Returning to Roteang
At the end of June, three adoptive families had the good fortune to travel to Phnom Penh and the surrounding area. The group included six adults, two of whom are TSF board members, and six children, ranging in age from 7 to 17, some of whom had been adopted from Roteang Orphanage.
"We all looked forward to the opportunity to return to Cambodia, to do so with other adoptive families, to see the TSF programs in action, and to be accompanied by TSF’s Founder, Dr. Nancy Hendrie" said parent Deb Nelson, TSF Vice President. "Dr. Hendrie was there on the porch of Roteang Orphanage when our baby was placed in our arms. Returning there was like coming full circle!"
What follows are some of the impressions from both adults and children who shared that memorable journey.
Did you do anything to prepare for the trip?
Jesse, age 15: My parents told me and my brother that it would be very different than the US, and they also told us that, because we are from Cambodia, people would try to talk to us in Khmer. We knew we would be going back to the orphanage and that it would be very emotional, but my brother and I were very excited.
What factors influenced the timing of your return to Cambodia?
Jen: For me, it was the chance to bring both of my children to Cambodia before my son went off to college and to re-visit the orphanage where I first met my beautiful daughter. When Claire came to us, it was December 2001 and Dr. Hendrie was preparing for the first anniversary of Roteang Orphanage.
Ingrid: We felt the children were at good ages, 7 and 12, when they would be able to take things in, and remember them later in their lives.
What was it like for you to be back in Cambodia?
Jen: When I first came back to the US with my daughter, I yearned to return to Cambodia. The country and all of the work of TSF had made such an impression on me. My participation on the Board for TSF was a connection to my daughter’s birth country. To finally return 12 years later, with my children, was in a way surreal. Elephant was a driver and just starting to work for the Foundation in 2001. Now he is our capable in-country director. Phnom Penh has changed so much with the construction of new buildings, heavy traffic, motorized tuk-tuks, more paved roads and traffic lights. Yet, much is still the same; there is still so much that is needed to improve the lives of most Cambodians. From the TSF staff to the everyday people, I fell in love all over again with the Cambodian people.
Jesse: I was adopted as a very young baby, seven months old I believe, so I had no memory of it whatsoever. But it was fascinating to hear my father tell me things he remembered and how things have changed. We also had many photos of his travels so it was cool to look at how 15 years could change so much in a country like Cambodia.
Ingrid: We saw a lot of development in July 2014 and less overt poverty. Nothing could compare with the thrill of when we adopted Vanny. However, the beauty and kindness of the Cambodian people was ever-present on both trips.
What most impressed you about the TSF programs?
Deb: I loved seeing how well all the children were doing. Their smiles never seemed to leave their faces. We did face paint on the porch of the orphanage and the children crowded around with such joy. Also, when we visited with them at their dorms, the university students were so proud and so earnest about all of their achievements. We shared their joy and pride at building brighter futures for themselves.
Claire, age 14: I enjoyed the dance performances at the orphanage and have special memories of helping to put glitter tattoos on the kids at the party.
Kyle, age 17: I especially enjoyed going to the water park with the kids from Roteang Orphanage and will have good memories of the fun we had there together. I was very impressed that TSF was sending kids to University, giving them the opportunity to succeed and get a better job.
Blair: The traditional dancing was a highlight. I will always remember that TSF has a multitude of ways of helping the Roteang community. I will also cherish the spirit and strength of the Cambodian people and appreciate this in light of their daily life circumstances and how difficult that can be.
Jesse: I thought that the schools were incredible. Education is a very valuable need in a child’s life and it’s sad that it isn’t available everywhere around the world. I will never forget the time we took a ferry to Beng Krom and there were hundreds of kids lined up. TSF had given the school a playground that they were putting to good use. We then gave them school uniforms and the moment was amazing. I had never in my life realized how one thing can really change someone’s life.
Linh, age 7: I enjoyed the orphanage and seeing the dancing.
Deb: It was a delight to meet the child who we sponsor, Sunthea. She was such a sunny child to be around. With great pride, she showed us her room at the orphanage and some of the neat drawings she’d done. When we went to the water park, many times Sunthea would go to the top of the slide, wave to us, and then slide down. It was such fun watching her!
Vanny, age 12: I really liked seeing all of the TSF projects. It was nice to see what a great impact they all were to the kids in the orphanage and in the village.
Ingrid: I remember the faces of the nannies which reflected kindness, motherly pride and protectiveness toward the children.
Did you do other things in Cambodia?
Jen: While in Phnom Penh, our family participated in a cooking class which included a trip to the market, cooking, and then eating traditional Cambodian dishes. At the market, we learned about local fruits, vegetables, spices and even sampled Durian fruit.
We also visited Siem Reap and explored the temples. The history and achievements of the Angkor empire are so amazing that we were in awe. I hope that my daughter came away with pride and appreciation for her culture and country.
Linh: I liked all of it. I liked going to Angkor Wat and I liked that we got to see Sunthea, who is a girl at the orphanage. She was very nice.
Kyle: I’ll always remember visiting the temples of Angkor and seeing the amazing scale and detailed craftsmanship that went into building religious structures over 1,000 years ago without modern day tools or technology.
Claire: I enjoyed the temples and shopping at the Russian Market. We also had fun in Siem Reap at the Phare circus and on Pub Street. I came home and am now attending circus camp for two weeks!
Deb: We went to the circus in Siem Reap where at-risk teens learn acrobatics. It was a terrific program, filled with lots of aerial stunts. Also, at the National Museum, we went to a room with 1,000 Buddhas. I’d never seen anything like it and it so moved me.
Jesse: A moment that was quite emotional was when we went to the orphanage where my brother was adopted from and we happened to run into his nannies who remembered who he was after 13 years! At the orphanage, interacting with the kids and having them show us around their rooms was so fun. I have never seen so many smiling kids in my whole life. Even though many of them didn’t speak English, that didn’t stop us from having a good time together. It was sad to leave them, it really was.
Throughout the trip I had my camera and documented every moment with photos and video, planning to make a documentary about my experience. The project is currently in a huge stage of editing but when it is finished, I hope that I can get the film to the kids and the nannies at the orphanage because I know how much fun the kids had laughing and smiling in front of the camera.
Did anything surprise you about your trip?
Kyle: Cambodian society is very traditional and women have fewer rights than in the US. It is still a very male dominated and patriarchal society.
Ingrid: There was a torrential downpour that began when we were with the children at the water park. It didn’t stop and resulted in record flooding in the streets of Phnom Penh. Children were swimming and cavorting in the streets. When our tuk-tuk finally got to the restaurant, we had to wade through knee-deep water to get in.
Jesse: My parents had told me a lot about Cambodia, but my dad also mentioned that you really don’t know how it is until you get there. And he was right. Hearing about a place, compared to actually being in that place, is very different and it can sometimes be a huge shock. It was definitely a shock at some level, but I was ready and prepared for what we experienced in Cambodia. The feeling is very hard to explain; it’s just something you need to put yourself in and experience yourself.