Cambodia in November is dusty. It gets under your fingernails. It gets between your toes. It gets up your nose, and in your ears, and in your hair. And there it is again, billowing up in great clouds behind the four-wheel-drive as we make our way off the sealed roads onto dirt tracks.

It’s a time before COVID and we are driving to meet Flower in her small village primary school. The roof leaks in the rain because of storm damage done in the wet season, and they are still waiting on government funding to fix it when we arrive.

Flower sits near the front of the class. Despite the dust, she and her classmates are immaculate, whereas I’m self-conscious of my own dishevelled look as I stand in front! Then a child rings the bell, and children gather in the dusty playground. They are fortunate to have a water pump. But whilst we are there, local dads turn up to fix it. Apparently, it’s broken. Again.

Without the water pump, there is no water for drinking… or for washing hands. And washing hands is one of the most important things that Flower and her friends have been learning about!

Or so it seems. Because later, when we are at home with Flower, she excitedly shows us how she washes her hands. And again, later still, a whole group of children at Flower’s child club cluster around a tap and bowl – shy, smiling, and super keen to show us how they wash their hands!

Ok, so, I’ll admit it.

As I’m watching, I know in my head that washing hands is important. I know it stops diseases in vulnerable villages like Flower’s. But in Cambodia, I’ve been washing my hands more to get rid of the dust than because of any real fear of sickness.

Looking back now, after this extraordinary year, I realise how naïve I was. How complacent. Flower, her family, and her friends, know far more about the real threat of disease than I do. Because they live in a place where the lack of soap and clean water means sickness and even death.

But even in the face of a global pandemic, I have enormous hope for little Flower and her future.

Because Flower knows how to keep safe and healthy. She knows how important it is to keep her house and yard clear of rubbish. She knows that brushing her teeth keeps her smile beautiful. And, yes, she knows that washing her hands can stop her from getting sick.

This is what your generous donations achieve! Thanks to your support, Flower is ready to face her future, whatever that holds. Even a global pandemic!

Yes, Flower still faces enormous challenges. Her school’s damaged roof and broken water pump. Increased risk of school drop-out because of COVID. And the very real risk of falling back into poverty in a time where lockdown means no income.

But even so, I still have hope. Because even when I’d missed the point, Flower knew how important it was to wash her hands.

 

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