March 2015

On the Cambodian rooftop eating a savory and fatty pork grizzle, rice, and egg lunch from the street I open my gmail to find that I have been accepted to DENVER UNIVERSITY’s JOSEF KORBEL SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES!!!!

One of the top international relations schools on the Globe- #11.
This was the original school I started looking into when teaching in Thailand, and 3 months later, after spontaneously taking the GRE, rallying my mentors for recommendations, and researching international school lunch policy, I am very pleased to report all our work has paid off.
A tremendous thanks to Howard Fisher, Nikki Dand, Kris Wolcott, Darrin Grove, and Theresa Lehman for your support in my mission at Korbel and the accolades you shared with the admissions department. I will not let you down.
And to my family for standing behind my serendipitous leap of faith to quit my job, leave my comfort zone and see the world.
I am still waiting to hear back from CSU and Univeristy Of Colorado, Denver, but this opportunity and acceptance to DU confirms that I will be headed west soon.
If you believe in yourself, have an attitude that changes ordeals into adventures, and move forward altruisticslly one breath, one step at time you’ll create a truly enjoyable life in this world.

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This photograph may appear elegant until you understand the haunting history which took place here. At the “S-21” Tuol Sleng Prison over 12,000 innocent Cambodian intellectuals were tortured to death or hauled to the killing fields during the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979. The photo on the wall shows a prisoner drowned in a bath of his own blood, his ankles swollen from the metal chains and severe dehydration. His body was left decomposing to be gutted by pigs. This was the nicest cell. Most were 1/16th this size with no beds- Only cement floors, chains, and the tin toilet box pictured.
 Our tour guides name was Sokah. She was ten years old when she was separated from her family and forced to work digging irrigation ditches under Khmer Rouges’ rouse for an agrarian peasent society. Reading a bit of history, I predicted the visit at S-21 would be tough, but reality pierced me within seconds of speaking with this Cambodian lady. Not my wildest nightmares could prepare me for the personal horrors she experienced as a child. I did not expect to be speaking, holding hands, and fighting tears with a woman who lived through the Cambodian genocide. She spoke of terror I cannot even imagine. “So hungry. So sad. Lice not just in hair but eating body.” She says she still cannot understand why this happened. “No reason. Why!? So sad.” She swears the census underestimates the Khmer Rouge  devastation. Her guess from what she witnessed is the population of Cambodia decreased from 7 million in 1974 to 3 million in 1981, including babies born.
 I feel disgusted and so ignorant I was never taught this in school. This morning I took a picture with Chum Mey, one of the seven survivors of this dungeon. I held his hands, I peered into his cataract covered irises. And he smiled at me despite living through hell. Everything was so momentary but makes torture real to me in a way I’ve never understood and cannot explain.   These survivors, this population, are resilient beyond words to live through what they have, and continually share their story. Both Chum Mey and Sokah are ordinary tour guides at this museum, but extraordinary humans.
Tonight I sit solemnly reading Chum Mey’s story from his life as a boy running naked through his village to his arrest for being “too good of a mechanic” in 1974. All I muster is sobs. Like Sokah, you do question why, and you do have to accept, “no reason” as an answer. To me, nothing can justify this genocide, any genocide for that matter. 
But I’m sickened I barely knew this story until today and I’m sickened knowing there are so many more.
 Cambodia is still a very fragile place and so many countryside citizens are taken advantage of everyday. The NGO workers, the teachers, the lady at the market I’ve met, have little voice despite how hard they work. Just yesterday, an entire village of five families showed up starving at the NGOs door. The government sold their lands and forced them to evacuate with no solutions, or rice. Innocent people are worked to death of deforestation by the hundreds every week.  What does one do? My compassion hurts.
 Despite this horrific reality, I’m so grateful I’m here to meet these beautiful people and share their dreams. Cambodia I wish to give you a stronger voice and wrap my soul around yours. Come here, all people, and experience this haven of hope, this land of resilient spirits and lend a helping hand and listen and share.





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Maybe in a past life I lived in Texas. Go big or go home tends to align with every goal I set. I dream big. As an eight year old into drama, I’d dress up in this olive green dress and practice my Oscar speech for best actress in the mirror. (Still working on this one). In high school I aspired to have the entire junior class attend the Halloween dance. (It wasn’t the entire class, but it got so out of control they canceled it the following years ). In college, I wanted to raise overs $100k for ZTA foundation’s support of breast cancer education and awareness during BMOC, nearly a $10k increase from the following year (we raised $111K). I applied to a top international relations school and just got my acceptance letter today! And now I want to fund the entire sustainable agriculture program for SCCDO where I am teaching in cambodia to feed the school kids and give them proper nutrition, a $15k undertaking just to get started. Approx $885 dollars a month just for food. TOO BIG!?
The executive director of SCCDO, Piseth, visited us in the classrooms today and later sat us down in the hot box office to share his story. We choked back tears as his twisted childhood and loss of his father during Khmer Rouge made its way to our hearts. The history of the school is quite inspirational, but the funds to keep this NGO dream of housing orphans, feeding impoverished children, and providing them with an education, are dwindling. My heart sinks knowing the three teachers are working without a salary. It’s the wetness in their eyes, and the selflessness of their souls that makes me want to drop everything in my life and help them in a big way. TOO BIG?
But reality and corruption and trust takes its toll on your mind. There is a lot of corruption in Cambodia and you wonder who and how to trust. Will you ever truly know where your money is going? One reassuring aspect is the construction impeding on our classrooms’ attention span (walls are drilled and placed as we teach) is direct action from the $2000 donation a volunteer gave last week. The couple from Norway, who are the most financially sound donars of SCCDO, visited the school to see its progress, just yesterday.
And then I tell myself just to focus small. Instead of trying to fund an entire program, maybe just buy a sachel of rice to feed the kids for one week.  Where is my line? How do I balance my compassion against reality? When do I take a step back and accept that just my time teaching is making a difference? At what point is my effort enough? 
They are so grateful for anything. I am grateful to be here with the children and doing my best explaining composition and the differences between writing in first and third person (today’s lesson).
One breath, one small step at a time. I can dream big, but I have to just have patience and accept my efforts to get there. Think global act local is a good mantra for me. If day by day I am making a difference in myself, with a child, in a community, maybe it’s that string of events that changes the world for the better. At least I hope so.
Cheers,
Hallie
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I do not even know how to begin. I guess with the physical weight I feel across my heart in first experiencing the Cambodian school I’m teaching at for the next two weeks. Why do I feel like erupting into tears? It’s a similar feeling to that I had on the back of pi lak’s motorbike. How can some have so much and be so miserable and some have so little and be so sweet? It’s a fickle world we live in. This trodden feeling I have is helplessness maybe- where do I begin to help? And what will help!? Money, time, a voice? Luckily the universe has blessed me with all three so I feel perhaps a calling to act everyday to spread this wealth. I guess this aligns with my passion of education and exploration of the world. This is an enlightening EEE moment.
First day of school:
The faces pierce me first. The smiles that burry contrite emotions of the one teacher and two administrative fellows who run the entire save children and communities development organization’s south Phnom Penh school. We arrived via Tuk Tuk after classes had started for the morning, but in retrospect of the AM, I question, if we as volunteers aren’t at the head of the classroom, who is?
The 20 minute tuktuk ride through ‘real Cambodian living’ is littered with plastic bags, bottles, cans, all faded this dusty color, faded by the sun and environment with certainly no sign of decomposing. The amount of litter, it is over whelming. And judgement hit me first, really questioning how an entire population can live in such filth? Why doesn’t anyone care to pick this up? Then my narrow minded western suburban lense slapped me across the face upon realizing- there is no designated place to put it, and no organization to come pick it up and put it there. So for all the times I’ve complained about hauling the garbage 20m to the end of the driveway, I am sorry. And then I begin to wonder how many of these country dwellers, forced to the city to find work which averages $80 USD a month if lucky, miss the serenity of nature, or understand an outsiders perception of ‘living in filth’. 

The Tuk Tuk pattered to a stop on a small dirt road, after twisting around the part of the city that the faint of heart does not want to see. From the dilapidated buildings surrounding us, I questioned, are we here? Where’s the school? Where’s the children’s laughter? It sounds like we are in a major construction zone. The Tuk Tuk driver needed to reassure us and give us another nudge in the direction of two men. I wonder what our faces looked like to them- immediately our politeness took over and the confusion in our eyes before was now matched with welcomes. Pero nate and (3rd teachers name) seemed so very grateful to meet us. Yung is from China, and michelle and I from the states. Like any formal first meeting, they welcomed us into the “office” to sit down and better understand our teaching experience and what level we should be placed in. The office had no electricity,and to get there, we needed to climb over metal poles covering the floor. They apologized for the noise- they are building walls. Until a $2000 donation came from one of the volunteers last week, the school did not have walls.

Young was to my left, michelle to my right, seated on a wicker sofa across from these three men. Cara another teacher with CVF came in too holding pinaud’s hand. We teach from 8-9 with a fifteen minute break then 9:15 to 10. To my understanding this am class then leaves for lunch and government school or work. We return to teach the pm kids 2-3′ 3:15-4. I am not a formally trained teacher, but they did not even care. I speak English and have zero criminal background. That’s it. That’s how desperate they are to educate these children.
My teaching experience comes from Thailand with the mirror foundation and some volunteer work inner city in the states. These programs were filled with resources of flash cards and games and books and markers and beads. SCCDO now has walls and that is an accomplishment. This school has courage and volunteers and energetic, smiling, bright children who are so thankful for what they have. Yet, this school barely has a foundation. There’s a tin roof and 4 10×10 areas separated by new thin plywood walls, and a whiteboard in each classroom. There are four whiteboard markers and one whiteboard eraser. So any time the board is filled and you need to erase, one of the students in the back has to pop over to whatever classroom had the eraser last. By the end of the hour, I had used my skirt to wipe the board and even a crumpled up piece of paper. I didn’t even want to use the sheet of paper Tepy eagerly ripped from her Winnie the Pooh notebook, because each child only has one notebook. They share pens.
There are no books, not one single children’s book on nonexistent shelves. I had asked the teachers… What do the students like and not like? Cheerfully Piro said, “They don’t like to read because it difficult to pronounce English aloud.” Embarrassed they laughed and we smiled. I thought oh, great, I will practice this, so I asked about any books, and that’s when my heart sank- smiles remaining, but their eyes changing. There are no books. Zero books. Not one story in the entire school. 
To think about the library in my elementary school, or snuggling up on my kindergarten teachers lap for a story, or even the multitude of workbooks for every subject and taking this for granted my entire life brings weight to my chest. But I cannot sit here and feel guilty. I will be creative in my teaching with one marker. The ten, “level three” kids I have are starting to be conversational and write sentences with tenses or change verbs into adverbs. I tell myself I will make a difference in the two weeks I have with them. And afterwards I vow to fill their school with books and resources to maximize their learning potential.
The gratefulness and joy and sincerity in their hearts fills mine.
I’m going to go plan out two weeks of lessons now, with just my brain, their attentiveness and a marker, wish me luck!
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unusually pleasing event or thing

A woman decked out in a 90s track suit on a motorbike wearing monolo blahnik heels – en route through small town in From HaLong Bay, Vietnam 


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The more I travel, the more compassion I have for the humanness of us all.

 Universals exist in our worlds despite completely differing cultural, religious, political, socioeconomic, and physiological backgrounds.

I recently experienced a traditional village wedding in Ban Nongluang, Laos in the mountains of the champassak province far from the hub of of any city civilization. The majority of the time while dancing and drinking, I chuckled softly to myself thinking this celebration of souls uniting is no different than back home. 

There are so many differences I can elaborate on, (such as the brides red lucky gown, and little boys running around suckling Popsicles and no pants, or the dirt dance floor) but if I blurred my eyes, and mellowed the booming village Kareoke beats, that soft inebriation and whizzing on the dance floor, that feeling in my heart was as exhilarating as home. That spirit hammering contentment of a hundred people coming together wishing two newlyweds a blessed life together is undoubtedly universal.

When you live life completely in the moment, this golden human thread of life begins to unwind.  The toxic tightly wound thread we’ve been brainwashed to feel secure in, begins to feel too tight for comfort. If we allow this thread to unravel and wind with others, no matter who, and share, and love, and smile, and laugh, the net we trap ourselves in, our anxieties, and what we think is important or stressful, reorganizes into a glimmering, new, enlightening web. A living, momentous, human web which holds us just as securely.
At celebrations like this my spiritual thread shimmers with all that is good in life and I am so very grateful to have an open-hearted, curious-minded outlook and experience.
I wish the bride and groom a pleasant and prosperous future and thank them tremendously for a truly unique wedding, which from this oneness perspective is really just same,same.
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