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Kitchen of cheer

A piano teacher's defining moment on the streets of Siem Reap.

Mavis Ching runs a cheerful kitchen.

It’s nothing much to look at — functional and clean but pretty basic.

It’s what goes on in the kitchen that makes it special.

Among the dozen or so volunteers who clean, peel, slice and cook, there’s a contagious energy that bubbles amid conversation and laughter.

And when scores of kids descend on the place at lunchtime, their shy smiles and quiet giggles speak volumes.

“My aim actually is just to bring a bit of cheer,” says Mavis, who runs a soup kitchen called Touch A Life out of her home in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, about 150 children get their lunch there. On Saturdays, she and her team of volunteers deliver food to the children’s villages and feed their families as well.

Aside from a hearty and delicious meal, Mavis also offers balms, band-aids and over-the-counter medicine. The kids who are more comfortable even “come for a hug”.

“The most popular thing is a band-aid,” she says. “What they want is that bit of attention so I’m happy to give it, paste it on and just pat them for a little bit. Why not? You know, these are kids who have nothing very much actually to look forward to. I’m happy to do that.”

Taking advantage?

The 58-year-old former piano teacher readily admits that people taking advantage of her kindness is “bound to happen”.

But she adds: “I feel that if anybody were to come here and get through that embarrassment of coming for free food, he must need it at some level.

“So I never question anyone, even if they look like they don’t need it. Because you never know what the need really is   it could be just to come here and get a smile.”

The Singaporean mother of two grown children also acknowledges the limited scope of what she is doing.

“In the long run, yes, it amounts to nothing. But I’d like to think that some cheer has been derived from this. That makes me happy.”

Travelling to Siem Reap? You can take some small supplies along with you or arrange to spend a morning helping to prepare lunch at Touch A Life.

Filmed and edited by Anshul Tiwari
Produced by Joshua Lye
Text by Joshua Lye
Music by The Sam Willows   "Nightlight"

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