We will be taking a team of about 40 students and staff on a service learning trip to Cambodia towards the end of June. This was unanticipated. We had visited an orphan school in Gansu, China 3 times in 2008 and 2009. We had built up a very good relationship with the school and the students there, and we were looking forward to going again this summer. Unfortunately, the situation changed drastically in 2009 and we had to look for a new project.
G went with her church on a short term missions trip to Cambodia last December. I also have some contacts there. So we started asking around. It took many months of emails, telephone calls, proposals, and counter-proposals, to build up an understanding between the NGOs over there in Cambodia, and us over here at the university in Hong Kong. Our experience reminds me of what Greg Mortenson said in his book “Three Cups of Tea,” on his experiences building schools for girls in remote places in Pakistan. Basically, he had to build relationships before he could build schools. (More about that book later.)
Then we have to find the funding and the students. We are trying to keep the costs down as much as possible, but the cost per student for a trip of about 10 days still runs up to several thousand dollars. Most of our students cannot afford it. So we wrote proposals to a government agency, to our department, to the dean of our faculty, ... We wanted to involve students from other departments, so we broached the subject with a number of colleagues. Eventually we received close to 200 applications. We short-listed and interviewed about 70 of them, and selected 35. Subsequently 2 students dropped out. One because she had a legitimate prior commitment. The other because she could not demonstrate the commitment that the project requires.
We also have to decide what to do, and to prepare for it. After much brain storming, we settled on the main theme of digital storytelling - teaching the children and young people over there how to tell stories enhanced with digital images and videos. We will also do some teaching of IT, fixing some computer problems, arts and crafts, performances and games, etc. - a very rich and challenging program.
By chance, we ran into an American professor of performance, and she taught our team “image theatre” - very useful for teaching storytelling. When we invited an experienced social worker to give our team a crash course on volunteering, she insisted on doing it for free. When we needed some advice on the health aspects, a doctor provided it enthusiastically. When we needed some extra manpower, our senior management promptly gave us the funding for it. It seems everywhere we turned, we found the support we need. ... In fact, a friend of my good friend A donated quite a significant amount when he heard of our service learning projects, before we even started thinking about Cambodia. People indeed do want to help. And God has been graciously guiding and helping us.
Our students themselves have already spent several weeks preparing lesson plans and teaching materials, learning the needed skills, getting vaccinations, learning about Cambodia, procuring needed equipment, ... Now, we are asking our students to raise funds so that we can donate some much-needed equipment to the NGOs we will be working with.
So now, we are almost ready. And we are very excited, rearing to go.