Day 14, our final day in Cambodia, to keep in tradition we started off with an early wake up and a simple yet satisfying breakfast at The Alibi Guest House. From here we visited Tabitha, a social enterprise organization which seeks to help provide shelter, food and education for the poorest of the poor women throughout Cambodia. Here we learnt about the incredible work that they have done since their founding. From changing a Cambodian perception of 'I am bad' to 'I am worthy', Tabitha have built over 75 schools, built over 10,000 houses and provided over 20,000 water sources through their investments. The enterprise aspires to empower Cambodia women to then transform their communities. The presentation we saw at Tabitha really provided me with faith and hope, that even though a country which has seen such terrible atrocities and is still experiencing great injustice and mistrust, there are still people dedicating their lives to helping others escape the poverty cycle and get on their feet.
Whilst the afternoon was spent doing some final market runs and having lunch, we also took some time to pause and affirm our other pilgrims, specifically our Prayer Buddies whom we received at the start of the trip. We presented a gift to each other and a heartfelt message, these seemingly small gestures deeply touched all of us and it was a beautiful way to commemorate our time together. It was quite difficult to affirm the other, as there was simply so much that each and every one of us could say about each other and saying all of it in one sentence was tough. However each and every pilgrim beautifully affirmed their prayer buddy. Over this trip we have built incredible bonds, student to student, teacher to teacher, however also teacher to student and student to teacher. Some of us came on this immersion as good friends some of us merely as acquaintances, but finishing this trip we are all so close having had this incredible opportunity to fully appreciate the other outside the confines of our Bulleen campus.
Our pilgrimage to Cambodia has been an incredible journey and experience, whether that be seeing the breathtaking temples such as Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, being deeply moved by the generosity shown by Brother Francis at the Marist Pastoral Centre in Pailin or being intoxicated by the happiness on each and every child's face whom we encountered, whether that be in Pailin or Phnom Penh at the Salla La Valla School. So many indescribable experiences over the course of two weeks and going home now is somewhat bitter sweet. Whilst it will be great to be back home and see friends and family, every individual has connected with something, or someone in Cambodia and leaving that behind will be challenging.
Indeed special thanks are in order, firstly a thank you to the wonderful teachers who travelled across Cambodia with us boys. I'm sure more often than once you were quite fed up with us but at all times you were supportive, friendly and caring, for this we can not extend enough gratitude. Secondly, to the parents and followers of the blog, it has truly been a highlight of our trip to wake up and read your comments whilst eating breakfast, through your support we were able to continue through our pilgrimage knowing you were there with us every step of the way. We thank you so much for your involvement and encouragement throughout our journey.
There is a lot of pressure and questions surrounding this last blog. Will the immersion be summarised well? Will the most important moments be captured in detail which allows people to relive them? Will everything be included? And the general answer is, no, not everything will be covered in this last blog. There is simply to much to cover, and everyone has their own individual encounters that are dear and unique to them. Each pilgrim needs time to fully process the solidarity immersion. So with this we say goodbye to the beauty of Cambodia and its people. We have all changed for the better.
Although the sun is setting on our time in Cambodia, it is only the beginning for the next step of our journey. We are all called to apply the teachings and new found knowledge to our lives back home, on our quest to provide hope and be more for the other.
Gerard McConville (on behalf of the entire Marcellin pilgrims)