I Failed…

The summer before coming to college, I lost just about all of my “friends.”  Everyone had told me to not worry about it because even though how bad it sucked right then, I would find my true friends in college.  During the first semester, I found some good friends, but even then I still felt like they didn’t completely understand me.  But this second semester, I found a group of amazing people who really bonded as a group.  A group of people who would tell their deepest and darkest secrets to each other.  Looking back on it now, I realized that I had still failed in finding my true friends.  Instead, I found a family. A Kruesa.  To me that means so much more than finding out who your friends are.  I feel like I can talk to anyone from my Kruesa about anything.  I have never in my life been able to do that with anyone, much less a whole group of people.  I love each and every one of you guys so much and I hope we prove everyone wrong.  I hope that we will always keep in contact and stay together.  I believe that we can.  Lastly, I want to thank each and every one of you because you have all touched my life and I am so blessed for having shared our experiences together.  I love y’all!!!!

Tanner Lakey

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end of the year.

Man I had such a hard time writing my essay, I don’t feel it was very good. Definitely not very “college” like. I just had this overflow of feelings and emotions about everything. It was like word vomit, but on paper.

As we had our last official “get together”, I was so sad. I’ve looked forward to Tuesday everyday since the beginning of January when we first started this whole process. How I wish I could rewind time, especially to our time in Cambodia. It’s come to my mind more often these last couple of days. How much I miss it. The hot humid air, I can almost feel it now.

Our presentations have been wonderfully…hard. I know I talked about a really light topic, but hearing the hard topics just took me back. I remember everything so vividly, I can see the people, smell the smells. I hope I still do when I’m 95. But that’s what that journal is for and my hopeful re-visit. However, I wouldn’t change a thing we experienced or learned for that matter. Somaly Mam’s evidence only just strengthens our cause to be responsible donors and helpers. It still was the most heartbreaking news I’ve ever received. but much needed.

I just love all my Kruesa members so much, so differently, but so much. I just hate that this part of the journey is over.

But I hope all of our growing never ends.

And may we all return to Cambodia someday.

-Meagan

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For the Ambassadors

As the semester is coming to a close and we approach our last class time with our fellow ambassadors I can’t help but look back at that first class day. We had no clue who everyone really was and we just sat there with no expectations even, because honestly how could you have expectations for a trip as monumental as this? The previous ambassadors were there that day and I remember thinking that I was going to be one of them someday. Well Cambodians, we are them now. We have had our trip of a life time. We have had some of the most mind blowing, heart changing experiences that will be absolutely impossible to forget. It is so funny to think that we had to have ice breaker games at the beginning of the year in order to get to know each other; and now we all know each other better than most lifelong friends. It is so true that you cannot go through the things that we did, see what we did, have some of the experiences that we had and not just pull together like one of the most beautiful families you have ever seen. As much as it kind of sucks to be a has been, I’m excited to see what I know the other ambassadors saw in us, the excited unknowingness I guess. There is so much you go into this just not knowing, there is so much you will leave still not knowing. That is the whole part of the journey, part of your job as being an ambassador; to continue being an ambassador for what your families’ cause was and not to forget everything you saw and learned. I am ecstatic to be at convocation next year and see those faces of the people whose names are called, just as ours were. To stand at the front of the class on the first day to welcome everyone and see the hesitation masked by sheer excitement of what they have accomplished. To the past ambassadors, thank you for the legacy that you have created for us.  To the future readership ambassadors, brace yourself and be open to change because will you forever change! Mostly to my beloved fellow Cambodian ambassadors, this journey has been a priceless treasure that I have learned from every step of the way, every part of this trip holds the most special part in my heart.

-Audra

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Continue to Grow

Every time we meet for class we continue to become even closer friends, its kinda crazy to me… I tend to see only a few people around campus on a day-to-day basis but when we all gather in the classroom its like we have been friends for years… I love it! I have been going through some rough times lately and I am so thankful that I have the friends I do because of Readership. Meagan and Tyler are always there for me when I need an open ear or a partner in crime and I am so thankful for both of them! KK is an unbelievable soul, I honestly feel that WT should pay her as a counselor as well cause I don’t know about the majority of others but she always knows the right things to say when I need someone to lift me up… As the semester ends I have started packing my room and little things keep coming up that remind me of how amazing my freshman year at WT has been… Its weird how I tend to forget such big events? I’m kinda disappointed in myself for forgetting so easily to be honest lol….
-Maral

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Somaly Mam

We just recently got done with presenting everything “Cambodia” to WT at our Town Hall where my contribution was speaking about Somaly Mam. As we were distributing everything that we were going to speak over my Kruesa asked me to talk about what we learned about Somaly Mam and the foundation while we were in Cambodia. I had a really hard time with this, actually that’s a lie, I flat out didn’t want to do this at all. I wanted a topic that I would be able to speak eloquently over, make the audience laugh, and not have to worry about ruffling any feathers. Why couldn’t I talk about something like that? Simply enough, I was not given this privilege of being a Readership Ambassador for when a challenge like this arose to easily back down because I wanted to look good in front of a crowd. That may be easy to write here for all of you, but it was not easy to say yes to my group that I would speak about one of the hardest realizations of our trip. I came to the realization that the best way that I was going to be able to speak about this was to relate it to how it impacted me, and what my expectations of Somaly and her shelters were. I felt that it was important for those that have been following our blog here though that may be wondering why we changed our banner, and why we don’t have blogs about the shelters that we were so excited about visiting before we left up on here.
We found out on the very last skype session that we had with Daniela, the leader of Pepy, that we were not going to be visiting the shelters that were in Phnom Penh. The first thought that I remember having besides just sheer disappointment was one of indignation. How silly now but I thought to myself, all of us here read the book, wrote our papers, and were chosen to go across the world in order to save these women and end sex slavery once and for all. Was that not the purpose of  Readership WT this year? Is that not why we chose Somaly Mam’s book, to get us fired up about this cause so that we would want to go and see these women first hand and hear their stories for ourselves? As you can see from every single blog on here though, there was so much more that we were in Cambodia to see and learn and to do. We never really knew the purpose of why it was that we weren’t going to Somaly Mam’s shelters until the last day when we all came together at the Mhetta Khana Reflection Center before we left to catch our planes back home. The topic came up of the Somaly Mam foundation and her shelters, and I thought to myself ah, here it is, now we will find out why it is we missed out on all of this. Never did I think though that my hardest lesson of Cambodia was waiting to happen, that it had been saved for the very last day of our journey.
As Americans we travel to all of these different foreign “specialties” and the first places that we want to go to are the orphanages and the women’s shelters because they are the most easily accessible to us of poverty tourism. I was that way with the Somaly Mam shelter, I wanted to go and experience these women and children that I had read and written about first hand. I wanted to be able to go in and hear their stories first hand and see them and what their lives were like, be able to sit down and talk with them one on one. Are you seeing a trend here? Looking back I surely do. How selfish was I? I was so absorbed in that American pride, so absorbed in the benefits that I wanted to obtain from the experiences that I was going to get from going to these shelters that I lost sight of everything else. I remember actually thinking, I am going to get some of my best pictures at the shelters with the girls, I know that with all the documentary things that we are trying to do that for sure it is going to be the best there. Wow. We go into places like this, where women and children have been pulled from some of the most unbelievably gut wrenching situations and we expect them to tell us their stories over and over again. We expect them to smile and take pictures with us. We are the ones doing them a favor? That is what I had thought sitting in class that last Skype session before we left on our journey to Cambodia. I can tell you as I was confronted with everything at the reflection center that day in Cambodia though I was ashamed, all I had been concerned about before was that photo album that I was going to be bringing home? How shameful that American pride really can be.
Along with our own personal vendettas that I believe could have been reason alone not to go, Daniela had done a lot research herself into the Somaly Mam foundation. With a foundation as huge as Somaly’s it becomes incredibly hard to manage the money accordingly and make sure that it is going to what the donors are wanting. She had spoken with actual former employees of the foundation who had contact with women in the shelter and other firsthand contacts that shed light on different aspects of the foundation. It was much like with schools that are built that are then left with no teachers to run them; the shelters were not fully equipped with the counselors, social workers, and psychiatrists that these children and women needed. This was an incredibly hard realization to be faced with, especially when we had invested so much into this organization. Well we had invested into the banners and the web site logos and the brand names that we ourselves had funded. Everything that we had been learning leading up to this trip and then from day one on this journey showed us that were we not the perfect examples of everything that we had been learning?
It is so vitally crucial to educate yourself on whatever it is that you decide to vote on with your time and money. In this world if you want more plastic water bottles then buy more of them. If you support an organization then go and invest your time in it. Vote with your time and money. It was then in Cambodia that we felt that our time was better spent at places like Tiny Toones, RDIC, Nyemos, and Friends. The entire duration of our trip was learning the importance of educating yourself on the importance of where the money for things goes and knowing what the impact over input of everything is. While you can buy 10 water filters for a village does that necessarily mean that you completely solved all water born diseases in that area and cured the problems and saved the lives of everyone there? No. Without the follow through and the education everything is futile. Somaly Mam is such an amazing advocate for her cause, her story is gut wrenching and heartbreakingly true. We saw that first hand in Cambodia, because of the education we have that has opened our eyes we were able to see and understand that. The lessons that we have learned from Pepy concerning organizations and what we decide to do with our money and time is one to simply educate yourself, and then to follow up on that education. Know what your money is going for and the impact of everything you are investing yourself in.

Audra Thurman

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21 Days of Change

21 days of change at WT has come to an end; the last event on the calendar was the Hawk Nelson concert and the a lecture from TOMS shoes Blake Mycoskie.  Both of which were great presentations and definitely worth watching.  When all the events started in April, we had just recently come back from Cambodia; this being the case we all had a newfound interest of researching the organizations that WT would be partnering with. A great experience in itself, because we got to practice what we learned about during our stay in Cambodia.

After doing our reading and researching, it got to the point where we had to make a personal decision on whether we thought these non-profits were impacting people in a greater way, rather than just handing out free materials to them. Based on the information that we gathered up, most of us had a pretty solid decision on whether we would or wouldn’t support a foundation.  One that I really spent some time on was TOMS shoes.

I read over six different blogs, that had both positive and negative outlooks. I also went onto the website and looked around at their annual report. I really liked most of what I saw, the ONE for ONE program that they have is really an extraordinary program. The shoes that are given away are modified according to what is better fit for the weather conditions in the country in which the shoes are given away in. In the places where the rainy season is longer than the dry season, the shoes are mostly made of rubber, to keep childrens’ feet from getting too wet. They are producing shoes in 3 different countries, which is very good news for the economy in those places, because of the jobs that are being created by the huge demand of TOMS shoes. And by huge, I mean immense demand, the world has gone on a TOMS craze. Personally, I don’t care too much for the shoes, they just don’t look too comfortable.

Blake is a great person and an even better businessman. His idea of ONE for ONE has people very intrigued and its pretty amazing to see how America alone has taken a step forward in taking the opportunities to help people from different countries. But I don’t necessarily agree with everything that TOMS shoes is doing. They are giving away hundreds of shoes away every day, and that’s great for the people that are receiving them, but I don’t think that this a long term solution to their problems at all. All of these shoes are being given away but what about the people who are making a living by making and selling shoes their in the community. In a sense they are hurting the economy and running the risk of creating a dependency from all the free handouts. One of the blogs that I read, was written from a young man who had been in the Peace Corp for two years. During his time in a developing country, he had a really interesting experience with a family in that village.  The man he talked to was boasting about his iPhone, yet his children didn’t own a pair of shoes. When asked why they weren’t wearing shoes, his response was because the White People hadn’t come to give them shoes yet. He was referring to the World Vision volunteers that gave shoes away back in 1998.

We have to remember that TOMS isn’t an NGO, rather a shoe company so we can’t really hold them accountable for the same things that we would expect from a non-profit, but I think that it’s very important that people still be informed of the impacts that TOMS is making on the people that they are helping. Keeping in mind that the example above won’t always be the case, there is a risk of people assuming that they will always be provided with a pair of shoes. I think that TOMS shoes should be very careful and responsible when giving things away, especially when the company has gained so much popularity in the past years.  With giving comes a huge responsibility and thats one thing that we all need to keep in mind regardless of the situation.

While Blake was here he spoke about the expansion of this ONE for ONE program, which I’m quite excited about. Blake has already created a movement unlike any other and I am really looking forward to seeing what else he is planning on doing. His company has helped people all around the world become involved and has raised awareness on the poverty that consumes most developing countries.

<>< Ceci

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Somewhere Between Beautiful and a Pumpkin

This morning when I woke up, one phrase from my dream was stuck in my head, “Its about being beautiful but I always end up a pumpkin.” This has been playing in my head all day and I have come to the conclusion that this is how I feel when approaching life after Cambodia.
“Its about being beautiful”. Many charities and NGOs begin through a beautiful cause. Somaly Mam’s own life experience drove her to fight to be the rescuer that she never had in the brothels. TOMS thought to improve the heath of those less fortunate by providing shoes. We flew across the world expecting “paint walls and pet kids”.
“…but I always end up a pumpkin.” Despite the good intentions, things don’t always continue to be beautiful. The vision is skewed, needs are not met, and the original purpose is lost in the shuffle. Good intentions just don’t cut it.
But it isn’t just the charitable organizations this odd little phrase seemed to apply to. It applied to me, coming home.I was on fire for altering myself, to become this beautiful, reimagined me. My self destructive behaviors would cease. I would stop apologizing for living and just LIVE. But I ended up as a pumpkin after only three days home. The self destructive ways of pre-Cambodia came rushing back. The beautiful, reimagined me got lost in the shuffle.
As we prepare to present our experience in Cambodia, I think back on the last day when we revisited the book and were told that our time and money would have been better spent elsewhere. I remember how upset I felt that people could fall so far from the original purpose. And now I can only think, she’s a person and so am I. We both are pumpkins. We just need to make our way back to that beautiful beginning and not let it slip from our grasps again.
-Hanna

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