Receiving More Than You Give: Advancing Life Cambodia Expeditions

Two groups of volunteers just completed what they may always refer to as the trip of a lifetime. Not because they were pampered. Quite the opposite. They chose to travel to remote villages outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia, where they got down into the dirt and worked.

The cause was to make clean drinking water available to the local residents, people who live under the constant risk of water-borne illnesses. And while these volunteers weren’t digging the wells themselves (this is reserved for the locals—the Foundation pays their salaries for installing the wells so that they will know how to maintain them for the long-term), the work they did was in support of the effort.

Welcoming the little ones

Most of the Advancing Life volunteers arrived with infant-care supplies to donate, and they assembled kits for a local medical clinic located in a remote village, where about 80 babies are born each month. The mothers who can afford to deliver there—the $15 medical bill is too high for most—are in dire need of supplies for their babies. The kits provided cloth diapers, receiving blankets, hats, and more for the newest little ones. 

“It was touching,” observed Kirby Bolick, expedition photographer, after seeing a mother who had just delivered her baby boy receive one of the care kits. “Her hospital bill was paid by one of our expeditioners. Words can’t express seeing the face of someone truly in need when they get help at such a crucial time for their new child.”

A zest for learning

Villagers worked alongside expeditioners on other projects, including planting gardens and fixing up a school. The school had been shut down years ago because the structure had become unsafe. With only a few thousand dollars, the ASEA Advancing Life Foundation was able to renovate the building, where 250 children have been attending since late 2019. 

The children sang their national anthem and the ABC’s to the expeditioners. As a gesture of gratitude, the villagers shared the history of bamboo rice and prepared enough for the expeditioners to experience this part of Cambodia’s culture.

Emanating joy

“The kids were always happy. It was inspiring,” said volunteer Kalli Lindauer, recalling that the heartbreaking level of poverty didn’t seem to dampen their spirits. When she took time to paint a group of little girls’ nails, the boys would stick their thumbs out toward her and then pull them back. “I swiped one little thumb with polish before he could pull away, and the whole bunch of kids laughed.”

Advancing Life Foundation expedition veteran Beth Wofford called the entire experience amazing. “The extra time we’ve spent interacting with the children had its own special heart connection, and these beautiful kids veritably shine with joy!

Village life

Volunteers witnessed firsthand what life is like for these kids, who set fish traps before school and scrounge for frogs for their one daily meal. They also got to see firsthand the effect of freshwater wells for homes and communities. Local farmers can now come into those communities and train the villagers on growing sustainable crops.

Volunteers visited a medical clinic, where they met patients who had become ill from drinking contaminated water. Not far from the clinic, young children were fetching dirty water to take home to their families. “It’s easy to forget what a blessing it is to have clean drinking water until you see what we saw today,” observed Kim Larsen, Advancing Life Chair.

Service coming full circle

On one particular morning, the first group of expeditioners happened upon a unique opportunity to serve. They were able to help a family move (not just their belongings but their actual house)! The family had gone from a  studio-sized apartment made of tin sheets and lumber to a newly built two-story, cement home. 

“I don’t believe in coincidence, but I believe in divine intervention,” Larsen said of the experience. “This was not a planned part of our day, but we decided to help out only to learn that this family is one we had previously helped with clean water. We are breaking the cycle of poverty!”

Lifelong impressions

Expeditions ended with guided tours of Ta Prohm, Bayon, and Angkor Wat—structures whose majesty is hard to capture in photos. But even the breathtaking sights of Cambodia didn’t overshadow the hands-on experience the week provided. 

Expedition volunteer Deanna Janckila stated, “Travel doesn’t always have to be about the beautiful scenery, a relaxing beach, or a great adventure. Sometimes it is good if it hurts us and breaks our hearts a little. You take something incredible home with you, and hopefully you leave something good behind.”