There are any number of families with children in the CCF program who Scott wants to greet, acknowledge and check on. There are any number of families who have been moved from cardboard shacks to reasonable housing on site because of support from CCF or their child’s sponsor, there are any number of families he wants to make sure have sufficient food and medical care. And of course there is the never ending look out for new children who might be abandoned, abused or those who long to go to school.
And then there are things to avoid. Feral dogs who we pass and Scott remarks calmly, “Don’t take your eyes off the dog.” At which point I mentally go through my lengthy list of vaccinations and hope that anti-rabies was on the list.
Crazy women, seriously mentally unstable old ladies who Scott has learned to avoid and I follow suit.
Like ever community there are the greedy ones. Mothers who make up stories about what they need for their children in hopes of getting the ever generous Scott to give them money that they will then spend on themselves. “She’s a liar. Don’t believe a thing she says.” “That one is crazy let’s – move on.”
There are tough guys in the neighborhood who spend their nights smoking and drinking and resent the tall blue eyed founder of CCF and the positive impact he has.
On another street a houseful of orange robbed monks taking part in the ancient tradition of watching TV and texting on their phones.
At one point we visit a woman with three little ones. Scott invites me into a space where there is barely room to turn around. He sits on the edge of platform and invites me to sit. Since there is no room to really sit I squat on the floor as he interviews the mother.
The mother quietly remarks on my position and Scott kindly informs me that there are rats and its best to stand.
It is all so matter of fact such a normal conversation in these settings.
I respond in kind – trying to be nonchalant I stand up hitting my head on the bare light bulb hanging above.
I think to myself – “rats” of course, yeah no problem. Why didn’t I think of that? — As my mind is filled with images of rabid vermin chewing at the edges of my toes. And I hope once more I got the anti-rabies shot.
There is no way I can take it all in – Keep track of the feral dogs, the crazy ladies and ever present obstacle course of debris, mud and puddles that I barely see in the dark and now the invisible rats. And at the same time getting a glimpse, a sense of the unimaginable life these people lead, the struggle that confronts them every day and the great impact CCF is having.
It is dive into the deep end, an immersion of the mind, heart and senses into an unknown universe. It is a collision of heart breaking, uplifting, never-give-up life with people doing whatever they can to survive against all odds.
I never loose site of the privilege it is to be here. And the reality that this is where my many bright eyed students spent their formative years, this is where many come back to their families at nights and on weekends, this is the reality they long to be free of and these are the families they will never abandon.
In the moment, I can’t help but worry about the children many of them barefoot as they keep up with our pace. CCF is a TOMS shoes partner and Scott assures me that they give the children shoes but like many children in poor communities they tuck the shoes away and save them for a special occasion.
I can’t help but wonder in this world – what is a Special Occasion. Tonight seems special to me. I want them to all run home and get their shoes.
In our journey which winds non-stop through this so called village we are always safe. There is a bubble of light and service that surrounds us. When people hear “Scott” they know only good things will follow. They greet us with enormous love and respect. For those whose children are in CCF programs and have received fancy framed awards for “Best Student” or “Most Improved” they invite us in to their humble little homes to admire the accomplishments of their families.
Scott and the A team multi-tasking in ways that make my head spin. They are talking with parents in Khmer, discussing what service or care the family may need and how to get it to them, filling out vouchers for them to use for follow up, greeting the children who tug at their hands, watching the evil eyes of the stray dogs and making sure in the sweetest way that I am keeping up. On top of it all, Scott is inviting me into the mix of it and narrating the past history of families, their struggles, their current needs and how far the children have come since they got involved in CCF.
It is like I am Alice dropped down the rabbit hole with little life experience to unravel the world I now travel in. Plopped into this contemporary Charles Dicken’s tale with all the exacting details of a world that is completely foreign to my experience. The assault on the senses is stunning. The need to stay alert and watch my step is immediate, the desire to not miss a thing and to listen to every story Scott has to tell is compelling and the irresistible need to respond to every little hand that reaches out to me cannot be ignored.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Charles Dickens
Pictures courtesy of CCF http://www.cambodianchildrensfund.org
Find more stories from Ardice Farrow’s experiences in ‘Ardice Abroad’.