Linda Barker visits Cambodia
Television Presenter Linda Barker has just joined World Vision as a celebrity ambassador, and recently visited some of our projects in Cambodia. Here she shares her reflections on the trip...
Dusty, pot-holed and beautiful, Cambodia has got under my skin. The vibrant and often challenging images that I saw there will stay with me for a long time.
As I start to go about my normal routine now that I’m back in the UK, I feel somewhat at odds with my inbox and my daily interior updates that ping onto my computer screen, alerting me to the latest wallpaper collections, lightshades and ‘must have’ cashmere cushions.
I can’t stop thinking about the time I spent with some of the most vulnerable and at-risk children in Cambodia –and particularly the time I spent at a local Children’s Club. This simple communal, wooden building, one of many throughout Cambodia built and managed with aid from World Vision, is a basic, yet vibrant space that buzzed with the chatter and laughter from the children that cycle or walk to it from nearby villages.
The Children’s Clubs provide a safe haven for some of the poorest children living in isolated rural communities. These are the places where they can begin to learn some of the basic routines that keep them in good health.
I see a newly installed hand wash station and a bar of soap under the shade of a large tree. The station is a simple piece of equipment designed to deliver clean water from a plastic tank suspended above a steel sink. It encourages the continued practise of good hygiene that will help keep these kids free from the debilitating diseases that are all too frequent in these remote, rural villages.
Often, these children have parents who are absent for long periods of time, parents who must travel away to find work and are forced to leave their children behind, often to fend for themselves. Lessons passed down from mother to child are forgotten – there can be no bath time, bedtime or story time. These children inhabit an adult world way before they ought to.
The Cambodians I met are amongst the poorest children in the world, yet, I’m touched by how they take care of each other. The Children’s Club is not the only place where I see young children with infants perched on their hips and older siblings taking on the responsibilities of adulthood, way before they have had a chance to enjoy their own childhood.
There is laughter in the group, and singing and dancing. It’s hard to imagine that both these practices were banished less than 30 years ago under the Pol Pot regime.
Children chatter constantly as we chat with the help of Phearun, a local World Vision staff member, and I try to master a few Khmer words. The children dissolve into fits of giggles as my, ‘I’m so happy to be here,’ stumbles out as ‘Who threw out the rice from the rice-bowl?’ It’s a lesson in humility and a great icebreaker between us.
As my diary back in London starts to fill up with meetings and appointments, I flick through the dates ahead and hope that I can one day return to the country – and the people - that have so captivated me.
My friends are all anxious to know how I got on and all want to know more about what I saw on this extraordinary trip. I have a lot to tell them about Cambodia and the work that World Vision do but, most of all, I will be encouraging them to sponsor a child. I’ve seen first-hand how this money benefits poor communities like those I was fortunate to visit and how profoundly this commitment to a small monthly donation benefits young children’s lives.
All children deserve a life that is free from fear, and this is just the beginning of an ambassadorial partnership with World Vision for me. The trip was by far the most thought-provoking I’ve ever undertaken and, like anything that simply gets under your skin, my commitment to the children just isn’t going to go away.