Local lives changed in Cambodia | VailDaily.com

Local lives changed in Cambodia

Lauren Glendenning
lglendenning@vaildaily.com
Avon, CO Colorado

AVON – How could any one of us complain about a single thing ever again? That’s the question five Stone Creek Charter School students are asking themselves after spending more than 2 weeks at an orphanage in Cambodia.

Jack Skidmore, Kassie Heiner, Anna Trombetta, Tabor Whitney and Nina Ferzacca have grown up tremendously since before they left for Cambodia. The 13- and 14-year-old Stone Creek students gained a new perspective on life during their philanthropic trip to the Southeast Asian third world country where they helped out local orphans however they could.

They traveled to Cambodia with Stone Creek teacher Jen Gutmann and Lisa-Marie Howell, a local woman who started the Children’s Global Alliance nonprofit last year in an effort to empower local children. The nonprofit plans to do that “by allowing them to make a hands-on difference in the lives of children in the world’s most impoverished countries,” according to the alliance’s mission statement.

Based on the experiences of these five Stone Creek students, Howell is accomplishing that mission.

Anna got back and didn’t pick up her cell phone for three days. Before the trip she would have been on it all the time.

“You realize what you need,'” Anna said.

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Material things like phones, games, television sets and other everyday items for Vail Valley kids are great to have, but these students now realize what’s really important in life.

“Everything’s an accessory – You don’t need anything to be happy,” Jack said. “Every little thing we have, we don’t need it, we’re just lucky to have it.”

Jack said he couldn’t believe how happy the Cambodian orphans are after seeing the conditions they’re living in and the lack of love surrounding them.

“A lot of these kids are always smiling and always happy, and they have nothing,” Jack said. “How am I ever upset? I have everything.”

There’s a certain amount of guilt that Jack and the other students felt when they saw these children who could smile and play, even without a bed to sleep in, clean clothes or even something as simple as a hug from a loved one.

Nina thought she’d come home from Cambodia and feel more patience toward her younger sister, but she quickly realized it was the opposite.

“I got so used to how (the Cambodian children) acted; they were so grateful,” Nina said. “And then there’s my little sister throwing a tantrum because she couldn’t have a cookie before dinner or something.”

When Jack’s mother saw him spraying bugspray all over himself before getting into bed the night he returned from Cambodia, it was obvious he had experienced a world so vastly different than home.

The world they saw was inspiring, Kassie said, mainly because of the children they got to know.

“I miss the kids the most – they never give up, no matter what,” Kassie said.

The students blogged about the journey and wrote about life-changing experiences. They also wrote about the emotions they felt when they had to leave the children behind.

“When we turned the corner, I took a little breather and let myself cry out all my frustration that I have over the situation these kids are in, the sadness that I have because I am leaving them and the happiness I have because of what I have accomplished on this journey and what I have received from it,” Anna wrote.

Nina said she feels lucky to have so much love from her parents and friends now that she knows there are many people around the world who don’t have that. The orphans, however, taught Nina more about love and happiness than she ever could have imagined.

“You knew by their hug that they needed you to hug them back,” Nina said. “I went there thinking I needed to teach them about love and happiness, but they taught me about love and happiness.”

Gutmann saw how self sufficient and independent such young children can be, and ended up raising her expectations for her own son.

“You have to let them fail and learn from their mistakes,” Gutmann said.

Of the 75 children the group spent time with in Cambodia, each and every one of them taught these Stone Creek students, Gutmann and Howell something.

For Howell, she learned that her work helping others in the world will never, ever be finished.

“I think about how different our worlds are and how real the problems are for these children,” Howell wrote in her blog. “It is my inspiration and fuel to continue to work harder for their well being and continue to shed light on their situation to our children in America. When you are educated on the world around you, then it becomes possible to create positive changes.”

Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or lglendenning@vaildaily.com.