Name: Jonathan Thompson
Nationality: United States
Languages spoken: English, Mandarin (beginner)
Occupation: Patient Service Supervisor at the West Portland Physical Therapy Clinic
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Caring for Disabled Children in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Duration: 4 weeks
Start month: June 2015
Claim to fame: Jonathan is a second time UBELONGer – we love having you in the UBELONG Volunteer family, thank you Jonathan!
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I first volunteered with UBELONG in 2013 and, at the end of that experience, I knew that I would do it again in the future. Two years later, the time was right. Once you are a part of the UBELONG community, you become part of a family and, for me, that meant having people like my former UBELONG Mentor always keep in touch with me and share with me opportunities that match my skills and interest.
What was your impact on your volunteer project?
The children that I spent my days with face many obstacles in their lives, and taking care of them was not always an easy task. It can be hard to wrap your head around the illnesses afflicting such beautiful young lives. I realized that if I was going to make a difference, I needed to move past the sadness and discover how I could best make their lives a little better. Despite the hardships, the way that the kids and I bonded was wonderful.
I grew closest to a boy named Hang Phea, a malnourished 16-year-old boy with cerebral palsy and polio. On my first day of work, Hang Phea was lying on the floor waiting to be fed and, quite honestly, I was afraid to touch him, he appeared frail and incoherent. I turned that discomfort into opportunity: I picked him up and fed him. It took me almost an hour to empty his bowl. Before the end of that first week, we were inseparable. I left Phnom Penh feeling that I had made a very real difference in the lives of a few children through the bonds that we shared. I left knowing I will never be the same for having had these wonderful beings in my life, even if for such a short time.
What were your major challenges?
The intensity of the children’s’ ailments, as noted earlier, was a bit difficult to take in during my first few days at the orphanage. It was also difficult to realize that so few people will ever understand what this work is like and what you have gone through with these children. I am a pretty particular person when it comes to cleanliness, so I was surprised at how fast all of that flew to the wayside, as the care of my kids became my only priority. Hang Phea led me through the experience of getting down and dirty during mealtime. Often, he and I would struggle, making a huge mess with Hang Phea twitching and convulsing without pause, both of us covered in flies as other children screamed around us and the heat from outside poured in on us. I felt almost helpless at times. It woke me up, this unique opportunity to take care of others in a world so far from my own. My greatest impact came from overcoming these challenges, embracing the situation, and putting my whole heart into the care of the children.
In a sentence or less, how would you describe the locals you met?
The locals I met in Phnom Penh were, in a word, embracing.