I signed up for the Cambodian arts and culture BUiLD program because I wanted to learn how to apply the skills I have learned at university in the real world. I also wanted to learn how I could use these skills to make a difference in the world because when I leave university I don’t just want a career to make money, I want to be able to help others. In reality I learnt this and a lot more. The trip involved four weeks of working to develop a social enterprise called Lightbox in the small town of Kampot. Lightbox was developed to regenerate Cambodian arts and culture and provide a sustainable source of funding for a local not-for-profit organisation called Mayibuye that offers free creative education to children in rural areas of Cambodia.
My trip began with one of the most stressful plane flights of my life. Being a nervous flyer I had difficulty getting onto the plane to being with so, the 8 hour flight was going to be challenging. Once I got onto the plane I was seated between two women who were both incredibly friendly. However, the world runs on irony so naturally one of the women was terrified of flying. From the beginning of the flight she was crying, grabbing her seat and swearing. This made me feel a thousand times worse but in my nervous state I knew I had to do something to manage the situation because other customers were looking around rather concerned.
I introduced myself and started to talk to her about my fear of flying and how I dealt with it. I spent the next 8 hours explaining the various sounds and movements of the plane, holding her hand and silently freaking out to myself in my head and hoping I wouldn’t die in a plane crash. Much to my surprise, my strategy helped and while I was struggling internally, the rest of the people on the plane were able to relax. The rest of my Cambodia trip involved many of the same themes as that terrifying plane flight; massive challenges, facing my fears, communication, leadership, learning, experiencing things I never had before and meeting new friends.
The first week involved meeting the group, learning about social enterprises in Cambodia and the Cambodian genocide (which wiped out almost all of the intellectuals and artists in the country), running arts and craft classes with the children from Mayibuye and learning all about Lightbox. Week two was all about market testing. This involved cleaning the Lightbox premises and preparing it for our market testing event, promoting the event and sourcing everything we needed. The event we held was called StepUp Cambodia, it included traditional and contemporary dance performances, dance classes and a bar (which we had to set up because the Lightbox premises didn’t have one). We made flyers, painted, cleaned, launched a crowd funding campaign, bargained with locals, networked and promoted our hearts out. In the end, our hard work paid off as the event was a massive success and was an incredible learning experience for everyone involved. By the end of the week the group was completely exhausted and well and truly ready for our three day weekend.
Our persistence in week two set us up well for week three which was incredibly intense. It was focused on developing a massive (80+ page) business plan, branding for Lightbox and a pitch to sell our idea to investors at the end of week four. The final week (week four) was just as intense as we had to finalise our business plan and we found out we would not only be pitching to investors from around the world but also, to representatives from UNESCO. As the finish line loomed all-nighters became a common theme and with many tired people the amount of tension and conflict increased. In spite of this, our group continued to communicate effectively and produced an incredible business plan and pitch.
What I have outlined above is only a tiny snippet of one of the most amazing experiences of my life. My journey involved everything I have written and a whole bunch more. It’s something that’s so hard to explain unless you’ve lived it, everyone should experience something like it at least once in their life. I left Cambodia a changed person, found a piece of myself that had been missing for a long time and took with me friends, lessons and experiences that I will have for life.
Exploring Kampot for the first time
Visiting Lightbox for the first time
Old bridge, Kampot
Meeting the kids at Mayibuye
9 people in a Tuktuk!
Exploring Bokor mountain
More hard work
A group of people I will never forget 🙂
Mia Nestler – 11390061