Innocent seeds fall softly upon an enormous abandoned temple. They settle into minute crevices of moist aging stone. The environment is perfect and before long the spung tree seeds splinter, roots sprout and tiny leaves unfurl catching strong tropical rays. Time passes and the seedlings slowly grow. Their roots spread between and through tiny fissures in search of water and nutrients. Once found real progress begins. The previously pliable becomes strong and rigid. Painstakingly carved archways, stairwells and statues are split and eventually engulfed in ever swelling vines. Expansion is inevitable and within a few short decades the jungle reclaims the once sprawling campus of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm. There it sits patiently waiting for hundreds of years as the dense woodland continues to tighten its grasp.
While exploring this ancient kingdom, walking and climbing through and around the massive structures, I try to understand how something this big can vanish from memory. Luckily its story is carved into the walls and my tour guide explains a long and varied history. In short, the temple cities were built over nine hundred years ago and after a series of long wars the kingdom was conquered, and all inhabitants forced to flee. Without constant upkeep it was quickly overgrown and lost to time. Hundreds of years later in the late 16th century the remarkable ruins were happened upon many times by missionaries and traders. Eventually in 1860 it was “Discovered” by a French explorer, Henri Mouhot who is credited with popularizing Angkor Wat in the west. After many years of careful restoration they are now exposed and accessible for all to see.
I learned much from my brief visit to Cambodia. A lot of which can be related to these breathtaking ruins. First, there is no limit to what the human race can accomplish when we put our minds to it. One only has to look at the grandeur of Angkor Wat to understand. Second, it’s surprising how, without constant reinforcement, something of such importance can be so easily forgotten. I still have trouble wrapping my mind around how the world’s largest religious monument was somehow misplaced and forgotten. Third, whether in the corporate, nonprofit or political environment, simple solutions can have widespread impact. Our ideas really can make a difference. Just like those little seeds could have such a large effect on the manmade magnificence of Ta Prohm. The so called “Trees Temple” was left mostly as it was found emphasizing my point perfectly, showing how something so seemingly insignificant can have such wide spread impact.
While working with CARE Nepal I have been witness to all of these lessons. One only needs to visit the remote villages of Nepal where the SAMMAN project has been implemented to observe this in action. The program utilizes simple tools to affect positive outcomes in the community but even these would be unsustainable without regular support and education from the local government or NGO’s. In the end, no matter what your goal, with the proper motivation one company, one NGO, one idea and yes, one person can make a difference in this world but it is up to us to not only plant the seeds but to make sure they flourish.