Recently I received 10 USD from Airbnb, an online hosting community website. Being a hosting partner for more than one year now, I was lucky to be enrolled in the #OneLessStranger social project. For this project Airbnb send out a total of 1 million USD to 100 000 partners in the beginning of the year 2015. The goal of the project is to motivate people to meet people, using the money for any kind gesture to strangers.
At the moment I leave in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and I decided to invite some of my friends to participate in this project. I had this idea of using the money to do something with local kids in rural areas, outside of the city. We got together one day to discus what exactly we could do. The main idea was for the kids in the villages to some fun with us. So we though “what if we could play with them, and spend some quality time with the kids?”.
So we decide to buy three different toys:
- A Frisbee ($3)
- Skipping Ropes ($4)
- Twisting Balloons ($3)
We went to the small local shops to find the toys we wanted at cheaper prices and had the chance to meet the owners. It was a challenge to find the exact translation for the toys we wanted, but the other customers helped us with that. When we were looking for the balloons the lady at the store came up with Ping-Pong balls so then we had to ask for Air Balloons, but it was all part of the fun of meeting strangers. In the end we manage to buy everything we needed. After the shopping we put together a team of 6 friends to go to the villages: Me, Marisa, Katrina, Sophany, Alex and Stephen.
We headed out of town on our motorbikes, crossed the Tonle Sap River and toke the ferry to Koh Dach, the Silk Island. The ferry crossing is, on it’s own, a one of a kind experience! A very rudimentary old boat carries passengers, cars, Tuk Tuk’s and motorbikes (a lot of motorbikes!) the most possible without sinking. Along the crossing we can enjoy the beautiful landscapes of the river shores and the pleasant atmosphere with the locals in the boat.
This Island, in the Mekong River, has many typical rural Cambodian villages, with houses built high up on stilts, and underneath the houses people dye silk in vibrant colors and then weave it manually in their looms, hence the name “Silk Island”. The first time I visited the Island I was surprised by the kindness of the kids along the road always happy to greet us with a “Hello!” the most famous English word around here. They are used to the tourists that came to see the silk. This time we didn’t care about the silk at all but they didn’t know that yet.
We stop by the dirt road where we saw some kids playing underneath a stilt house and asked the lady if we could play with the kids. She was surprised because no foreigners come here to play with kids but even so she allowed us to do whatever we were planning to do. We started with the skipping rope but the kids were not very excited. I guess they were shy at first. Then we pull out the Frisbee, a pink one, and started throwing it to each other and to the kids.
They seemed more confortable with the Frisbee and soon more kids showed up and got into the game. So we played and played until the kids were totally into it. We gained their trust and after that it was easy to talk with them and pleasant to play along. Then we took out the rope again and some of kids were really “professionals”. Some of them even skipped by themselves. While we played with them we handed out balloons in all the shapes they wanted and later they even helped us filling the balloons with the pump.
The balloons were the most exiting part because they could all keep the balloons as a new toy. While some of us kept handing out balloons, others went next door to buy some water. We ended up sitting at a table with the locals eating watermelon and talking while a group of young girls were getting their hair done in the hairdresser next door. After some fun and fantastic moments with this kids, we left for the next village. Before departing, we went back to the lady to whom we had asked for permission to play, and handed over one of the skipping ropes and a bunch of twisted balloons.
We kept on the dirt road into the heart of the island until we found a detour that leads to another village. When we stopped, one lady by the road told us that this is not where the tourists go. We should go back and turn to the main road. In return we told her that we came to play with kids and not for sightseeing. She didn’t understand at first but then she said that they have a lot of kids in the village. Suddenly several crews of kids showed up even before we started playing. We started with the Frisbee for their amusement and at the same time we start with the balloons as well.
Then more and more kids kept coming to get their balloons and play with us. We made up a big rope so they could jump in groups and later they took care of it. When some of the kids were skipping, I was jumping with other kids. Again, the balloons took the lead. The kids were in charge of filling them up while we were twisting the balloons. There were balloons for everyone in different shapes and different colors. We finished by handing out the skipping ropes, the Frisbee and the remaining balloons with the pumps to one of the village ladies. She was so thankful! She said that the foreigners never come to hang around with the locals. She invited us to come whenever we want.
I’m sure that all those balloons brought some bright colors to their wooden houses and plenty of happiness. But more important than what we left behind, is what we received in return. We had great fun with the kids and had the opportunity to meet a lot of new people. In fact, instead of “#OneLessStranger” we made “#ManyLessStrangers”.
This is what we did with 10 USD. What about you?
Check our the video of the project in Youtube.