What I realized when I asked an elementary student “What do you want now?” in Cambodia

Traveling around the world is a dream everyone dreamt once in a life, and I am still dreaming about it every single day. If I had enough money, if I had enough time, if the coronavirus passed away, … Every such boring excuses hinder you not to try (especially these days for me). We do know such excuses are not a real excuse, and we do know it’s totally depends on our seriousness to achieve that goal. Today, I’d like to give you an inspiration by sharing a story with you. A story about a girl in Cambodia.

One-a-day, I was walking and wondering if I could travel abroad with my precious friends someday in my college days. I wanted to travel to the U.S. , Russia, England, Germany, or everywhere except Japan. Japan seems nice country though, we are pretty much boring living in Japan. On one level, Japanese looks pretty neat, but on another level, it is just boring, peer pressured, stupid obscene anime characters everywhere, super aging society to me (some younger generation).

Then, one of my university friend talked me in a classroom, “Tomoharu, are you interested in traveling abroad during this coming Spring vacation with me?”, then I was getting excited and said “Wow. Really? It’s such an honer to be asked. Sure! But, where are we going?” Then he said “I’m wondering Vietnam or Cambodia, such rising, energetic country I want to travel as a backpacker!”. Backpacker was a dazzling word for such nobody college students in my days (maybe still?). Then I totally accepted his request. And lastly, we invited two girls taking a same lecture with us were going to Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore for 2 weeks as a backpacker.

We tried hard to have a precious and rare experiences in there, so we somehow applied visiting to an elementary school in Cambodia through a Japanese NGO. I remember the day clear like yesterday. There were about 100 students at the school, and to them, most surprisingly, the first foreigner for them was us. Therefore we were so nervous for being their first foreigners. They were actually really cute and they have the most dazzling smiles I have ever seen. Then I though like, wow, any media tell Cambodia as a very poor and surviving and unhappy country though, they ARE actually very happy to me.

Education matters. I have never seen such beautiful smiles.

We attended a class, and a woman introduced us as a Japanese. Children welcomed really hard by singing their welcome song, and we tried to sing a very famous song to return for their gratitudes.

After a while, the woman gave us a chance to ask anything to the students. I was very excited to know a thing, so I asked “What do you want now?” before about 40 students. Then, almost everyone in the classroom raise their hands and tried to be chosen as an answerer. So, I chose a girl just in front of me with smile, and I said, “What do you want now?” with my smiling. Then she said something not in English, and then the woman translated to us and said “It’s knowledge”.

I got goosebumps by listening the answer. I was totally shocked and felt defeated, because I was thinking their answers would be “toys” or “money” or something like that. But the girl, who seems just 6 or 7 years old, said without hesitation but with clear eyes, she said “Knowledge” to us. I really, really felt bad at the time because I realized how stupid I am. I live in Japan and can study at elementary school to university as normal thing, and have never experienced war or famine or serious lack of basic knowledge. Library or schools seems pretty natural existence and I felt even boring for it. But for her, it was not natural.

Then I thought I have been wrong. Everyone seems that they easily throw dreams away very easily even they are really rich in getting opportunity these days in Japan. The situation surrounding the children are really sever (they don’t have enough books and teachers to study), nevertheless, every student before me at that time had specific dreams like to be a doctor, teacher or scholar or etc. Then I asked to myself, what the heck am I doing with anger. I strongly thought, if I can’t find and achieve my dream with blessed environments, who can do that? The role of me at that time should be telling how great to have dreams and achieve it. But then I couldn’t.

After coming back to Japan, every-time I feel fear for dream or becoming lazy to achieve a goal, I try to remember the girl with so clear eyes. And not only me, you can do something to change tomorrow. Let’s throw excuses away, and have a clear eyes to the future like her.

Thank you very much for reading. Traveling is learning.

Published by Tomoharu Watanabe

Hi there. I'm 27 years old Japanese guy who currently live in northern part of Japan; Hokkaido, and a high school English teacher. Love reading books and watching movies and especially traveling around the world. Playing the guitar and kendo (Japanese traditional martial arts) is also my pastime.

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