Change Maker: Reflections from a Social Enterprise Field Study in Cambodia

December 20, 2013 at 9:07 am Leave a comment

IMG_2810Each year a mix of community members and PSU students travel to India or Cambodia with Impact Entrepreneurs to spend a few weeks working, learning and collaborating with social enterprises. This year the group is in Cambodia. Here are their stories.

By Melissa Loney (far right)

As we wrapped up our days here in Cambodia, we had a farewell dinner in which stories came out and realizations were revealed. There was fun, laughter, and remembrances, as well as deeper thoughts exposed. Throughout all of these, one topic stuck with me: how do you “turn it off?” How do you turn off the empathy you feel for the people or things you can’t change without turning off your empathy or understanding of the world around you?

For me this was a provoking idea, as I tend to feel like I’m more “turned off” in my usual life — and it carried over to this trip as well. We go through our daily lives and don’t tend to notice those things we see each day: the homeless person on the corner, the family who looks unkempt, or any other similar occurrence that happens often. These are things I consistently see in Portland, and they are things I would like to change, but because the underlying problems are so overwhelming, they tend to get put in the “think about it later” part of my brain. Then things get busy and these items are generally never thought about again, therefore perpetuating the problem.

I don’t think I noticed until now, but during a portion of this trip I still had at many of these walls up. Perhaps it’s because I’m an extremely practical person, or maybe it’s because I unconsciously don’t want to face the feelings that coincide with the visual inputs, but whatever the reason I was still feeling at least partially closed off through the goodbye celebration. During this discussion over rice and fake Ray-Bans, I came to realize I had become so focused on a part of the goal of my trip, working with ARTillery Café, that I failed to recognize some of the details.

Upon further reflection, as well as a walk around the city with Kate today, I came to realize we had not only seen parts of the country for our project, but we saw many things tourists and visitors here don’t get the chance to see. We saw villagers doing what they can to get by, spoke to farmers trying to make their crops viable and NGO employees doing their best to help out wherever possible, as well as other glimpses into the everyday lives of the people of Cambodia. We were invited into some people’s lives for a glimpse at what they consistently do, as well as perspectives on the same topic from multiple sources. When this realization hit, many of the emotions I was trying to unconsciously ignore came forward and I felt this overwhelming sense of helplessness. This is the feeling that the dinner conversation was about: how to turn off, or be able to live with, these strong feelings everyday.

Now that our part in Cambodia is over, I believe I will really be able to reflect on these feelings and try to understand a conclusion discussed last night. These emotions are there for a reason, and should be a part of your everyday, but by counteracting their overwhelming presence with your own personal brand of good you put out in the world, it can change that feeling from helplessness to pride. This is your personal brand of social responsibility, and can lead you down the path of understanding your place in the world. Where you can place yourself to do the most good with your strengths as well as helping to counteract those overwhelming emotions. This is how social entrepreneurship begins: with the realization that your presence could create change, no matter how small the scale.

On a final note, this trip has been an eye-opening experience, and I have met some amazing people that now are all friends. Thank you for making this trip so worthwhile and creating an environment that was completely open and nonjudgmental. This trip would not have been the same without all of you, so thank you again for your support through this shift of presence and thoughtfulness.

Entry filed under: Cambodia Study Abroad. Tags: , , , .

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