Divine Endeavours

Witnessing poverty up close drives volunteer Angel Loy to find her calling in life: to better the lives of needy Cambodian Children

Issue: Aug 2009

Angel Loy (in orange shirt) touches the lives of young Cambodians with her yearly visits as a volunteer teacher

Change often comes at unexpected moments. For Angel Loy, a short mission trip to Cambodia in 2004 helped her realise her purpose in life. She had spent just a week interacting with the local children, but it left her aching for more once she returned home to Singapore.

"My heart was gripped with such guilt knowing how blessed we are compared to the people of Cambodia," recalls Angel. "Their basic needs - food, water and clothing - were so lacking."

Angel (far right in orange) and a fellow volunteer organising the children for an activity
Angel (far right in orange) and a fellow volunteer organising the children for an activity.

Since then, she has been back to Cambodia at least once a year to volunteer as a teacher. That's no mean feat indeed, given her family and work commitments. The 42-year-old administrative executive with CapitaLand Limited is married with two teenage children.

CapitaLand provides its employees with three days of Volunteer Service Leave - a bonus for Angel, who would otherwise have to take up to five days of her annual leave for her Cambodian stints.

It also helps to have an emotionally and financially supportive spouse. Angel's husband, son and daughter have all accompanied her on those mission trips.

Cultural Exchange

The humble church in Phnom Penh where Angel volunteers
The humble church in Phnom Penh where Angel volunteers

In Cambodia, Angel divides her time between two locations - a church in Sen Sok Village, Phnom Penh; and a primary school (built with the help of a Singapore church) in nearby Kampong Speu province.

"Sues'day?" (How are you?)
"Sok sa'bai!'" (We are fine!)

A hearty chorus greets Angel at the start of every class. Attended by as many as 200 pupils, these free sessions are open to all, though those present are mostly youths from orphanages or low-income families. An interpreter translates the lessons, which range from art and craft, to storytelling, and songs and games.

As the children acquire some basic English through her lessons, Angel has also taken to digesting some Khmer. She says a frequently used word is "kuchon", or "sit down".

"All kids have short attention span," Angel says with a smile as she explains how she picked up the term.

Still, compared with the young Singaporeans she teaches at Sunday school at home, Cambodian children are a lot "less easily distracted", she notes.

Sparking Change

Angel hopes her efforts would help young Cambodians...
Angel hopes her efforts would help young Cambodians realise the importance of education

Angel's affection for children is palpable. When quizzed on what keeps her going, she vividly describes the "bonding, recognition and warmth" from the children she has watched grow up over the years.

One Cambodian teenager, fresh from acing his undergraduate exams, returned to teach at the kindergarten in his hometown. He was evidently inspired by the likes of Angel to impart knowledge to his fellow villagers.

"All it takes is one spark in their lives, and you get small changes leading to everything else," Angel says. That one "spark", she stresses, is the people's realisation of the importance of education - a goal she and her fellow volunteers have set out to accomplish.

CapitaLand's Support

Angel is especially grateful to her employer for accommodating her leave requests. Encouraged by CapitaLand's strong support for volunteers, Angel has signed up to march in the company's first Singapore National Day Parade contingent this year, something she is "very proud" of.

The weekend training sessions bring their share of blistering heat and aching feet, but the ever-positive Angel prefers to see the fun in "learning new things such as military commands, and meeting more people".

Finding Her Passion

The Cambodian children have helped Angel find her passion
The Cambodian children have helped Angel find her passion

Angel's experiences in Cambodia have yielded a lasting influence on her outlook in life. Mindful of her good fortune, she is now more "tolerant and thankful", something she wants her children to share.

And having found her passion in life, the spirited volunteer is now considering teaching in Cambodia when she retires. That will be the commitment of a lifetime.

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