No Mud, No Lotus – Caring for Cambodia

IMG_2871A few moments after sunrise, I walked through the Buddha Garden’s on my way to breakfast.  The post sunrise dew and elaborate detail of the Buddha faces consumed my every breath. Stillness. Awe. The tranquility of utter silence was only interrupted by the joyous chirps of Southeast asian endemic birds. Walking through the unfamiliar gardens was an immediate reminder that I was very far from home.

I started this post over three months ago… and had this grand plan to tie in the “No Mud, No Lotus” quote through out the blog… somehow through another set of travels… writers block… and too many words to write…. Today I received a little pop up note that indicated I had not posted in 4 months… so I decided to just hit “publish” tonight. No Mud No Lotus, means that without mud… you can not have a lotus. And maybe it is just that simple… I was reminded of this through out our entire stay in Cambodia.

Our journey- How did we travel for so long with young children?

Steve, Jordan (9 y.o.)  Bailey (7 y.o.) and I along with our friend Rodrigo and his 10 year old daughter journeyed from Austin to San Francisco to Hong Kong to Singapore to Cambodia. We met our other friends and long time CFC supporters, The Bartolotta’s in Siem Reap. The total flying time was a little over 24 hours.  Our first stretch was on Virgin Atlantic which had an array of games, child friendly movies and a comfort pack with a pint size sleep mask, toothbrush and mini toothpaste and red socks!  Another favorite about our long haul to the other side of the world was  Singapore Airlines and their variety of games!!

Second to Virgin’s red socks, the girls most memorable moment of traveling was during our layover in Singapore. The Changi Airport was flawless and decorated in Chinese New Year monkey themed decorations. If you head over to the Departure Lounge you will find the world’s first Butterfly Garden in an airport! The butterfly habitat envelopes you with lush plants and a 2 story waterfall. Also, the girls really got a kick out of the “rate-a toilet” touchscreen in all of the restrooms!



Once we made it to Cambodia, and had our welcome drinks in the Raffles Lobby, everyone showered and we ordered room service.

This is what a 7 and 9 year old look like after a day of traveling 🙂

By the time room service arrived, everyone was asleep… including Steve. I munched on some noodles, drank about a gallon of water and hopped into bed.

Mr.Try holding mahogany and teaching us about how Cambodian’s use it in their food.

Early the next morning, minutes after sunrise, we were picked up by Mr.Try (pronounced Tree). Mr.Try is a Cambodian tour guide for CFC who is incredibly knowledgable, hard -working, humble and has a great sense of humor.  He survived the Khmer Rogue genocide in the 70’s. The deep lines in his skin and his over worked hands tell the story of his entire generation. The flickering light in his deep dark eyes reveals joy, deep suffering, hope and triumph. Mr.Try, like most Cambodians, practices Buddhism. He meditates for at least 20 minutes every morning and I don’t believe I saw his lips curl downwards once the entire week.

Each morning, Mr.Try drove us to the Caring for Cambodia schools. 12662621_10206815377555769_8695829531678909533_nSteve and our friend Rodrigo along with the girls coached basketball clinics at 2 High Schools. The CFC students proved to be hard-working, bright and were glowing with joy (the coaches were too 🙂 !12651185_10206801184960963_5521054329539841725_n


The amazing Barabra Levy, Medical Director/everything extraordanaire ❤

We also helped with vision screenings and ESL. The vision screenings were incredibly impactful and soul shaking for me. During the Khmer Rogue, all of the educated Cambodians were targeted. One way that the Khmer Rouge could recognize if someone was educated was by whether or not they wore glasses or spoke a second language. Once the genocide ended, the generation of that time was too frightened to ever wear glasses again. They also would not let their children wear glasses, regardless of the their vision impairment. That is until recently. CFC (Caring for Cambodia) started a medical program and now does vision screenings every academic year. The children who can’t see… get glasses and the families are on board. It was incredibly humbling to be part of the medical team that conducted the screenings.
The Medical Director, Barbara Levy, is an authentic, bright and motivational collaborator at CFC. She must have been Cambodian in a previous life. Orange is in her blood 🙂

Our children fell in love with Cambodia with in a few hours of going to their first CFC school.


“I loved teaching them basketball and it was really cool to get to know their culture. I really liked watching them do their vision screenings and speaking Khmer!”  -J


It’s cool that they are learning English and I liked hearing them speak in Khmer. They were really friendly and laughed a lot.” -B

Every evening as I walked through the garden back to my room, I was again immersed in this elaborate garden.  Natures beauty was ever apparent yet the smell of burning trash from the city was a clear reminder that we were in third world. No Mud, No Lotus. We must come here every year, I thought. I felt the breeze run through and wash away the humidity from a day of work at the schools and temple journeys. 


Discovering Siem Reap through the eyes of Mr.Try-



No Mud, No Lotus is  a powerful Buddhist quote. It introduces ways to be in touch with suffering without being overwhelmed by it. Without mud, a lotus can not grow. This often seems to be a theme I experience when in Cambodia…and in life, generally. If you want to get to Cambodia, you must take a long ass journey to get there. If you want to see the view from the top of the Leaning Buddha temple… you must climb it. If you planned a 5 day trip to Cambodia and are determined to help at the schools and see at least 5 temples, as well as eat what is the best breakfast of your life… you must get your jet-lagged bottom out of bed by 7am. We encountered lots of mud; literally and metaphorically. However, the lotuses… the lotuses left a blissful trail to what has now become a permanent changed heart.

We are so grateful to Rodrigo and his daughter D, for sharing this jouney with us.

Their kindness, dedicaiton and selflesness are a true inspiration.

I am so grateful to my dear friend and orange sister, Hope Bartolotta, for sharing CFC with our family and joining me for a second time to Cambodia with her amazing daughter Joy.

Hope and her family sponsor the Bartolotta Science Labs , and many other programs at CFC. If you’d like to make a donation to the science labs or to CFC in general, please visit

CFC is run by only volunteers and they are all the most passionate, brilliant, humble group of people I have ever met. If you would like to learn more about helping CFC, please email  They have chapters, literally, all over the world! You can also email me here at my blog to find out more. Feel free to visit their website at and if you have a few minutes, please watch the CFC founder, Jamie Amelio in this informative Ted Talks that will rock your world… 🙂 I have watched it atleast 10 times and it is always like the first time. Let me know what you think about it 🙂

Thanks so much for your time and taking time to read this. IMG_2871




Have you ever taken or thought of taking a service trip? If so, where did you go? If not yet,where would you like to go?



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