Last week we profiled Jordan International Aid. Our design team member, Emmy, recently spent a week with JIA volunteering in Cambodia. We asked her to write a guest blog, detailing her trip. The following is her recollection of the trip and the bonus design inspiration she found in Cambodia and in Hong Kong!
I recently spent a week in Siem Reap, Cambodia with a group of people of all different backgrounds, ages, career paths, and beliefs. The one thing we all had in common was an desire to help others. We spent four days traveling to villages in the areas surrounding the city, setting up makeshift medical clinics, and giving people the opportunity to see a doctor, get medicine, and even provided daily necessities they typically couldn’t afford. I specifically worked with the children, taking their heights and weights then sending them off to get a tooth brush and vitamins. I helped measure a 2-week old baby! I don’t do that very often so the medical volunteers got a kick out of my excitement (over every single surprising thing for a non-medical volunteer).
Jordan International helped everyone they could get to the clinic, giving them a chance to receive healthcare that they normally could never be able to afford. Everyone who came was registered, had their vitals taken, then they were given the chance to speak one on one with a doctor if they wanted. They could even get free medicine!
There were so many things that will stay with me from this trip. But, for brevity's sake, I made a list of the top five things that I'll remember the most:
1. The water. At home, you take for granted how available clean water is. JIA is combatting these issues with donated water filters and buckets. They are continuing water tests for the next couple months, as well as monitoring the children in their malnutrition program.
2. The happiest children I have probably ever seen. Laughing, playing, smiling like they have everything in the world, even though most of them are sick.
3. There's an incredible atmosphere in Cambodia. This was the most apparent in the market. Around every corner you turned in the market maze was more to see and buy. Even bugs! And. I have to say, after trying crickets and snake, I would eat both again.
4. The sheer amount of innovation and creativity: homes are built with whatever is available. They can make homes out of any material they find.
5. The temples were stunning! The Angkor region has over 100 stone temples. I was able to see 3, one of which was the infamous Angkor Wat. This temple is the largest religious monument in the world. The monkeys there are also ruthless and will climb you to take your coconuts.
Part of the Crimson experience is finding beauty in all parts of life. I tried to explain this concept to Jacob, JIA’s Executive Director, during my trip and the best way I could describe it was seeing the light, even in the darkness, and drawing strength from that.
The most beautiful thing I saw was the resilience in the children. These kids are stronger than most adults I know. It’s hard to make a living working in Cambodia so parents will leave for Thailand, and surrounding countries, to send money home. This leaves kids without guidance, and in some situations, raising younger siblings while growing up themselves.
On the floating village a few kids were covered in scales from working. They were only 7 and 9. One little boy, Yao, kept talking to me in Khmer (obviously I had no idea what he was saying and he knew that) but I would smile and he would smile back. I started teaching him to play tic-tac-toe, by the time he was starting to pick it up he was teaching me Khmer for “You win!”. The best part of my time with him was when another child came up needing me to weigh them.
Yao immediately started telling the children what I needed them to do, much more effectively than I could by smiling and pointing. He worked right beside me for half an hour, helping me get heights and comforting the kids. I couldn’t believe how quickly he picked up what I needed and just stepped in to help. These children have the biggest hearts, ready to help without a second thought. They were willing to give whatever they could to complete strangers who were making them take weird pills and stick flouride in their mouths.
Of course, beyond the beauty of the people, there was plenty of inspiration to be drawn from the scenery. The landscape in Cambodia was completely unique, from the textures to the rich colors. I have never seen anything like it. I was able to spend one day there exploring temples and quading through the countryside. Rice fields were saturated in shades of green that almost didn’t look real against the blue sky. Flowers were bold hues of pinks, reds, yellows that popped out of the green scenery. And, let’s not forget about the sunsets, because they were jaw dropping. Every color was glowing, immersing the sky in a warm golden blanket.
While we were there, we stayed at the Royal Angkor Resort & Spa. The incredible 20th century Colonial-Khmer designed building is locally owned and operated by a lovely woman who gave the entire JIA team a delicious authentic Cambodian BBQ. Every staff member made me feel so at home. The hospitality was amazing, as was the design.
Something I think isn't done enough is looking up. Everyone focuses on the walls and floors, but I found some of the best textures were overhead. Bamboo and palm leaves are commonly used in Asian architecture, sustainable materials with natural striations that immediately bring a relaxing feel to any space. By layering bamboo in different directions and patterns, it creates a structure with timeless imperfections. The ceiling of our hotel’s porte cochere was a stunning kaleidoscope of white beams, black iron, and worn wood that was highlighted by hand-hammered silver accents. Traditional Khmer designs integrate materials which naturally gain patina over time, which you can see in the center of the beams, working its way to the lanterns.
A design aspect I felt moved by were the pillars in the airport. At first glance, I was drawn to them because of how unique they were. Turns out, they’ve taken inspiration from the culture’s deep history, emulating the design of their sacred temples.
During a grueling layover in the Hong Kong airport, I was welcomed by eye-catching mixtures of all different materials. In a secluded area I came across a floor to ceiling wall of layered wood. The wall uses variations in stain and angles to give a typically rough building material a tailored, chic feel. Not far away, I was stunned with a illuminated glass brick wall. The reflection off the ceiling and floor make a whimsical illusion, almost as if you stepped into the Matrix.
My stay in Cambodia was more incredible than I could have imagined. Giving back while seeing the world is an unmatched experience.