And Oh! The Places You’ll Go!

Travel photography and remote cultures, far from your own.

That’s the stuff that life-changers are made of. As I continue my journey in Cambodia, I was privileged to visit the Cambodia Academy in Mongkol Borei. It is a school for first through ninth grade children in a very rural area. VERY RURAL! In amongst the rice paddies and pastureland sits this tiny school.

Having driven west from Siem Reap (perhaps the scariest part of the journey I’ll make), Sout and I turn on to an impossibly worn and bumpy road that leads to the school. As we round the corner, there are the children, all 340 of them in their uniforms, standing in single file lining both sides of the road. As I get out of the car, they started applauding and waving and calling out, “Hello, Mister Hank!” Two of the older girls ran up and presented me with a silk scarf as a welcome gift.

As I walked up that road, I had tears in my eyes. These children are so incredibly poor, yet are so warm, loving and grateful. To top it off, they’re just kids too! As I reached a table they’d put in the shade for me and sat down, the kids broke rank and ran, screaming, towards me to watch the older girls perform a traditional dance, in full costume, for me. Again, my eyes welled up as I watched the kids looking on with such attention as the dance was done.

With all that pomp and circumstance, I felt more honor and humility than I think I have ever felt. Then….lunch break…Mister Hank…old news! Kids!

I spent the rest of the day photographing the kids in classes, listening to them sing many of their lessons, and playing with them during their breaks. They all loved having their photos taken and practicing their English with me. And all of them had plans for their futures. Imagine that…plans and hope for their futures out here where if they can’t find work or raise food, they don’t eat. Wonderful, generous teachers and wonderful, generous donors who provide hope for the their futures.

All the planning about what gear to bring, how to get here, struggling with a twelve hour time zone change, and then having these experiences is what travel photography is about. Sure, go ahead and get those post card images that everyone in the world has. Those are important. But more important is to get out into a remote culture. Discover the warmth and joy people share just by living their lives the best they can. Accept their kindness toward you and realize that at our very essence, we are all the same. Yeah, I know. That’s been said a lot, but go and experience it and carry it with you.

See the cultures foreign from your own and photograph them the best you can. Then share those images with the people in the photos. Let them know what they mean to you as a person and an artist. Appreciate who they are.

And on the way home, start planning ahead.

And Oh! The Places You’ll Go!

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