A story from Pierre, CYTI Alliance Coordinator
Once upon a time in Phnom Penh, in the Kingdom of Cambodia, a young French guy (that’s me), came to work as a volunteer with Mith Samlanh. It was back in 2003, I had arrived on a week end, I was so impatient to meet everyone and to discover my new duties that I went straight to work the next Monday, a bit lost and jetlagged but very motivated. Mith Samlanh was already a large program, at this time the very small international team, composed of 4 or 5 persons was in the Mith Samlanh office. During my first morning I was introduced to everyone, visited the center, I remember was very impressed by the size of the center and by the warm ambiance in the center, I had an amazing feeling that first morning, the same I actually still have every six or more months each time I pass Mith Samlanh gate and stay for a minute under the courtyard “magic tree” playing marbles with the kids.
As lunch time came I asked my new (and soon very dear) colleague Sarah, whose Australian accent from Melbourne was absolutely impossible for me to understand at the time, where I could have lunch. She answered me something with “downstairs” and “mate” in the sentence. So I went downstairs and saw some young people and kids queuing, so I joined them in the line. I thought they were smiling because I couldn’t speak a word of Khmer and was trying to speak with my hands. I got a plate of rice, a bowl of chicken and vegetable soup and sat at the first table with a group of kids, like I used to do in France when I was working in “centres de loisirs (youth centers)”.
I enjoyed my first lunch but got really surprised that neither Mith Samlanh staff nor the few international staff didn’t came to have lunch… I must have thought they were too busy… By the time I was arriving at the end of the mountain of rice the kids had served me, I saw Sarah passing in front of the canteen, stopping suddenly when she saw me, and starting to laugh… she let me finish my lunch and then explained to me that she had actually meant that I should try Friends the Restaurant located in front of the Mith Samlanh center, and that I was actually in the canteen for the kids….
I really enjoyed this first lunch, it was actually a nice moment and I now understand why the kids looked so happy to share their lunch with me, why I received a double ration of rice and dessert, I must have been the first volunteer lost in the canteen, and Sarah of course made sure my reputation was firmly established… This story followed me for a few months, until my underwear ended up framed in Friends-International office, but that is another story….
(PS: I actually had another free lunch, at Friends the Restaurant at the end of my 3 months volunteership, offered by Gustav (Friends’ Hospitality Coordinator), but he made me swear not to repeat it in order to not damage his reputation…)