Alyssa May, a Year 12 student, visited CCF from Australia as part of a school trip and turned 17 while in Cambodia. Inspired by what she was seeing, Alyssa set up a birthday fundraiser for CCF, raising $500 USD. Here, she talks about her time with CCF I’m a student from St Mary’s Anglican Girls’ School, an all-girls school in Perth, who has recently arrived back from my service trip to Phnom Penh to visit CCF and this is my experience meeting the leaders of tomorrow. I had heard about CCF as an organisation as a young Year 7 student and was immediately drawn in. As soon as the opportunity to attend this trip came up, I jumped on my application and the excitement and hope I had while sitting in my interview was indescribable. I had no direct link to Cambodia or the CCF organisation but had been told about the amazing work they do each and every day, and hoped I would have a chance to see it first-hand and become a part of it. Before boarding our plane and arriving in Cambodia, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect. I had encountered similar experiences on other trips, but nothing as out of my comfort zone as this. I wasn’t overly familiar with Cambodian culture or the culture of CCF as an organisation, but I was eager to get to know such a diverse community. I understood that these children were going to shape who I am today and I was prepared for that step, however, I was not prepared for the international friendships and bonds I would form with such beautiful people. My experience at CCF is difficult to put into words. The learning environment that I was privileged to be a part of is one I will never forget. The teachers, full of passion and commitment every day; the students, waiting at the classroom doors ready to learn and the friendly neighbours, grandparents and pets that would come and visit during our breaks. A space of pure joy and excitement that I can say I often struggle to feel at my own school when things become stressful and tedious. As a group, we couldn't have asked for a kinder set of students, a more welcoming collection of teachers and a more diverse introduction to Cambodian life. I was also able to spend my 17th birthday exploring everything the Cambodian culture had to offer, outside the realm of CCF. Although, I was sick, being able to immerse myself in their culture caused me to forget my life at home for the day. My beautiful classes of students welcomed me back at school with the sweetest gesture I have experienced in my entire life. A moment of pure joy, as my afternoon students began singing ‘Happy Birthday’ as a young girl walked in with a cake for me. Overwhelmed with emotions, I erupted into tears and hugged them all, and shortly after became saddened by the thought of leaving the most selfless and caring children I had ever met. I cannot express how grateful I am for the love and compassion they openly shared with myself and the other St Mary’s students and students from Christ Church [Christ Church Grammar School in Perth], and I will forever hold this memory close in my heart. To me, the decision to donate my birthday money was simple and not overly thought-through as I knew CCF would put much greater use to whatever donation I was able to offer than I’d ever be able to. The donation lay better in the hands of a well-deserving organisation than my own. CCF’s staff are a group of individuals I struggle to explain while doing them justice. The staff I was able to meet dedicate their time day in and day out to ensure the ongoing growth and welfare of the children. And this dedication does not go unnoticed by the children either, their levels of respect and genuine appreciation are present in every classroom you walk into no matter how young or old. I was consistently amazed by the outward reach CCF maintains with the communities around the schools, providing accommodation and activities that bring everyone together. Scott [Neeson, CCF’s Founder and Executive Director) is my image of pure selflessness, and the CCF children could not have better guidance in terms of their education and personal growth thanks to the care he shows towards them. I hope that since arriving home my attitude of gratefulness and care has shown through my daily life. As one in very few individuals that will ever get to experience such an open culture and environment, I plan to extend my knowledge and experience onto those in my school community and everyday life. The lessons I learnt will not be ignored and I will try to exhibit them with pride while remembering that every small step towards improvement counts. I have plans to visit Cambodia during my time studying in university and will hopefully go and visit some of the older students I am lucky enough to still be in constant contact in the weeks following the trip. I hold a special place for CCF in my heart and know that my work with the organisation did not stop at the end of my trip. So, thank you CCF for opening my eyes to what tomorrow has to offer.