A couple of weeks ago I met a young girl whose circumstances really put things into perspective. Her name was Hui and I met her during an unplanned visit to a Cambodian hospital where she worked as a translator. Unfortunately for me I was immobile, but fortunately for her I spoke English, and that's how our conversation begun.
Hui was a 23 year year old Cambodian who'd grown up on a farm. At one stage it was a large, productive farm with many crops, but after so many years of civil war, and a genocidal communist regime that murdered a quarter of the population, it'd been reduced to a block of land just large enough to farm subsistently. In her late teenage years she worked up the money and the courage to move herself and her few belongings to Cambodias second largest city, Siem Reap.
For the first couple of years she worked as a waitress working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week for a monthly pay of 60 USD. She then picked up a lucky break a received a better job at another restaurant. Same hours but 80 USD per month. Another couple of years and another lucky break - a position as a translator at this particular hospital.
Although her pay was now significantly better at 130 USD per month, Hui lived at the hospital where she was either sleeping or working at all times. Well actually, she'd been granted a day off in the previous month, so not all times. A portion of the money she received was sent to her parents, another portion was sent to her sister, and what was left (not a lot) she could keep.
Although Hui was one of the few Cambodians that could speak fluent English, and that in itself was an immediate head start, her hands were somewhat tied. She'd have loved to attend a university to get official nursing qualifications but that would mean quitting her job and therefore the money she could offer her family. That wasn't an option. By default, the only option she had available was to be thankful that she could have a job and hope that it would continue.
To some of you this may sound like a miserable life, where in fact, Hui is one of the privileged ones. A job, shelter, medical care, and food are things that a NZ'er might consider an entitlement, whereas a Cambodian will most likely consider them a luxury. There are legless war veterans and armless landmine victims begging for money on the streets, along with children, some as young as 5 years old, being forced by their own "caregivers" to walk the streets late at night to collect money from sympathetic tourists.
Although this story will not be of any surprise to most of you, I tell it to highlight the lives some of the human race are living in the hope that it makes us further appreciate our own. New Zealand is an amazing country, full of opportunities, that we all have within our grasp should we choose to pursue them. There are forests to explore, mountains to admire, and beaches to enjoy, and they're accessible to nearly all of us when and where we choose. And so the next time you're out in one of New Zealand's many areas of beautiful wilderness, and the sun is setting, and the birds are chirping, spare a thought for Hui.