Students Work with Monks and Kids in Phum O, Cambodia

Growing up, I was always taught that I was luckier than most people because I had
access to food, clean water, new clothes, and the latest technology. We grow up in a culture
that teaches us that all of these luxuries will bring us happiness. I assumed this to be true- that I
would automatically be happier than those who have been referred to as “less fortunate-”
however, the Phum-O community and children at the Cambodian Children Destiny (CCD) school
made me realize how happy we can be without such luxuries.

The trip started with 22 excruciatingly long hours of traveling. Despite exiting the plane
hot and exhausted, our group was still extremely excited to get to work. As soon as we got
through customs, we met with Sokhun, the Buddhist monk who founded and directs the CCD
school and is an avid chicken kabob and smoothie lover. Together, we drove to the school that
we would call home for the next 10 days.

As well pulled up to CCD, we immediately felt loved because we were greeted by excited
students who already wanted to play with us. We found it easy to engage with the community
as we played sports and colored pictures with the students despite the language barrier. While
we did not understand Khmer (Cambodia’s language), our team was not deterred to talk to
them and learn the language. Throughout the trip, language was one of the biggest ways we
connected with the community. They would try to teach us Khmer while we would also help
them with their English, but to be honest, their English was a million times better than our

The next 3 days was when we worked on the court.
As we started building the court, I was shocked to find that CCD’s students were lining
up to help shovel and carry buckets of sand and gravel with us. I saw this and all I could think
was that this would not happen in the United States. That first day, we worked tirelessly
together from 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. that first day and I’ve never felt so sweaty, hot, and tired!
Once finished for the day, we played duck, duck, goose and soccer with the children, listened to
the students sing beautifully, sang “Lean on Me” very terribly, but confidently, and danced to
the song “Panama” with them until they had to go home. Although this was played maybe a
hundred times and was stuck in my head the whole trip, it never got old because the students
were always so eager to teach us their dance to it.

Not only did the students help, but on the second day, 14 monks came to the school to
help us build the court. Many of us had the preconceived notion that monks were quiet men
that solely focused on prayer; however, we soon learned that they were just like anyone else,
with a sense of humor, an open-mind, and hopes and dreams for the future. While we worked
all day with them, we learned about their personal lives, their families, their journey to
becoming monks, etc. Going to Catholic school most of my life, I have always heard the phrases
“we are one body” or “we are one family,” but I don’t think I fully understood what that meant
until I started learning about Buddhism. Their rules and beliefs are slightly different from those
of the Catholic faith, but are rooted in the same morals and values. I never thought that I could
feel so connected to someone of a different religious background that lives 8,000 miles away,
but on this trip, I found that connection.

Once we finished the court, we had a lot of free time. We played a local game called
Bamboo Shoot, many variations of tag, and danced to the song “Panama” … again. In our spare
time, we took a tuk tuk ride around the village to see what surrounds the school, visited the
temple where Sokhun studied, and went to the market to buy fruits, vegetables, and chickens
in order to make a traditional American dinner for all of the people helping us. We also went to
the killing fields to learn about the Khmer Rouge, the floating villages, participated in a talent
show, and visited Angkor Wat.

Going into this Courts for Kids trip, knowing only one person in the group, I didn’t know
what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect to befriend a Buddhist monk, meet guys more afraid of
bugs than I am, or love the community as much as I did. Despite some minor illnesses, cuts and
bruises, losing snapchat streaks, a lot of bones in the chicken, and missing much of the World
Cup, I found that I was happy. These experiences have brought me more happiness than any
purchase ever could. I realized that these people are the happiest, most peaceful people that I
have come to meet. I will never forget this trip, the people I met, or the simple joys we
experienced in the Phum-O community. – Kaitlyn and Mia, student volunteers

“The team from the U.S. were very hard working people. They showed that Americans are hard working people and direct to the point. Kids, teachers and monks helped out with the sport court. Everyone was really excited with the basketball court. Everyone said good bye with tears. This sport court is not only just the court, but it will remain a great memory and experience for everyone. Thanks for making this project happen to our school. We will never forget the friendship for this time.” – Sokhun, CCD School Founder (and wise Buddhist monk!)

“Stepping outside of my normal life routine was probably the best decision I’ve made.  I’m a changed person in mind and body and I look forward to traveling on these trips in the future.” – Ryan

“For me, the largest message I received from this experience is that our purpose in life is not to serve others, but to create relationships that make both sides understand what it means to be happy.” – Aiden 

“This trip has changed my perspective on how much I really need to live and be happy and how life can be a lot more simple and less stressful than we make it.” – Erin

“I had stereotypes of monks that were definitely not true…. Sokhun was the opposite of what I expected.  He was so friendly and loved to talk to us.  He also brought many of his fellow monks to help build the court and I was surprised at how young they were.  My stereotypes were definitely proven wrong.” – Ryan