This tiger lives on my desk. He’s a mascot for the Korean football team but I think he was made in Cambodia. Well that’s one explanation for his provenance. Somehow, he ended up in Cambodia. Or more precisely in the hands of a young high school student in Bakong, a rural community 14kms east of Siem Reap.
The student gave me the Tiger as a gift, back in 2011, and this is one of a handful of sentimental objects in my life. A soft-toy packed with emotion.
I had been teaching for a few days at Savong’s School and the student and his sister had asked me how long I would be in Bakong for. “Just a few days,” I replied, “though I think of the school every day of my life.”
On my last day of teaching the boy had a gift for me: the tiger. And he was anxious for me to accept his offering, though I was reluctant. Whatever it cost his family was too much, surely, for this westerner. But the young student looked at me proudly. “I want to say thank you.” he said.
The gift meant more to me than he might have guessed. In 2011 I was suffering what some fund-raisers call “donor-fatigue” where I felt various frustrations with the project: short term frets and worries. The Tiger grounded me and reminded me that the project, above all, is about the students. They boy’s generosity with his thank-you gift answered a question that any NGO supporter is bound to ask: ‘is this all worth it?’
This year, when I returned to the School I arrived during enrolment week, so the classrooms were mostly empty and most of the action was around the noticeboard where exam results were posted.
I looked out for my friend, the boy with the Tiger because I wanted to show him photos I had taken – showing the tiger in various parts of my life in New Zealand. But the boy was not there. I would love to meet him again one day. His heartfelt gift has travelled half way around the world: the boy deserves to go even further.