Experiences at Green Gecko JanPlan 2009
by Loretta Biss, ’10, Anthropology minor

I know this sounds cliché, but my volunteering experience this JanPlan really changed my life.  I worked at an NGO in Siem Reap, Cambodia called The Green Gecko Project, which gives a home to over 60 children who formerly begged on the streets to help support their families.  Upon starting the internship, I had no idea what to expect—how the kids would behave, how much English they knew, how the organization functions.  However, as I walked onto the site for the first time, I knew I was going to love it there.

Without fail, the kids impressed me more and more each day I was there.  I was overwhelmed by their brightness from day one: their abilities to speak English almost fluently, their wonderful behavior, and especially their unbelievable resiliency.  Upon meeting these kids, one would never guess that they grew up with abuse and neglect being the most consistent occurrences within their families: their confidence and optimism are truly mind-blowing.  Before this experience, I was always a firm believer that the way in which a child is reared has a large and nearly irreversible impact on one’s life as an adult.  However, working with these kids showed me how amazing the human race is at overcoming odds and changing the destructive cycle that one may have grown up with.  Since these kids have been living in a loving, safe environment, it is as if they have completely shed their former being.  Although they still feel strong ties to their childhoods, the kids now seem to look back on those troubling experiences more as a past life than as the beginning of their existence.

At Colby I’m a psychology major and an anthropology minor, and I feel that this internship greatly broadened my knowledge in both of those fields.  The obvious way in which my work at Green Gecko relates to my anthropological studies is the fact that I was fully immersed in a completely new culture.  I learned firsthand how the people in this third-world country survive, and also I was exposed to two very important aspects of their lives: the problems faced by a vast majority of the people (such as poverty and abuse), and also the presence of Westerners acting as “saviors.”  In addition to this contact with a group of people whom I previously knew nothing about, I learned a lot about the human race as a whole.  I was able to make comparisons between the children at Gecko and children who I know in the US and also who I met during my semester abroad in Ecuador.  Despite the vast differences in their upbringing, I saw many universals in child behavior, especially in their relationships with others.  Nearly all of the children I’ve ever met—no matter the situation—have always been excited to meet older people from whom they receive love and attention.

Working with the children in Cambodia and Ecuador has made me understand where I want my Colby education to take me: to as many new places as possible.  I feel very passionate about the study of people—both from a cultural or anthropological standpoint and from a biological or psychological one.  Knowing these cultures has infected me with the desire to make contact with every other group of people in the world.  While volunteering at Green Gecko allowed me to learn many new things about my areas of interest and about myself as a person, in the future I hope to take this experience to the next (less selfish) level.  Although I feel as though I did a good thing by volunteering my time, it is quite minor in comparison to what I could be doing: with my degrees in psychology and anthropology, I would like to continue learning and growing while simultaneously helping others.  So rather than looking back on this experience as a thing of my past, I will regard it as a stepping stone to things that have yet to come.  In this way, my work as a volunteer at Green Gecko has had much the same impact on me that it does on the kids it cares for: it provides them with a safe home where they learn to flourish and prepare to go on to do great things in the world.  For as long as the human race in all of its forms fascinates me, I will continue to explore and with any luck, I’ll end up helping others find their way through life in the process.