I volunteered in Cambodia when I was 10. Reluctantly. With my dad. It changed my life.

Soft truths to keep Singapore from stalling.

Mothership | March 16, 03:57 pm


Mothership and The Birthday Collective are in collaboration to share a selection of essays from the 2018 edition of The Birthday Book Jr.

The Birthday Book Jr is a collection of essays about Singapore by 54 children, mostly five to 13 year olds, from various walks of life.

By showcasing the diversity of young voices in Singapore, these essays also discuss our collective future as a nation.

12-year-old Kieran Foo contributed an essay, “Wheels for hope”, sharing his first experience doing charity work in Cambodia. His essay is reproduced here:


By Kieran Foo

Roads….. What comes to mind when I think about roads?

For others, roads could be something they use to get to their respective locations whether by bus, by car, or simply walking. But for me, my thoughts on the word road go a long way back.

It all started when my father asked me if I wanted to go to Cambodia for a holiday.

Differences between Cambodia and Singapore

Little did I know, the main reason for going to Cambodia wasn’t to enjoy my holiday, but to help the less fortunate. At first, I was very reluctant but ultimately agreed to go.

When we reached the airport, I realised how different the airport in Cambodia was compared to ours back in Singapore. It didn’t have a luxury shop and didn’t look attractive.

When we entered the mini-van, I had planned to enjoy a relaxing ride towards the village but when the ride started, I noticed that their roads were very bumpy.

In addition, some of the roads didn’t have proper lighting for us to see.

Helping out at students in Cambodia

The following day, we gathered at the school to help the students there. I got more curious and decided to ask my father why we had to do this.

The people there looked happy and were very optimistic.

My father explained to me that their lives weren’t as easy as ours. In fact, he told me that the students had to walk about 10 kilometers to reach the schools.

My heart melted. I didn’t think that people actually had those types of problems.

My father explained that this charity was supposed to help them by providing bicycles for every child.

My father was in charge of taking the pictures of the children with a certificate, with the donor’s name stated on it. I helped to distribute the certificates.

I decided that talking to them would be a great opportunity to learn more about their individual backgrounds.

Surprisingly, the students could talk to me in fluent English.

Learning from this trip

Soon, the event had ended.

I was discouraged and didn’t want to leave the school. the school children then gave me a card.

As we entered the mini-van, I decided to read the card.

Tears trickled down my eyes. I didn’t realise how this event had impacted them. This event had strongly impacted both the students and me.

From this event, I learned that even if the road might be bumpy, we should be optimistic about it and take it as a fun experience and even if it doesn’t go our way, to take it as a learning point.

Just like my friends back in Cambodia!

If you happen to be in the education space and think this essay may be suitable as a resource (e.g. for English Language, General Paper or Social Studies lessons), The Birthday Collective has a new initiative, “The Birthday Workbook”, that includes discussion questions and learning activities based on The Birthday Book essays. You can sign up for its newsletter at bit.ly/TBBeduresource.

Top photo by Tanya Ong.

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