By: Geneviève Bisson

Life is made up of a collection of stories. We witness them all around us with their colorful characters, places, moments and emotions.  I feel grateful for the series of stories that make up my life and how often I feel deeply moved by them.

As I left Cambodia yesterday I felt like I had a better understanding of the program we support, better insight into the country, a few new friends and many touching and hopeful stories to share. In other words, I felt like the week had been a great success.

FrançoisMarthaMichelle and I met up in Phnom Penh early last Tuesday. We squeezed in time to talk about our goals for the day and of course a last minute morning coffee before we hit the bumpy roads.

After a few left and right turns crossing the Cambodian landscape we arrived at our first school visit. We soon realized that the things we had talked about during breakfast wouldn’t be as easy to actually do. As a teacher I get this often, you make a lesson plan and as you start you divert, adapt and go with the flow. Once, I started a lesson on giving instructions and ended up talking about the name of baby animals. Okay, Okay, maybe that one was a bit off track.

We visited two schools that day and learned about I.T class and school gardens.  We played with the kids, took a few pictures and of course did the now infamous magic trick. Martha, who came as the photographer, had brought a small printer. This became a big event as the kids crammed up around it waiting to see the photos magically appear.  There I thought my magic trick was good, nothing could compare to the big smiles on their faces as they were holding the pictures. For them, it was small treasures.

The next day we left the capital. Pursat was our next destination.  We were greeted by Lee who works at Hope International Cambodia. They were our first official partner. François had already gone out to the field with them and returned only with positive feedback. Over the next few days it became clear why he had this experience. I too was impressed by the impact they have, the lives they are able to transform and their humble ways of doing it.

Hope works is 22 countries and the vast majority of their projects begin with providing access to water.

When you give a water well to a family you give them a window into a different kind of life. One that they don’t have to worry about getting sick because of contaminated water, one where they don’t have to spend their entire day out fetching water, one where they are healthy and have the energy to work.

After the water well is given this is exactly what happens: a better life. Hope opens up more possibilities whether by giving groups of woman micro loans through  their self help program, a vegetable garden or farm animals. They educate them along the way and give them the tools and support to move forward in their new journey.

We visited 11 families that Hope helped, 6 of which we funded. The smile of these people never fails to touch me. You can sense by the way they stood, their expressions and the enthusiasm in their voice that they’re proud. They have so many reasons to be.

We’ve asked them all how their lives have changed since receiving assistance and every time Lee translated them the question their smiles grew wider. For them, it meant so much to be able to provide for their families and allow their children to receive an education.  Something most of them never received.

We visited families that were at all different stages of the process. Some have had a water well for 10 years, others a few months, and one family’s was not quite completed yet.

It was clear that the woman without clean water didn’t wear the same smile. For her, she lives day-to-day with uncertainty, wondering if she will have enough money to feed herself and children. I know that her story is about to change and I am hopeful that soon she will gain a new sense of control and confidence.

Lee took such good care of us during the trip. She brought us on an adventurous bamboo train, ordered us amazing Cambodian dishes to try, translated our questions and brought us to visit all these families. More than that she made us all believers of the positive impact Hope has in the field, not by “selling us” their programs or vision, but by making us experience the journey. We saw how connected she felt with each family’s personal stories. Their actions and what we saw speak for themselves. I find it rare to meet people that have such silent strength and a deep sense of purpose that embodies so much grace.

I don’t know if I made it clear, but she inspired me.

All of the families we visited truly believed that change is possible.

We can be a part of that change. Seeing these families and knowing that our Foundation and company was a part of it was extremely rewarding.

All in all it was a great trip. We talked, laughed, learned and experienced many great moments. Being right there in the field is such a privilege.

I get to be a part of something much bigger than myself. I get to be a part of things that, for me, feel real.

Cambodia felt real.