Back in Cambodia Again!

Blog by Sue Wallingford

“Being at peace means being at one with one’s surroundings by acting as a vessel for another’s will rather than asserting one’s own will.”     ~the book of illumination

One of the best things about teaching at Naropa, besides working with our amazing students is getting to go on sabbatical.  Part of my work for sabbatical has been to continue the work NCAS-I started this past May with the partnerships we formed….to deepen those relationships and learn more about how we can best serve these relationships when we come back May 2013.

I have been back in Cambodia now for a little over a week, and since returning I have been very busy!  The first few days I spent at Transitions doing several art therapy assessments with the girls, consultations with the Transition’s clinical team and a self care workshop with the staff.  I am not sure who was more excited at our reunion, the girls, the staff or me!  There were lots of smiles, squeals and hugs.  I brought with me 33 Naropa t-shirts, just enough for the Transitions team and the girls, which they LOVED and wore the next day, ….and the next….and the next.   It was very sweet.  Thank you Naropa!

The work I got to do in collaboration with the team was amazing. They are so receptive and eager to learn more about art therapy and have already instilled many of the self care techniques we shared in May.  I got to learn more about the ethos of Transitions and the level of care they extend to their girls.  It is truly an incredible organization, with a hard working and caring team.  While they don’t have access to many resources, there program makes up for it in other areas.  The staff and clinical team work very closely and consistently with the girls seeing them for therapy 2-3 times a week.  All the staff take an active role in their day to day lives, their schooling and their after care.  They have a house mom that takes good care of the girls and the staff and makes some of the best food I have eaten in Cambodia.  The therapists do not have to contend with managed care and other bureaucratic nightmares US therapists have to contend with, and they never have 60 clients on their case load.  They actually can keep the girls as long as they need help.  They are clearly making a difference in the lives of these girls and the art shows that!

I have learned so much and particularly about the importance of cultural sensitivity when working with others, regardless of nationality.  I am humbled and grateful for the constant reminders of the things I assume and take for granted without considering what another’s history, culture and personal story might be. Thank goodness the Cambodian people are gracious and forgiving enough to overlook my many mistakes!

Here is a picture of the team making artist’s trading cards using their own personal handmade stamps. We also made stories in the sand tray.  When I left that day they were still busy and happily making things!  I noticed little felted animals on their desks, evidence they have continued that activity we started with them in May, although they request more needles for our next trip. Add that to our list.


Following my week with Transitions I got a significant bout of some kind of intestinal nastiness that put me out of commission for about 3 days.  But after taking my Z-pac, drinking vitamin enriched coconut juice, and a tummy rub with tiger balm by a sweet Cambodian mom I felt better.  I actually think the tiger balm did it!

I will spend the next few days in Kep, at the most wonderful retreat center called The Vine.  The food is exquisitely simple and all organically grown.  It is so peaceful and lovely here.  The way I imagine all Cambodia used to be.

The juxtaposition of this place and the busy streets of Phnom Penh strike me most.

The busy, chaotic streets of Phnom Penh….


And the serene quiet countryside of Kep…..


When I came to Kep and saw the lush rice fields, the mountains and lotus ponds every where I had some recognition. The girls at Transitions draw a lot of country scenes; pictures of their real family homes or ones they wish they had, or perhaps one they are waiting to create for themselves, pure and simple, beautiful and serene.  The kind of place all of us human beings should have, not just some of us.

I have more to share, stories and pictures both, but for now, this is enough.

Thanks for staying posted to our blog, and thank you for your continued support.

3 thoughts on “Back in Cambodia Again!

  1. Thinking of you and the opportunity you have there. What a blessed gift for you, for those you are working with, and for all of us who benefit from women helping women, humans engaging humanity, souls meeting their own reflection, and community cultivating relief, connection, and transformation. Many, many blessings from a heart overflowing with gratitude and inspiration.

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