About the Challenge by Seane Corn
Today is day one of our Seva Challenge tour in Cambodia. I have waited a year for this moment and I feel deeply grateful to be here with the 20 women who completed the challenge and earned this trip through their hard work, creativity, and leadership. As an introduction to the Cambodian culture, we organized to meet with five survivors from the genocide to share with us the details of their experience under the Khmer Rouge reign. Tears streamed down their faces as they told their stories of incomprehensible violence, suffering and loss. We held our breath and our judgment, as an ex-Khmer soldier, perhaps responsible for countless deaths, cried quietly while recounting his experience. Asking uncomfortable questions, we tried to comprehend the history of this country, and how the strategic slaughter of two million of its educated and cultured people impacts Cambodia today, while learning what is being done to empower its future. We came be a part of the growth and healing of this culture. We came to serve.
I have been fortunate over the years to work in developing countries in a variety of ways, most usually educating and providing product and service to children effected or affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. As the National Ambassador for YouthAIDS, I have been invited into some of the most impoverished environments and seen first hand the indignity of illiteracy, the desperation of prostitution, and the end result of incurable disease, and how all this effects the human body and spirit. Being of service and experiencing populations other than my own has transformed my life and affirmed my purpose. I am privileged and grateful that I get to do this work.
Over the years I have dreamed of being able to share these experiences, knowing how life changing it is to serve in these ways. Last year, with the help of the Off the Mat, Into the World team, we came up with an idea that could support this vision. We presented a challenge to the people in the yoga community suggesting that if anyone could raise $20,000 through outreach efforts, projects or events, we would bring them with us to Cambodia to do humanitarian work with the Cambodian Children's Fund (CCF). CCF (www.cambodianchildrensfund.org) provides education, shelter, food and services to over 450 children who live and work in the Steung Meanchey garbage dump. These children are horribly abused and exploited, often dying of disease, malnutrition and neglect. Cambodia has some of the highest rates of child prostitution and domestic violence and these vulnerable children often fall victim to these incomprehensible acts. My dear friend Scott Neeson runs CCF. I had visited him in Phnom Penh in 2006 and he brought me to Steung Meanchey to see for myself the deprivation of these children. Although I have worked in orphanages in Africa, where 100% of the children are infected with HIV, and have been in impoverished brothels in the slums of India seeing young girls prostituted out by their own mothers, I had never seen poverty, exploitation and desperation like what I witnessed in the garbage dumps of Phnom Penh. Scott is committed to helping these children and their families and has six facilities that do just that. I wanted to help Scott in his effort and knew that what he needs, like so many non-profits doing humanitarian relief, is funding. This is when I first envisioned the possibilities of the Seva Challenged and how it could aid someone like Scott, while also identifying leaders and activists in my own community.
My partners in Off The Mat, Into The World, Suzanne Sterling and Hala Khouri, agreed that this might be an interesting fundraising model, as well as a project that could build awareness, shape leaders and provide unique humanitarian opportunities. Altogether, we had one hundred people sign up for the challenge and encouraged them to work within their community to raise the money. They each did so in diverse and creative ways.
This morning at CCF, I watched with pride as the twenty women who raised the necessary funds, asked questions to the genocide survivors. I could see their repulsion as they learned about Cambodia's dark history, knowing that genocide still exists today and will continue tomorrow unless we all wake up and do our part to make a change. Collectively the Seva Challenge raised over $500,000 and I am so grateful to all the one hundred people who did their best to support this effort 90% of this money will go to CCF to fund their projects. The other 10% will be used to pay yoga teachers in the US who are willing to teach yoga to at-risk youths in their communities.
Over the next two weeks we will go to the S21 prison camp, the Killing Fields, work with the families in the garbage dump, play, teach and do projects with the children at CCF, work in the rice fields, cook, clean, and even build a water well in a nearby village. I am so proud of the participants for their effort and contributions. I know it will change lives.
Please join us on this journey. Throughout the next two weeks the participants will share with you their experience and stories. I invite you to witness with us while we delve into this culture and learn what it means to serve.