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The more you give, the more you receive

By Zhang Yue (China Daily)

08:31, August 30, 2012

Li Kaiwen, a high school student in Beijing, poses with kids in Siem Reap, Cambodia, where she spent her summer vacation as a voluntary worker. (Photo from China Daily)

Before leaving for Cambodia to do voluntary work, Li Kaiwen thought she was going to a poor country to offer her help. But, that was only half the story - she gained more from the experience than she ever imagined.

The Chinese high school student remembers trying with all her might to saw some plywood under the scorching sun of Siem Reap. She was sunburned, and beads of sweat rained down her cheeks. Yet she could not get the work done.

A 5-year-old Cambodian boy, seeing her struggling with the wood, ran to her and gently wiped off the sweat on her forehead with his sleeves. He offered to show Li how to saw the wood, which seemed like a piece of cake.

The 16-year-old from one of the best international high schools in Beijing says at that very moment, she felt like an idiot.

"If both the kid and I were left on a lonely island, the little one would be able to build himself a wooden shelter," she says. "But I, well educated, well fed and raised, would freeze to death."

Many Chinese teenagers who did voluntary work in Cambodia for 10 days during their summer vacation have similar stories. They were among 69 Chinese students who participated in the Cambodia International Service project, aimed at giving teenagers an opportunity to do voluntary work in schools and orphanages in poor regions in Cambodia. They have to pay for the stay themselves.

The program was started in early 2011 and 160 Chinese students have participated so far.

While many of their peers spent the summer touring prestigious universities in Europe and the United States, these young volunteers spent 18,880 yuan ($3,000) each to build houses in Siem Reap.

Li got to know of the project in school after listening to a talk by the program's founder, Xu Jiatian, who shared his experiences of Cambodia. She was thrilled.

"I'm eager to try anything that will help others," she says.

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