Reflections by Friends co-founder Mark Turgesen on one unforgettable evening in our 20 year history… with more to come!
“Phnom Penh, Cambodia, August 4th, 1995 – Man Phally and the Mith Samlanh outreach team along with Mia Wood, a young aspiring artist, sprawled white rectangular sheets along the crumbling and decrepit riverside promenade. Just as a brilliant half moon began to rise over the Mekong river, an experimental project was unfolding. With only candles to light the way, this night 15 street children would, perhaps for the first time, see themselves expressed in rainbow colors and bold outlines.
Together they traced each other, taking turns laying flat on white canvasses while their street companions would meticulously draw lines around them. The smiles and giggles as each child lay looking up at the stars above powered an atmosphere of friendship between Phally and his team and the children they work with.
As more and more vibrancy of the children’s work came to life, more and more people stopped to see what was causing such fanfare in the middle of the night. I was aware Mr. Christopher Warren, the US Secretary of State was visiting the city at the time, but I wasn’t aware that he would just be around the corner from us that night. By the time most children had expressed grandiose colors schemes of their own imagination, Mr. Warren’s entourage was leaving the Grand Palace heading back to Cambodiana hotel. We found ourselves in the company of Mr. Warren as he drove by, poking his head out in curiosity of what probably appeared bafflingly illuminating and spectacular in such a dark and desperate city. I couldn’t help but laugh at his comical look of amusement with subtle hints of confusion.
By the time Mr. Warren’s trail of sirens and loaded weapons had disappeared it was clear the children were completely absorbed in their art project. Not one seemed distracted by the buzzing sounds of the outside world. What looked like a banner of solidarity, fifteen children transposed on cloth hung together along the roadside. Standing proud of what they created, the children began to explain their story to curious strangers. You could tell, perhaps at that moment, they arrived in a new space of seeing themselves in the most hopeful of light.”
‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’ Oscar Wilde