I get caught up in a vicious cycle of trying to perfect my work. I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that I will never produce perfection. I think any artist will tell you that striving for perfection is the biggest mistake one can make. This is an obstacle that I am trying to overcome with each day.
Slowly, I am coming to terms with everything and I am preparing myself emotionally and mentally for what is to come. I would be lying if I told you it was all pain. For the most part, I’m excited and motivated to get this show on the road. This is the life I have chosen, and I wouldn’t trade for a thing in the world. I guess, it’s a lesson learned here – that no matter how much fear you feel, you should move in spite of it if what you are chasing is something that has meaning to you. I don’t think fear will ever be absent, especially in the pursuit of artistic and entrepreneurial ventures.
I’ve found myself waking up during the early hours of each morning feeling the nerves and the pressure. I’ve had people tell me that they doubt I will last out in the village. These comments add to that level of pressure I feel. At the end of the day, I have my eyes on the prize. As much as this is for me, I try to stay in touch with the bigger picture. There is more to this journey than what my ego would like to have me think. I have decided to go out and serve both the people in the village and the people who follow me online. When you seek to serve those around you, you take on a huge responsibility. Adding value to the lives of those around you is the main objective here.
One of the core ideas that I would like to explore and expand on through my writing is the philosophy behind philanthropy. Although my content is based around the documentation of my journey as a humanitarian worker, I believe there is more to the conventional definition of philanthropy. The purpose here is to draw a bridge between philanthropy as a job title, philanthropy as a prestigious label given to those who donate large sums of their fortune, and the people who aren’t directly involved in any related field of work.
Through my attempt to bridge this gap, I am curious to see how the development of a philanthropic philosophy, once adopted, can add value to people’s lives by improving levels of fulfillment and overall quality of life.
Let’s begin with the story of Scott Harrison and ‘Charity Water’ –
The story of Scott Harrison, founder of ‘Charity Water’ is one that has captivated many people across the globe. Scott began his early career as a nightclub promoter in Manhattan where he indulged in a life of self-orientated pleasures. Hitting ultimate success as a nightclub promoter, he found himself surrounded by fame, fortune and a long list of dark vices which would later lead to him declaring spiritual, emotional and moral bankruptcy.
Scott decided to take a turn, embarking on a journey as a photojournalist on a hospital ship, where he spent 2 years off the coast of Liberia. Experiencing firsthand – the effects of dirty water, Scott set back to New York on a new mission. Upon returning to NYC in 2006, Scott turned his full attention to the global water crisis and since then, he has helped raised $320 million and funded up to 30,000 water projects in 26 countries. On completion, these projects will provide clean water for up to 8.4 million people.
What I found most interesting about Scott is the way he hires employees for ‘Charity Water’. Scott mentions having keen individuals who apply for jobs through ‘Charity Water’. The charity has had a long list of eager applicants who are willing to “clean the toilets”, just as long as they can join the mission. On the surface, this may sound great, however Scott looks at this much differently. When hiring, Charity Water focuses on craft and excellence before they consider the passion that the candidate may have towards the mission.
Scott is always on the lookout to hire top performers from companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft or Tesla who have spent years developing skills in a particular field of work. It is at ‘Charity Water’ where these highly skilled individuals get to experience a new approach to their work, being able to use their expertise to serve others. Once these individuals jump on board, they then get introduced to the mission behind Charity Water, and that is they get to witness their skills being put towards significantly impactful philanthropic work.
This notion of living in service of others is something that I would like to explore further. I believe there is more to it than just an artificially compromised corporate title. What makes it so unique is the fact that this philosophy can be applied to almost anything in career or life.
When you look at the definition of philanthropy, you see something quite different from the stereotypical image of the generous billionaire or the self-sacrificing humanitarian. Philanthropy is – the desire to promote the welfare of others. When a school teacher watches his or her students grow, this experience triggers a positive emotional response. On a neurochemical level, the release of endorphins invokes this ‘feel-good’ experience. Professions such as these are taken up by individuals who value this emotional response, sometimes more than the value they hold for monetary gain. The level of fulfillment gained from these jobs is enough to sustain passion and perseverance while performing their work.
So, how can this philanthropic approach apply to people who work roles where promoting the welfare of others isn’t a direct priority? This question may require some outside of the box thinking. If we can find ways where offering value that exceed the expectations of those whom we seek to serve, then maybe, just maybe we can begin to make real impact.