Opened My Mind

By McKenna Merrifield

During my senior year of high school, I was given the opportunity to travel to Cambodia on a volunteer trip with a few of my best friends and favorite teachers. Normally, my family would not have been able to afford sending me on such a trip across the world. However, this opportunity was offered to me at a very low price. It all seemed too good to be true. When I signed up, the date seemed so far away that it didn't seem real, and I almost forgot about it. But suddenly I was packing my bags and finally leaving the country for the first time.

When we arrived, I had a knot in my stomach and was taking pictures faster than my finger could press the capture button. Little did I know that a week from that moment, I would emerge from Cambodia a changed person.

We began volunteering right away. Each night, we went to a school and helped teach English to people of all ages. It was so inspiring listening to their stories, hearing their aspirations and how hard they have worked to get there. There were some who dreamed of being teachers, nurses, firefighters, and those whose only wish was to get to America and have the opportunities that we have. This alone truly opened my eyes to how lucky I really am. I have never had to worry about getting an education, whereas with these kids, there are no guarantees. I absolutely loved working at the school amongst such inspiring people. I cannot believe I was lucky enough to make a difference in their lives, if only for a week. Below is a picture of the volunteers and myself with some of our friends from the school.

My favorite project was one that took all day. We traveled to an extremely poor part of the country to a very small village and were able to finish building a well. It was rather grueling work on a hot day, but people from the village all chipped in. The reason it was my favorite project was because of the family whose house we built the well near. In between digging, putting down concrete, and planting trees, we played with the young children who lived on the property. Even though they knew only a handful of english words, we somehow were still able to play common games and have fun together. That was amazing to me; we didn't speak the same language, but we honestly didn't need to. I will always remember those little kids. In a photo below I took of them, they were reacting to seeing a picture of themselves, which is something that is so rare for them.

During our trip, we also got to plant trees of incredible value in the poor villages of the country. The leaves on the trees could be used as medicine for the people of the village who did not have access to modern medicine. I enjoyed that project immensely because of the faces of the people who had just received one of the coveted trees. They were so grateful, thanking us over and over again. It was a truly amazing feeling. Below is a photo of me with some of the people for whom we had just helped plant a tree.

Not only did we do volunteer work on the trip, but we also got to do a lot of fun stuff. We watched an incredible Cambodian circus, we relaxed by the pool, went on a boat through floating villages in Tonle Sap Lake, and toured the famous temples of Angkor Watt. Below is a photo of me at the temples.

I have learned so much from this experience. From having to find ways to talk to people who do not speak english, I learned a lot about communicating with others. I also learned of a career path that I may want to pursue in the future. I am very interested in finding clean water solutions for third world countries. Finishing that well and seeing the faces on all the people in the village was the best feeling I have ever experienced. I hope to experience that feeling so many more times in my life. I will never forget traveling to Cambodia. The opportunity given to me by Bright Light Volunteers was one that has opened up my mind and changed me for the better.

Photo Gallery

Enjoy some photos from our previous trips!

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