Months back in June, I found myself in Cambodia on the Interact International Understanding trip with ‘The Very Good People’ and on the last morning we spent on the surreal trip, we were told to write letters to ourselves about anything we had wanted to remember from this trip. The promise to have these letters sent to us months later when we were back in Singapore, was kept and days ago, I found the letter in my mailbox. So today, I thought I’d share with you what I wrote for myself, on a groggy morning without coffee in an attempt to encapsulate the lessons from the country and its people, and above all, from this experience:
First, good job taking yourself on the overseas service learning trip you’ve wanted to go on for the longest time. Thinking back, I think you started off extremely guarded- afraid of the possible emotional attachment to these relationships that may not even last, or the probable exposure that shames you and how you’ve been leading your life back in Singapore. But coming on this trip, you’ve slowly but steadily opened your heart to make precious moments with the UNACAS kids, and it has paid off so much more than you expected. So the first lesson I hope you remember back in Singapore, is to continue trusting people and allowing for things to be close to your heart, though it makes you vulnerable.
On this trip, the meaning of service that you’ve always believed in has been reinforced like never before– and while your life in Singapore (relatively sheltered and well taken care of) washes away the details to the memories of this trip, I hope the conviction you have towards that belief remains forever– that service is about empathy and understanding to the deepest level possible, while learning to protect and forgive yourself, for it’ no one’s fault that you are blessed. The only appropriate response to being fortunate is to be thankful. And with regard to service, this trip has taught me how much little moments count, making the best of those little moments have greater power than you can imagine, so as you lead on your life in Singapore, make every moment count and savour the company of those sharing these moments with you.
After this is all over, my greatest fear would be that I forget the emotions I’ve experienced in the short span of these days, and that I forget the strength an humanity I have witnessed in these strong people in vulnerable positions. I never want to lose the determination I felt to want to do something, even the littlest of things and the strong helplessness. I fear I would forget the desire for action. And so at this point, I promise you I will continue to use the inspiration and overwhelming emotions experienced on this service trip to drive my actions back at home. I want to fill my life with things that I need, not want; to appreciate more, continuously count my blessings; serve with a heart of compassions and finally, to practise protection as I serve compassionately.
Always remember that anything is possible, if you just go one step at a time. As all the starfish on the shore will be saved, as long as the boy continues to throw them back into the ocean, one by one.
-Shermaine (15 June 2014)’