New Year’s Eve gives us the chance to reflect on the previous year, because most of us are not the same person that we were 365 days ago. It’s a tradition to look back on achievements and failures, on personal ups and downs. For whatever reason, we believe that once the clock strikes midnight on December 31st, everything in our lives will magically change for the better. However, it is important to understand that in order to enact this change, we have to work hard.
When I reflect on 2022, a personal highlight for me was my annual trip to Cambodia. I was able to spend two months on site, spending time with all of our students, beneficiaries, and their remaining relatives. This was my second trip as director of this organization, but my eleventh overall. These trips are like a family reunion, and while our students and I are in constant contact through weekly and occasionally daily phone calls and video chats, I find that being present in person is extremely important.
Over the span of two months, we had plenty of time to hold meetings and talk about each individual’s path, their successes and missteps – but we also had time to spend quality time together and create new memories. I always consider myself a brother or mentor first, and a director of an organization second, which is why I put a heavy focus on guiding our students through their personal development as well as professional development. This includes standing by them through all of their emotional hurdles, including moments of uncertainty and worry, excitement or sheer hopelessness, and taking the time to reevaluate their personal goals, strengths, and reigniting their passion for studying and working hard in order to achieve their dreams.
I was able to visit our students’ remaining relatives, which has been an important tradition for many years. I find it very important to always keep in mind where they grew up and which people still play important roles in their lives today in order to fully understand the depth of their characters and their background.
Whenever our students had some time off, we explored the ever-changing city of Phnom Penh with all of the new opportunities that it has to offer – such as seeing a movie at a recently opened movie theater on the big screen for the first time. These are the moments that our students and I will cherish for a lifetime.
The end of September is always a particularly magical time in Cambodia, as one of the biggest holidays of Khmer culture takes place: Pchum Ben. It is a 15-day festivity to honor the spirits of their ancestors, a time in which they go to pagodas together during the day to partake in Cambodian prayers and customs, and organize small get-togethers and parties in the evenings.
Overall, my 2022 trip to Cambodia was full of fun, laughter, tears, and most importantly determination on all sides involved to keep doing what we are doing: stick together and empower our Cambodian peers on their unique journeys to a prosperous future.
The end of the year has now also become a time in which I create our organization’s annual report to review our numerous projects and highlight the change and progress that our students and beneficiaries have been able to make in their lives. It is unbelievable how much has happened since the launch of Thomlang – Cambodian Youth Support in January 2021 and I couldn’t be more appreciative and thankful to all of our supporters and donors.
We have a lot of amazing projects planned for 2023, which we will reveal on this website and on our Instagram and Facebook pages throughout the year. But until then, I would like to take a moment and thank you all once again for your continuous support and generosity. Thank you so much for believing in what we do!