Our friend Leigh, a fellow volunteer at VBC, invited the Journo and I to help out at Touch A Life for a day.
Touch A Life is an NGO (non-government organisation), which provides food to some of the poorest people living in the outer areas of Siem Reap.
Some of the volunteers start at 5am to put rice on to boil in huge pots, which is later packaged into individual portions. The Journo and I turned up around 7am and introduced ourselves and we were promptly handed a cleaver and a chair and told to make ourselves comfortable. So after some introductions around the table we sat down and waited for what was about to happen.
The first veggie out was onions – bags and bags of them. All needed to be peeled and chopped finely so when they are cooked up in the omelettes they don’t break the omelette as the bigger chunks do. I think, as most people can imagine, 10 or 12 people sitting around a table peeling onions produced some wet eyes, mine included but we all battled on for the greater cause. I do think chopping the smaller onions created less tears, which I kept to myself.
After all the onions were finished for the omelettes a collective cheer rang out but only to be quashed by the arrival of more of the demon veggie. Luckily, though, this new mountainous pile only needed peeling and quartering.
Next up came the carrots, which had to be grated for the omelette and then some that were chopped for the tom yum soup. By the time I had finished with the carrots my fingers wanted to detach and crawl off under the table. After that there was cabbage that needed to be chopped into eight pieces as well as tomatoes and mushrooms and the Journo helped with some herbs.
Then it was time for some lunch and a chance for a break (much-needed) and a coffee. Our half-hour rest seemed to last a millisecond then the production line was back into it. This time dividing the Everest-high pile of steamed rice into about 360 gram portions and wrapping in a grease-proof paper.
Then the soup needed to be bagged up (as is the way here in Cambodia it seems). Everything then is packed into large boxes and put onto the back of a tuk tuk for delivery. By around 3pm we had been chopping and packing for about seven hours. We had another small break then five adults piled into what space was left on the back of the tuk tuk, and we headed out to deliver 650 meals to people on the outskirts of town.
Our first stop we handed out some meals to a young girl who rides an 18-kilometre round trip on a pushbike to collect food for her entire family. The handing out of meals continued for another three hours, with a couple of very minor scuffles between kids in the line-up, but they were sorted quickly by our driver.
By the time the Journo and I got home it was around 12 hours after we started and I was in need of a beer or two.
But after all the crying (from onions) and the numbness in the fingers (from grating carrots) we feel the experience is something which has helped us to appreciate how lucky we are and how hard some people do it.
This program runs every Saturday. Other programs, run throughout the week. So, if you are looking for a very rewarding experience and and the chance to volunteer and help out needy people in Siem Reap, give Touch A Life a day of your time.