2020 Second Place Nonfiction: Serena Rivera

“The Power of Service”, Class of 2020


Artwork by (L to R, top row to bottom): Emma-Leigh Johnson, Gianna Uhler, Anna De Leao, Matthew Diem, Hannah Hirsch, Liam Kephart, Jordan Oldenburg, Rachel Roye

“Rena! Rena!” Sok Hag exclaimed as she ran towards me, her flip flops notwithstanding on the rocky terrain of the Cambodian school grounds. She came to a screeching halt as a gentle smile brightened her face and she placed a kiss on my cheek. Though it had only been a few days since I met this young 12 year old, we had formed a bond despite the language barrier. Her tiny hands reached around her neck and undid the clasp of a necklace. She then communicated for me to bend down as she moved behind me to place my hair over my shoulder, and secured her necklace to my neck. In this tender moment, a tear escaped my eye, only to be wiped off by her roughened finger.

Such an intimate moment I will never forget. A child living in the impoverished countryside of Cambodia took a necklace off her own neck to give to a virtual stranger, but that is the power of service. I love serving others, so in order to get involved on a global scale, I signed up with Humanitarian Experience for Youth to help construct a school in Battambang, Cambodia. I became so engaged in the work that I didn’t notice the 6 hours spent at the worksite each day. I didn’t mind the cement covering my body or my sore muscles. I had fallen in love with not only the work, but with the children also. Seeing their smiling faces each day, dancing with them, teaching them English, and knowing that I was helping to improve their lives gave serving others a whole new meaning.

It wasn’t simply donating money to charity. It was traveling nearly 9,000 miles away from family and friends and immersing myself for two weeks in a physically demanding service project. The most impactful discovery I made was the reciprocity of service and the joy it brings to both the giver and the receiver. I left for Cambodia focused on building a schoolhouse for children in need, but I returned home with an immense love for the children who taught me the true meaning of service by freely giving of their love and the little they had.


For more information on The Memory Project Portrait Collage, click HERE.