One of my experiences with empathy comes from traveling around Southeast Asia. I was in Siem Reap, Cambodia with some newly made global friends when we went to have dinner at an organization called New Hope. This organization trains locals in skills such as waiting, cooking, and serving so that they can find employment in the cities in those occupations. Before eating our group was invited into the classrooms of some young students studying English. They had been learning all day (by this time is was near 6pm). I was amazed how much effort they were putting into how to say numbers 10-30 in English. Most of them shared their workbooks with their friends since there wasn’t enough to go around. I drove by some of their homes on a tuk tuk and it was evident they were living in extreme poverty. These children were anxious to try out their English skills with us. The brave few would ask “How are you? What is your name?”. The only words I knew in Cambodian were “Thank you” and “Hello”.
Cambodia’s history is nothing short of heart breaking. It was noticeable that there were very few elderly people due to the mass genocide in the early 1970’s by their leader Po Pot. Cambodia is still stricken with poverty and hard times but tourism has started to bring in money and jobs. These students passion to learn was something I could emphasize with. They wanted to be able to created a better life for themselves by learning English and acquire skills to working in an industry recently developed with tourism. Wanted a better life for myself brought me to Cambodia in some fashion. I moved to Melbourne, Australia to FINALLY start Occupational Therapy school. After being waitlisted and rejected from more schools in the States than I’d like to admit I packed the bags and went off for a better adventure. Since Australians travel extensively I decided to follow suit by traveling the ever popular Southeast Asia route, which landed me in Cambodian. I understood the burning desire to learn new things for a better future that the kids were working towards. I gave up my life in the states out of determination that I was GOING to be an OT and make a better career than the one I was in. Our stories have a parallel nature; the kids and I have completely different cultures, languages, knowledge, lifestyles, families, experiences, opportunities, and backgrounds however, we share the same value toward education and wanting to learn. This experience proved to me that it’s human nature to strive to do better for yourself. Education is a powerful tool that can get you many places, for me it was exploring parts of the world I never thought I’d be exposed to and for those cute kids in Siem Reap, it will bring them to their dreams as well.
-Katie Normile, Occupational Therapist, World Traveler