We’re All In This Together

Words by Sarah Prescott
08 March, 2014

Sometimes you meet someone and after a five-minute conversation, it feels like you’ve known each other a lifetime. You know the moments I mean. The times when you wonder if the person you’re talking to is actually your long lost twin from which you were separated from at birth.

I had one of these moments last year, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. This woman lived in a rural Cambodian village, and did I mention we couldn’t even speak the same language? Let me explain…

In March 2013, I headed on my first projects trip with Thankyou to Cambodia and Vietnam. I’d been working at Thankyou for six months, and I was beyond excited to have an opportunity to meet some of the people we’d impacted through safe water access.

On the second last day of the trip we arrived in a rural province. We walked into one of the villages and it looked like many we’d seen throughout the trip – the raised houses made of reeds, small children playing in the dirt and water solutions with blue pipes that Thankyou had funded.

We walked towards one of the houses and a woman waved at us, beckoning us towards her home. This woman was small in stature, extremely slight, with weathered skin and a huge smile. What initially struck me about her was the spirit in her eyes and the obvious sense of joy about her.

She gestured to me to come and sit next to her on her bench in the shade, because she said she was worried I’d get burnt in the hot sun. I thought I’d better be polite, so I awkwardly went and sat next to her while everyone else had to stand. She held my arm and talked to me in Khmer, and even though I didn’t understand a word she was saying, I could sense there was something funny about what she was saying. I began to laugh, then she started laughing…and we laughed non-stop at absolutely nothing while the rest of the group watched on and wondered what in the heck was going on.

The two of us then sat down on the ground with a translator and began to talk. She told us that her name was Ken Chun and she began to share how her husband had died during the genocide, leaving her to fend for their six children. She spoke of having to flee to Thailand during the war and how hard it was for her after losing her husband to deal with the struggles of living in poverty that included having no access to food or safe water.

“I cried a lot because I didn’t have enough food. My children were really small, and I had to go out and find food. It was hard,” she said.

After the war, she’d returned to Cambodia with her family. She then began to tell me how her life changed after getting access to safe water through a well that had been built near her house.

“I don’t have to worry or think anymore now that I have clean water. Now it is better,” she said, pointing over to the well.

I was blown away as I looked and saw that she had constructed a pipe that ran from the well to her veggie gardens, meaning she was able to automatically water her garden by pumping the well. As I listened to her story I got the feeling that she was a fighter, a woman who didn’t give up or make excuses in her life. Even though she really had every right to.

Ken Chun then explained how she had learned to grow a vegetable garden, and with the produce she fed her family and sold the rest of it. For work, she looked after cattle and made baskets to sell at the market. At one point, I asked if there was anything else she did in her day beyond looking after the cattle and harvesting crops and she laughed and said jokingly, “Come on, what do you mean! I have no time left in the day!”. Yep, you guessed it, the laughter began again. Ken Chun then said to the translator, “If me and her spoke the same language, we would be very good friends”. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

As we talked, I was touched by her story and her obvious strength, resilience and determination. Meeting Ken Chun taught me that connecting with someone is not something that’s based on shared circumstances or even shared culture. It’s based on the fact that despite different languages, different nationalities and different paths, we’re all in this thing called life together.

— Words by Sarah Prescott