Summer 2015: Article written by Marion Wingfield and her daughter Emma.
In January of this year, in the midst of an impossibly snowy winter, my daughter Emma, who was adopted from Cambodia in 1998 and had been back to meet her birth family three years ago, had an idea.
She wanted to raise money to give the children in her birth village bicycles, and wrote to our family friend and translator in Cambodia, Narith, to ask him if he would help her organize the process by meeting with families in her small village, to find out how many kids needed them.
Bicycles are an important and expensive form of transportation, and are sometimes the only way for children to get to school. Narith told Emma they had to walk a discouragingly long time to get to school and the bikes would help them get to school faster.
Narith sent her a list with photos of all the children who needed bikes.
Emma’s next step was to raise money. The Easton Lion’s Club has a fund for community projects, and she decided to apply; she wrote the application, and submitted it. The ELC approved $250 of the requested $1,000, with the idea of fulfilling the entire request once there was more information about the bicycle buying process in Phnom Penh. For example, the Easton Lions wondered how to secure the bicycles so they would not be stolen, and wanted to make sure the bikes had locks. Nancy Sullivan, who had just become president, managed to make contact with a person in Lion’s Club International who knew people in the Lion’s Club in Phnom Penh.
Thus began the correspondence with the wonderful gentlemen at the Lion’s Club of Phnom Penh.
In the meantime, Emma had obtained an internship with an arts organization called Cambodian Living Arts, right in the center of Phnom Penh, and we made plans to live there for 2 months during the internship period.
Emma also decided to host a benefit concert here in Easton, with the help of Principal Wes Paul, retired teacher and Lion’s Club member, Ed Hands, and Chair of the history department, Matt Auger, at Oliver Ames High School, and several of her friends.
She created a website through Wix, called Bikes4Cambodiantykes, and connected it to PayPal so that friends and relatives could contribute.
Once we began to correspond with our Lion’s Club friends in Phnom Penh, the Easton Lions Club generously gave us $750 more to complete Emma’s financial request for $1,000. They felt assured that we would be in good hands out there. And we decidedly were.
Koji Kanzaki and L. Tauch Chan Prakab, both of whom are members of the Phnom Penh Obaykhom Lion’s Club, expected our visit after our initial correspondence, and we met them shortly after arriving in Phnom Penh; they treated us to lunch at a wonderful Khmer restaurant and we discussed the project as best we could, given our mutual language barrier.
What followed was a lot of planning. Mr. Prakab graciously offered to arrange for the purchase of 90 bicycles from a shop in Phnom Penh. He told me how much each bike would cost ($36.50), with a $30 charge to deliver the bikes to the village. He followed through; we met a couple of times to discuss how we would carry out the project, and we arranged to meet at the village the day of the delivery, August 9.
Sunday, August 9 dawned cloudy and drizzling, though it could have been much worse, as summer is a rainy season for Cambodia. We were lucky to avoid a complete downpour. Mr. Kanzaki drove us to the village in his car for the three quarters of an hour it took to get there. The villagers were gathered, and both Mr. Prakab, his niece Tina, and fellow Lion’s Club Member Sok Sokha were there waiting for us with Narith, our translator.
The 90 bicycles were neatly lined up in rows, as Mr. Sok and a few helpers attached brand new baskets and bells to each bike. The excitement mounted, and Emma, Mr. Prakab, our friend Stacy, and I made speeches to the gathered group.
One of the biggest messages to the kids was, go to school! Stay in school! Use these bikes to get you to school and stay there. Emma, a singer and musician, sang to them. They grew more and more expectant until the moment came when we began to call each name on the list our friend Narith had prepared. When each child was called, he or she came forth and thanked us in traditional Buddhist fashion, hands folded together, head bowed, then went directly to stand beside a bike. This process went on until every last bike was spoken for, and then one by one, each new owner rode away from the group, happily perched upon a bike. We were in tears.
After saying goodbye to the villagers, The Lion’s Club members drove us to a big restaurant perched on the Mekong River and celebrated — again, the Lion’s treat. We were happy to have completed something we had only dreamed about back here in Easton, and without the Easton Lion’s Club or the Lion’s Club of Phnom Penh, could not have accomplished. We are thankful to the good hearted people who are in Lion’s Clubs all over the world for the amazing and selfless work they do.