She used to write journals and take pictures of anything that could pass as good subject. And though she used to volunteer for several environmental causes, Lauren Chan did not think she would someday bring her passion and advocacy to a higher level. Until Faces2Hearts came. She is now travelling across Asia, with Cambodia as her second stop, to connect with the locals and bring hope and sunshine to some of the underprivileged places in the region. Lauren Chan, a Japanese-Chinese national living in Canada, shared her beautiful experiences in the kingdom with Youth Today.
YT: What is Faces2Hearts? How did you become part of it?
Lauren Chan: The project is called Faces2Hearts, which is organised by the European Union. Their aim is to visit the projects that the EU supports and then make a report about the projects through storytelling, multimedia, photos, videos, and share not just what the projects are about, but more about connecting with people who benefit from the projects – the local people, the people on the ground level. It is understanding how they are impacted by the EU. Four people were chosen to travel in Asia-Pacific, Africa, Europe and Latin America for five months. I auditioned for the Faces2Hearts in October. I sent a 60-minute video of my travel in West Sahara, Africa. I got accepted for the project in December. I then started travelling in January. It was pretty fast.
YT: You have travelled across Cambodia for three weeks this month. How was the experience?
Lauren Chan: It was like a dream! I never really imagined that I can travel to so many countries and do something that I love while helping people at the same time. I first travelled to Laos where I met lovely people. Then here in Cambodia, I’ve been from East to West, North to South. I travelled mostly through public transportation because I want to know the local kind of life. I travelled to six provinces in three weeks. It’s amazing that I got to talk with the people in the provinces. They were all very welcoming and warm. Even if they were surprised why I kept asking questions, they were still very open and honest. I learned so many things from them. Sometimes, it takes a while to understand a culture and language but the people were very willing to share their stories. When people see that you have the genuine curiosity to learn, people will very receptive. I feel like I’m giving them the voice to speak up.
YT: What were the common problems raised by the locals?
Lauren Chan: I discovered that each community has different problems. In Ratanakiri, the main focus is in education while in Siem Reap, migration is a big issue. I also saw the effects of climate change at the floating village. To talk about development, it has to be very specific to the area and to the needs of the locals. This is why the EU initiated different programmes for each province. I’ve only been here for a very short time, but it is interesting because the people I met said Cambodia is changing so fast. They were all positive that they will have a better life. I’ve heard this a lot. Even with the little ones, I saw this kind of hope for their future and I felt that they believed that very soon, things will become a lot better for the whole nation.
YT: Where will you be travelling next?
Lauren Chan: After Laos and Cambodia, I will go to Fiji, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nepal and Uzbekistan. The entire Faces2Hearts journey lasts from January to May. It’s a bit tricky because each country has different languages. The minorities have their own language as well. I have to try understanding the people even with the language barrier. Also, with this project, it is more like independent travelling. I ride airplanes alone when I go to my destinations. I’m just lucky that the embassies and partner agencies have been very supportive and helpful.
YT: How long have you been passionate about blogging? How does it feel to be using it as a tool to make an impact to other people’s lives?
Lauren: It’s really incredible. Nobody gets the same chance to use something they are passionate about into a helpful way for the community. Writing and photography are my creative passion ever since I was young. I feel very fortunate that I am able to reach out to other people and talk with them in a personal level through my passion. I got to know their stories and how they live their daily lives. With the Faces2Hearts project, my blogs will be used to evaluate the impact of the EU projects to these communities. I consider this project as my biggest achievement in life so far. It was intense and beautiful.