Village Olympics

September 1, 2016 by

While the Olympic Games in Rio have been grabbing the spotlight, here on the other side of the world we’re having our own Olympics: high jump in the dirt.

We’re in a small village in rural Cambodia, where tin-roofed wooden shacks on stilts are crowded together, chickens and dogs running everywhere. Yesterday a downpour turned everything to mud and as we balanced on slim boards across a yard to enter a house, the villagers laughed at our predicament – but then welcomed us with their palms clasped together in a bow.

Today everything is drying up, and a hot wind blows through the village. In the dirt yard in front of one of the houses, I come across five little girls, pushing their silky dark hair out of their eyes as they line up for the high jump. Instead of a bar, they take turns holding a tattered yellow string, inching it higher with squeals of delight as they dare their friends to jump.

One of them looks at me shyly as she backs up to take the longest runoff possible, standing in the bushes that border the small plot. She takes a deep breath, and then runs toward the jump with all the speed she can muster. Bare feet flying through the dust, she clears the rope effortlessly and they all laugh and cheer. This is repeated as if they will never tire of the sport – especially now that they have an audience.

Watch on YouTube.

With the exception of the little two-year-old toddling in and out of the way of these Olympic jumpers, all the girls go to a school of around 400 students. I visited it later this morning, an airy cement structure echoing with children’s voices chanting their lessons in unison. With only four teachers in the school, the children have to occupy themselves during recess. Small groups have organized themselves into circle games, races, and games of catch. They run in dizzy circles, laughing and talking all at once.

Never mind that 80% of their parents have left to work across the border in Thailand and they are being raised by grandparents or neighbors; never mind that they live well below the poverty level, in small shacks with no running water and scarce electricity; never mind that many of them will stop school after sixth grade and go to work to support their families: today is a happy day.

Today they bounce up and down on their benches, waving their hands, hoping they will be picked to demonstrate a math problem on the chalkboard. Today they are eager to share their dreams for the future and tell me what they hope to be someday. Today they are perfectly happy with that piece of yellow string, determination written all over their faces, jumping for something better than a gold medal, jumping for joy.

Colleen Trapnell, who is based at the Platte Clove Bruderhof in New York, is currently volunteering with the Samaritan’s Purse international charity in Cambodia.


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  • Well done to you all. More Grace and Peace as we do our bits in sharing His love!

  • The real peace and love of God is in our hearts. We don't expect much from the World in our Daily life. We may be happy with little things. Yes sister Colleen showed us how people can be happy with basic and simple things. The real richness is in our hearts. and is in loving our neighbors. Thank you Colleen.

    metin erdem, Turkey
  • I worked as a teacher in a border town of Belize next to Guatemala. It is the same in many ways, happy kids, grandparents as parents due to their moms and dads in the US working. The Belizean people were wonderful to us and wonderful for us. Their lot was different from ours (Americans) but wel were people; we were helping one another as we went along and some of my best and worst memories occurred there in that small shantytown. Great piece. Thank you.

    Martha Hall
  • Dear Colleen, in your article you tell us the places and people where I was born in Eastern Turkey. The places and people that I was raised. No matter how much you are poor you live and enjoy the life . You love your neighbor, live and share things. God has no mercy for them either- They have earthquakes, flooding and hungry and thirsty , all disasters But they love the God and people that created by God. They have their own system and they live it. They learn to live the life without electricty and water. They dont complain for the conditions and diffuculties of the natüre and life. Because they believe that they live the life that God thought and planed for them as you tried to tell us, Thank you.

    Metin Erdem, Turkey