Thinking Locally, Acting Globally

The temples in Cambodia

The World in the Eyes of a Young Merritton Resident

Hello everyone,

One of the goals of is to profile local residents and their pursuits in life. The respondents can be young, old, or any demographic possible – as long as they are or were a local resident(s). Therefore, it is with great honour that I have the opportunity to profile my younger sister.

During the past year, my younger sister Michelle Haywood has been planning a 4 -week trip to Cambodia (which started October 1st). Only 18 years old, my parents, other siblings and I were obviously frightened at the prospect of her doing this on her own. However, Michelle was determined to go and even financed the trip with her own money.

The purpose of the trip was for Michelle to volunteer at a orphanage; raise awareness about the lack of funding for orphanages in developing countries like Cambodia; and to gain a better understanding of how her social reality (and the realities of other similar youths her age) differed from the social realities of people in other countries. Coming from a big family (there are 3 girls and 2 boys in my family), I am undeniably proud of Michelle’s current endeavor. The following letter was written by Michelle this past Monday (Oct 5th). I feel it is important to share her letter with other local residents.

If you would like to follow Michelle’s journey in Cambodia, just look her up on Facebook under Michelle Haywood. The following letter stemmed from Michelle having a serious conversation with her friend Taylor Riva. Here is what she wrote:

A Serious Note: Cambodia Life vs. Our Life

This trip, a week and a half in, has made me realize how lucky I am and even though I'm sitting here with eyes that look like they're bleeding [Michelle contracted pink eye during her first few days in Cambodia], I can't change that realization. I look at this eye infection and although it has made me have to stay inside for 4 days and I have to wear sunglasses for the next 8 days... I see that these people deal with pink eye and infections all the time and they don't have vaccinations like we do for every type of simple ailment.

In my first days of being in Cambodia, I met the sweetest, happiest and brightest kids. I've been able to step out of my comfort zone and emerge myself into a completely unfamiliar and sometimes hard-to-deal with culture; I don't always like it but everything I learn, I appreciate. When I spend time with these KIDS, kids who are informally educated; don't have parents to walk them through life; and who learn lessons through experience rather than education, I am mind-blown. These little people think what they do because they've learned it, they haven't been brainwashed by a society; they are pure and able to idealize by themselves.

They don't thrive on making some one else unhappy, they don't thrive on drama. These people have real life drama... they have war and poverty. Yet, I've never seen kids get along so well... they rarely fight and argue, they share everything and they help each other. They hold so much respect for those around them, something that most people lack.

Anything different from our real life, when you spend time away from what you're used to and when you emerge yourself into someone else's life for any amount of time, you realize things. You get the sense of wanting to help these people and want yourself to be better.

When you're in a place like Cambodia, you realize the things that you have at home that you take advantage of. Here, you can't drink water from the tap because of parasites and bacteria. I can only use the tap water to wash my hands and bathe, I have to brush my teeth with bottled water and drink only bottled water. But some people have to bathe in ponds filled with disease, I've seen it. I've seen people pump water from a well to clean them selves. Back home, we know the generalization of what these people deal with: they have dirty water. We don't consider that this water kills people, creates epidemics and we don't hear about it until it becomes a big problem that affects us, but it goes on every day here.

What were you doing when you were six, eight and ten years old? Were you transporting buckets of water back and forth on a pole that was suspended from your shoulders? Were you scrubbing clothes with something hard in a big bowl full of soap and water? That's what these kids are doing. When we were that age, we were in school for 6 hours. Some of these children are lucky to have 6 hours of school in a week. They lack in education but it isn't their fault and what makes it even more amazing, is that at any chance, these kids take the opportunity to go to school if they can. We have a free opportunity to get an education and people don't attend, here the kids are so unbelievably excited to learn, it is like a Canadian child on Christmas morning (another thing, the kids don't even recognize Santa Clause). Schools here are built by people donating their money because the government doesn't have enough money to support it. We have all these schools in Canada, yet people decide not to attend because they 'don't feel like it'. (Yes, I know I was one of those people and I now know that what I took advantage of something that is so much wanted here in Cambodia.)

What do you sleep on at night- on a big comfy mattress like most people? At the orphanage, they have queen-size wooden slats that sleep 3 kids and a lots of the local people sleep on hammocks. Do you eat in the morning, afternoon and evening? Sometimes these kids go without a lot of food. Can you easily drop $30 on a shirt? I can. These people would rather spend $30 on food to feed themselves for a long time rather than a shirt that will only stay in style for a month. Think of how life without a body part could be... landmines in Cambodia have killed or amputated many body parts. I've seen people with no feet, no legs and no arms. They don't complain, they sit and play music. I don't want to make people feel bad for having good things. I, of all people, love luxury... but I can appreciate the luxuries that I have, that's part of the point I'm trying to get across. What we worry about at home, like having a cell phone, nice hair and clothes, a car and whatnot... is minute compared to them worrying about food, money and health. How much do your parents annoy the hell out of you sometimes? Mine do, a lot. These kids don't have that, some don't have any parents. When I was looking at the family history of some kids, some of their parents have died from AIDS/HIV, some have just died or some kids were just abandoned at the hospital or other places. These simple relationships and material objects that we take advantage of sometimes are things that these children will never get to experience. We shouldn't feel bad for having nice things; we should feel lucky and appreciative. We don't necessarily deserve anything we have, we are just lucky to be where we are.

Here, you mostly learn by experience. Parents let their kids falls and scrape their knees and they don't hold their hand every step of the way. I'm sure the first time I brought going away up to my parents, they were like "No way, what are you thinking?" They didn't know anything about this place and I was doing it all alone, they weren't going to be with me. But then they realized that I'm not a little girl anymore, I am able to make my own decisions... no matter how crazy (even I thought I was crazy). But how else will we learn if we are limited to what we want to do? The learning and experience that I was reaching for was not something that being at home could provide. This isn't even formal education but I had no idea how much life knowledge I lacked until I came out here... the most important thing I've gained so far is independence (yeah, sometimes it really does suck).

These people experience struggle and I'm not saying that people at home don't, because we do. But, we have the opportunities to help us get out of it and most people here are stuck. They know more about responsibilities and priorities than we do, they've had to deal with it from day one. Being geographically placed somewhere isn't your choosing and we are lucky enough to have been placed where we are because we have doors already opened for us. Compared to these people, we have everything given to us. (I'm not taking away from the fact that we are hard workers too.)

Literally, one year ago, I would have never imagined being where I am at this very moment. I was planning to go to college, making plans with people who aren't significant in my life anymore and not stopping to worry about what is going on in places like this. I was completely ignorant, I know that. I never thought so much could change but you can't live with planning out everything in your life, some things just fall in and out of place and sometimes your best bet is to roll with the punches. I have dreams, things that I want to do and that takes planning... but you can only plan so much because things inevitably and so often change. Cliches depict things best sometimes: you don't know until you try. You really don't because things are rarely ever as you expect them. When you take a risk, you don't necessarily have to love it, you might even hate it. But in the end, it's something you can say you did and you have the experience from it... you won't have the 'what if's' that you'd have if you never tried it.

I'm in a place that a lot of people will never be. I don't mean being in Cambodia. I mean being in a life-changing experience learning about myself and things that I was so unaware of before. In my place, I've realized how good it feels to help others in a different way than I'm used to.

When I get home, I know I'll go back to taking advantage of everything I have... the only difference is, I'll be taking advantage of it because I know how lucky I am to have it, not because it's there. Think of how good it felt to receive something you really wanted... that is every child here when they meet someone new or get something second-,third-, or fourth-hand... they appreciate everything they're given.

I would love to come back here one day and see that things have changed. It's been 30 years since the Khmer Rouge took over and their economy is still rundown. I miss home so unbelievably much, almost enough to want to come home.. But that's just the selfish part of me that gets overpowered when I help these kids learn English or just teach them basic things... who knows where what I taught them will take them. This trip has been hard on me, but thinking of the difference I'm making, I would do it somewhere else (or here, again) in a second.

If I were to not learn anything (impossible), I would have still spent a month in Cambodia. Like I said before, I took a risk and I tried it. I know when I leave I'll miss the kids unbelievably and I'll think of ways of bringing them all home but it's easier leaving on the note that I know I helped them and they are still happy. I thought coming here would make me cry every day because I thought it would be horrible for them... but when I see the kids playing and smiling, it's a whole new feeling because they are happy. It could be just me, but being in this position is so fulfilling, I wish everyone had a chance to do so.

What is life without the risk?

Michelle Haywood

As previously stated, you can follow Michelle on her Facebook page. Her page also has pictures and videos of her exceptional story.

Thanks again,


David Haywood
YOUR Merritton Ward Candidate.

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