What is it like to live without the desire for money or the worry of earning a living in contemporary society? When my family recently visited Chua Sup Lon, a colorful monastery tucked away amidst the rubber trees and fields of green rice paddies in Binh Phuoc, I had a massive epiphany that life itself can be so simple, yet we often choose to complicate simplicity. As I saw the pastoral life of the children living in the temple, I couldn’t help but recognize the stark contrast in our lived experiences. When I brought out my cameras, for all of them, it was their first time ever putting their eye through the viewfinder and hearing the lens shutter click. When I came home and shared this story with my Aunt, a retired midwife, she told me, “There was a time when I went to a temple on a healthcare mission and when we gave the children candy, they had no idea what it was. After they tried eating it, they followed us in swarms to ask for more. Imagine how removed of a life from civilization you must live for a child to have never had a candy before.”
At the same time, I’m also trying to be wary of romanticizing poverty. Yes, the usual day to day routine of these children is much less stressful and more liberating than most of my tightly-scheduled days, but they live in the temple not by choice but because their parents are too destitute to care for them or because they are orphans. It’s not an easy life. Emotionally, I’m sure many of these children crave love as is natural of children. In moments where you realize that people who have so little can still smile, you are reduced to a state of humility and introspection. There was one girl who I became rather attached to, Vai. I am a bit sentimental, but there was something about that child that was different and I still can’t shake the feeling whenever I look back at photographs. She was the first out of the children to smile at me and wave. Since they spoke Khmer, I couldn’t communicate with them outside of sign language. Vai was shy and earnestly sweet – and that smile, I couldn’t forget it when I was sitting in the car on our way home. Later, my Mother inquired if she had parents, to which a monk told us that she was one of the children who was orphaned at the temple. Our mission brought a bag of toys for every child in the village and the temple, and I couldn’t help but take a step back and wonder what her life was been had she been born somewhere else, with a different family and a different passport. We could have easily been each other.
We do not get to choose what fates we have at birth. I think about this daily here in Asia because poverty is rampant. We get the lot that we have and we make do the best we can. If you were born a little earlier or a little later, who knows what would have happened? What if you had been born in Syria instead of Canada? What if your family were laborers in the slums? I had no say over the situations that I have been blessed with. I have a passport that allows me to travel easily. My nationality offers me a lot of diplomatic protection and my hometown is always ranked as one of the top livable cities in the world. So, don’t wallow in the fact that you have so many blessings. You don’t get to decide what your luck in life is. You can, however, work hard. If you know that you are more fortunate than others, it is nothing to be ashamed of or to hide. Take what you have been given and make something of it so that you can contribute back to society and give to people. Don’t squander it away because everyday there is someone fighting for a chance at what you most often take for granted. Clean water. Access to education. Safety. Love. I’ve always known that I wanted to make money in life and in this pseudo non-materialistic front that we have in society, vocalizing that you want to make money can often be frowned upon. But, I have no shame in saying that I do want to make money – an endless reserve of it – not because I want to hoard it or to buy 10 Birkin bags. I want money because it offers you freedom and there are so many projects and people I want to support, but I have limited resources as a student. For children like Vai, I would be more than happy to invest in their futures. Here’s to hoping that with some meaningful work and dedication, I’ll be there soon.
Unloading our goods for the mission trip
Childhood is one of the best times we have in life.
Orange robes hang dry.
All the children line up for a routine medical care checkup.
This is a candid shot taken by one of the children during their first attempt at using a camera!
♬ ✩ September – Earth, Wind & Fire ♬ ✩
Vai (far left) is incredibly sweet. She is orphaned, hence why she is living at the temple. Most of the children here either are from extremely destitute families who cannot care for them or they have no parents at all.
Everyone at the temple eats vegetarian meals.
To be honest, I am not quite sure what this little fellow was doing, but I think he was trying to create his own game of make-believe fishing in the lotus pond.
A child living at the temple plays amongst the lotus flowers.
A schoolgirl runs past the temple gates.
Having some fun reviewing some footage that Vai (standing up on the right) shot with my camera.
Prayer before lunch