During our Spring Break we thought we’d post about other things going on in our lives besides teaching.  So far we’ve posted about crafts, running, gardening, seeking happiness, etc.  Today’s Teachers’ Time Out post is about something that I used to be really involved in UNTIL I started teaching and it has to do with the beautiful country, Cambodia.DSC05651

A handful of years ago, Joel and I spent four months backpacking through South East Asia.  Upon embarking on this trip I didn’t expect or intend to come back a changed person, I just wanted to explore another corner of the world with the man I loved.  Little did I know, South East Asia had a different plan for me.

Our entire trip was incredible, but one of the most remarkable places we traveled through was Cambodia.  I could write for days about Cambodia and the rats, smells, terrible guest houses, pollution and congested traffic.  Instead, I’m going to write about “Let Us Create”, a children’s art program that caught my eye whilst strolling along a beach one day.

When I stumbled upon Let Us Create (formally known as the Cambodian Children’s Painting Project) the program was a tiny NGO, situated on a beach in Sihanoukville, Cambodia in a shack that didn’t have walls and doubled as a bar by night.

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All kinds of kids would show up to paint and create at the centre.  Children were fed and given free dental hygiene if they enrolled in the program.  More importantly, children were given the opportunity to use creativity and artwork as an outlet or an escape from their daily lives.   Children were able to make a small income from their artwork by selling it to tourists, saving half the money in a bank account (created by LUC) and taking the rest of the money home to buy food, etc.  Let Us Create was somewhat of a safe-haven for these children, many of whom were (still are) being raised by their older siblings.  What you may not know about Cambodia is that in certain areas of the country the affects of the genocide in the 70s are still visible, palpable, obvious.  A whole generation of people, who would now be parents, is essentially missing.

We spent some time at Let Us Create and I made a point to connect with the then-coordinator; I had a feeling like Let Us Create was going to be part of my life for a long time.

We commissioned some art work to put up in our Victoria condo.  I also bought some pieces for my mom and grandma.
We commissioned some art work to display in our Victoria condo. I also bought some pieces for my mom and grandma.

Fast forward six years.  It’s been a while since I’ve been in Cambodia, but the country still resonates with me on a daily basis.  Since early 2008 I’ve been coming up with ways to raise money and send it back to Let Us Create. I started fundraising for LUC by purchasing boxes of the children’s artwork, selling it for a greater price here in Victoria and then wiring the funds back to LUC.  I did this many times and the results were always pretty incredible.

UVic’s Faculty of Education was extremely gracious and generous during my initial vision of hosting an art event.  Before I was even a student in the Faculty of Education (becoming a teacher was merely a pipe dream!) the Faculty sat down with me, including the Dean, and heard what I had to say about my experiences in Cambodia.  One phenomenal woman, Crystal, took me under her wing and we set off to create this amazing week-long art event in the Wilfred Johns Gallery, situated in the Faculty of Education’s building.  The event eventually happened once I was well on my way to becoming a teacher and the space and refreshments were provided by UVic; I sent over $2000 back to Cambodia after that one event.

Special thank you to Super Save Disposal for the initial donation that really launched this event!

Explaining to some fellow cohort friends what Let Us Create is all about.
Explaining to some fellow cohort friends what Let Us Create is all about.
I am still totally grateful for my dear friend, Leanne, and my husband, Joel, who helped me set up the gallery for HOURS.  The event wouldn't have come together if it wasn't for them.
I am still totally grateful for my dear friend, Leanne, and my husband, Joel, who helped me set up the gallery for HOURS. The event wouldn’t have come together if it wasn’t for them.

Following the big Wilfred Johns gallery show I continued to raise funds for Cambodia, but on a somewhat smaller scale.  I hosted a few coffee shop style events and sold some of the children’s artwork on the side.  One Christmas, while still completing my B. Ed, I managed to convince my amazing cohort that we should use our “MacLaurin Festival of Trees” event (another long story) to raise money for Let Us Create.  The MacLaurin Festival of Trees wasn’t my idea, but the cause was, so I took charge.  Actually, come to think of it, I don’t think my cohort had any other options – I was pretty adamant that Let Us Create was going to benefit from our fun times.  Thanks for being ever so patient with me, guys.

Some amazing friends and classmates all pitched in to create Christmas tree ornaments in the form of tiny canvasses.  Thanks everyone for your help! *note: spot Meaghan!
Some amazing friends and classmates all pitched in to create Christmas tree ornaments in the form of tiny canvasses. Thanks everyone for your help! *note: spot Meaghan!
Our glorious art-themed tree! We didn't "win" the competition between other trees, but we did send a decent chunk of money to Cambodia.
Our glorious art-themed tree! We didn’t “win” the competition between other trees, but we did send a decent chunk of money to Cambodia.

Joel and I also included Let Us Create in our wedding.  Before the ceremony in Mexico, we held a big reception style BBQ in our hometown for 180 people.  Yes, 180. We set up artwork from Let Us Create and gave people the option to donate to LUC instead of buying us a gift.  That idea raised enough money to purchase a scooter for a Cambodian family and helped them set up their own family-run business.  Thanks to our family and friends for supporting LUC in our married name!

Artwork set up at our pre-wedding BBQ.
Artwork set up at our pre-wedding BBQ.

I also had the honour of representing Let Us Create at my dear friend’s debut art show.  Elyse is an incredible artist – she always has been.  We’ve been friends since we were nine years old and she stood by me when I got married.  Check out her website, specifically her page about Bokeh Blue, HERE.

PS – of course we had to take a bathroom selfie at the event.

Best of friends doing cool things together!
Best of friends doing cool things together!

And THEN, because why not stop a good thing?, I became a yoga teacher.  I’ve taught a few Cambodia-inspired classes, again donating all the funds to Let Us Create.  The video below is an event I held in my hometown over the Christmas holiday in 2012.  The people in the video are all family or long time friends, so I know they won’t mind that I’m posting this.  Thanks to Camille Martens, my dear friend and head coach of Okanagan Rhythmic Gymnastics, for donating her gym space to us.

In addition to buying the scooter for the family (mentioned above) all these fundraisers, the larger events and the smaller initiatives, have helped support the education for 11 Cambodian students.

Some people might argue that sending money to a developing nation isn’t the best way to help, whereas others would support this idea 100%.  I’ve definitely tossed around the idea of going back to Cambodia and volunteering for a month or two (an option that is now available through LUC), but this kind of extensive travel just isn’t conducive to my life right now.  Creating and hosting these events is a huge time investment – something I don’t have a lot of since I started teaching in contracts in early 2013.  However, like many families who feel compelled to give, Joel and I continue to support LUC when we can.  This past Christmas we gifted our parents with a donation to LUC in their name, covering three month’s rent and food for a family.  Our priorities have changed a bit over the years; now that we own our own house we felt donating the funds to support food and rent for a family would be a testimony to our parents’ financial support over the years.

My biggest dream (and I’ll be bold enough to publish it on the internet) is to travel to Cambodia with my husband and our future children, once they are school aged.  I would love to take a year off from life in our safe, wholesome little corner of the world and live in Sihanoukville while volunteering with my family at Let Us Create.  Acts of service, such as this, fuel my fire and passion for life.  One day this dream will become a reality, but until then I’ll continue to volunteer for the precious children at Let Us Create from afar…it’s the very least I can do.

If this post interests you, feel welcome to check out Let Us Create’s amazing program HERE.  The program has grown tremendously since I was in Cambodia six years ago; it’s pretty amazing to know that we have been a tiny part of the change.

Karley