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Melodies, Paper and Checkers

Here's an article by Caleb Holland from Alaska. He was part of a recent YWAM team from Honolulu who worked with Anne McCormick at the World Mate Hospital in Cambodia for five weeks.

The word ‘love’ is often misused if you ask me. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a friend of mine say “Goodness! I love iced tea,” I would be a very wealthy man. They don’t actually ‘love’ iced tea. I understand words can change meaning as time progresses and culture changes, but something about ‘love’ is to be revered. It’s a precious word; a word that should be preserved for when it has the most meaning and impact. It can restore the broken. It can bring joy. It saves and creates life.

I love this hospital. The team I travelled to Cambodia with loves this hospital. The volunteers love this hospital. And this hospital has loved us. They say if you live in a place long enough, the building or house will adopt some of your characteristics. Though I have only been here a short time, it has become very clear to me that this place has been filled with loving people. When you enter, you’re greeted with compassion, and when you depart, it sends you away with a longing to return.

Melodies

Most days, we sing. When I heard we were singing, I was giddy. Christmas carolling is one of my favourite things back home; spreading joy and all of those niceties. Little did I know that we were singing in Khmer. Learning second languages has always been especially difficult for me (singing makes it a bit easier I admit), so long story short, this wasn’t going to be anything like Christmas carolling.

We walked down to the wards for the first time and I was nervous. I didn’t want to mispronounce some words and mistakenly belt out profanities. The team all readied our voices and waited patiently for the waving hands that meant “start singing”. Suddenly, the hands began to wave, and before I could think, Khmer songs flew from my mouth. I looked at the patients/visitors and they seemed pleased. Whether they were pleased because of our mispronunciations, or because we sounded angelic, didn’t matter to me anymore; if they were pleased, we were doing something right.

Being able to make people smile is probably one of the biggest things we take for granted. Every human being has the capability of brightening someone’s day. With a song, a joke, or an encouraging word, we can make painful circumstances more bearable. You don’t know what people are going through in their heads or their hearts. Who knows, perhaps you making them smile was exactly what they needed to keep on pushing.

Paper

Being able to create things is pretty spectacular if you stop and think about it. You’re taking things that are already their own separate entities, repurposing those things, and combining those things to make a singular thing. It’s astonishing, and we got to do that here with making paper. Essentially, you take whatever paper-like substances you have, throw it into a machine, get some mushy stuff, and one tray later you’ve got paper! It doesn’t sound very exciting written down, but that’s perhaps because I haven’t told you that you can throw coconut husks and old sheets into the paper mix. Got an ugly shirt for your birthday without a return receipt? Don’t re-gift it! Turn that thing into paper. The possibilities are quite literally limitless. And there’s so much more that comes out of it than fun. There’s a lot that separates man from beast, and creativity is among that lot. For me, and I’d say most of humanity, being able to create is an essential part of being human. It can provide therapy, it can entertain, and it can create civilizations.

Games and Puzzles and Such

There’s a certain chapter of our time here at the hospital that I would consider being my favourite. All of the chapters are good, of course, but I thrive in board games and puzzles, and if I thrive in something it’s going to be my favourite. You take this cart full of an assortment of games and keep your eyes peeled for those who look in need of some competition. Once you’ve found your competitor, let the sparks fly. The best part is teaching them how to play. Warning: they’re quick learners.

I specifically recall this one time when I was playing some checkers with a thirteen year old boy. The boy had what appeared to be a broken leg, and an even worse case of “Man, I wish I could get out of this bed and play some games.” I gestured the game of checkers, and through some persistence, he agreed to do battle with me. As I taught him the rules of the game using charades, I told myself “Caleb, take it easy on the guy; he’s new and no match for your chess expertise.” As the game began to pick up speed, I noticed I was taking it a bit too easy. I stepped up my game and put on the most intense looking checkers face I could. It wasn’t enough. He was still taking out my pieces. And with every piece he’d take, his grin grew closer and closer to his ears. “Fine,” I said, “no more training wheels.” I took my foot off the brakes and put the pedal to the metal. It was then when I realized a very sad, humbling fact. I’m not good at this game, and this kid was an expert. My last piece was taken and the boy’s right eyebrow was raised, paired with a smile that said “Easy.” I was defeated, but my pride wouldn’t let me leave on that note. So I lost two more times. And though the losses haunted me, the fun and joy from the boy outweighs anything else. And that’s the attitude you get from all of the patients here; fun, joy, and that powerful word I spoke of, ‘love.’ Without love, this hospital wouldn’t exist. Without love one may argue that nothing would exist.

Thanks

The team cannot express how thankful we are for the compassion and kindness the staff and patients have shown us. Without them, none of this would be possible. They’ve taught us so much through the way they’ve acted around us. And a bit more of a specific, focused beam of thankfulness goes out to Anne McCormick. She has consistently guided us through our afternoons and has been so willing to help and talk with us. I have met very few people in my life who are willing to commit so much of their lives and time to helping others. She and her husband are astounding examples of how to be a blessing to the world. The amount of work they put into creating opportunities for patients to be entertained through their trials is inspiring, and they’ve inspired me and my team to be better people. I could not stress enough how amazing of a place this is. If you’re in Battambang, you should most certainly volunteer here. I’m saying this from personal experience. You’ll learn lessons as long lasting as gold, and far more precious.

The photo above is a picture of Anne with Caleb's YWAM team.

2 thoughts on “Melodies, Paper and Checkers

  1. Thank you, Caleb, for giving such a vivid picture of the hospital and especially its atmosphere. The story of the checkers duel is a delightful reminder that those who come to give will also receive, even if it’s the “joy” of finding a student who is brighter than his teacher.

    God bless you all.

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