Successful Toothbrush Collection

Caring for Cambodia ("CFC") ran their annual toothbrush collection during the month of February, so I decided we would focus on toothbrushes and dental hygiene too! I decided to run a campaign: For every pair of earrings sold, we would buy 5 toothbrushes to donate.  I wasn't expecting to exceed 100 toothbrushes based on historical sales, but boy was I wrong. You all STEPPED UP!

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I was so overwhelmed with people's generosity. I had followers and friends reaching out asking if they could simply just donate to help me buy more toothbrushes! At the end, I collected/bought over 450 toothbrushes and over 200 tubes of travel toothpaste. You have no idea what a difference this will make! 

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Here's a little excerpt from their website talking about their dental hygiene program. 

Bright Smiles. Bright Futures.
This program aims to provide every student with three toothbrushes per year. After each school meal, the students are required to brush their teeth, with teachers on hand to demonstrate how to brush correctly and conduct lessons on good oral hygiene.
Caring for Cambodia now distributes over 17,000 toothbrushes per year. The next time you have a party or a lunch, ask each guest to bring along a new toothbrush and a small tube of toothpaste.

So I just wanted to say thank you to everyone out there who purchased earrings in February and for everyone who reached out to make a donation towards my collection. I hope to continue these efforts as the business grows and encourage everyone else to get involved with foundations doing great work around the world! 

Lots of Love, 

Maria

Why I Started Emerald & Shea

It all started in 2014 when a friend said I should try finding a hobby to take my mind off of the stress from work and the hot mess that my life was in at that moment. She always gives good advice so I thought about it for a while and thought about what type of activity would be a good stress relief. Now this had to be something beyond working out because even when I work out my brain doesn't shut off. I needed something to completely take my mind off everything running through mind on a constant basis. My inability to turn my brain off resulted in a facial expression/mood similar to the one captured below when my parents sent me away to Day Camp and I clearly was not pleased about it... 

 
 

I started to remember the days when I used to draw, dance, and do other creative things. A creative outlet was REALLY lacking in my life, and I thought that would be a perfect hobby to pick back up again. Then as I was online shopping and seeing beaded necklaces retailing for $150-300, and I thought to myself, "I can totally make that!" So that next weekend, I hit up Michael's and a local bead store and got enough to make a few necklaces. Check out the pictures below of where I started! 

Once I got the hang of it, the creative outlet took off and honestly helped my stress levels to some degree. I started off with a few necklaces, then started making earrings and before I knew it, I was selling things through an Instagram page to total strangers without a formal website. I even got a couple of international orders! THEN... In 2016, I decided to leave my job and pursue an entirely different career track (read more about it here).

After leaving my job, I took the time to create Emerald & Shea, the website, and everything about it. I never knew I would get so much joy over making jewelry and seeing people rock them at weddings, brunches, and many other occasions! It turned into something so much bigger and better than a hobby, because it has given me a way to give back to an incredible organization, Caring for Cambodia. They help to provide an education and so much more to children throughout Cambodia, and I had the privilege of volunteering and working with them for a few months in Cambodia.  Caring for Cambodia holds a very special place in my heart, so I decided that proceeds from any sale will benefit them and their programs. 

Over the years, I've been able to expand my designs and try out a lot of new things (see below!). It's been so fun and exciting to run my own small business and see its growth and how it has helped me grow as an individual. I have a few other goals for the longer term, so stay connected to see how Emerald & Shea plans to grow and help others along the way! 

5 Reasons Why I Decided to Go Back to Cambodia

I wrote this back on June 5, 2017 before I went back to Cambodia for the second time that year.

To give it away... this experience solidified my decision to pursue a career in teaching, and I am proud to say that I will be starting Teach for America in Providence, Rhode Island in June 2018. 

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As some of you may know, I made the decision to put my life in the US on hold and return to Cambodia on a one way ticket to volunteer with Caring for Cambodia. It has almost been a year since I quit my job in Corporate America to "figure out" what I wanted to do with my life - and I've tried really hard over the past few months to do just that. In this post, I'll talk about how I think I figured it out, and what compelled me to go back to Cambodia. 

(1) The need to volunteer again

This wasn't something new. My mom raised me doing a lot of volunteer work around Austin throughout middle and high school. Unfortunately my time commitment to giving back and serving others dwindled as the years went on. By the time I was working full time and back in Austin, I was not volunteering at all and any sort of "volunteering" had 100% to do with monetary donations versus donating my time. 

When I made the decision to leave the company I had been with for 3 years, volunteering was the number one item on my to-do list. Not just around Austin, but also finding an opportunity to volunteer abroad. Then a family friend connected me to the founder of Caring for Cambodia, and the planning for my March trip began. 

Family & friends helped me raise enough money to pave a whole area of a school! It was SO hard, but the students helped pass stones back and forth and the experience was worth the sweat. 

(2) My first trip to Southeast Asia in March 2017

I was nervous to go to Southeast alone, so thankfully I had my best friend, Chinasa, with me. We split the trip 50/50 between volunteering and leisure travel. The 50% spent volunteering will forever have a lasting impact on me. 

Knowing the history of the country and seeing the poverty of these children, it amazed me how happy all of the kids were and the constant positive energy you felt at each and every school. Once the kids warmed up to you, all they wanted was to play with you and hear you speak and be around you. 

It was such a warm and welcoming experience and it wasn't like anything I had experienced before. You could be having the worst day ever, but 10 seconds around these kids, and you would forget about anything bad. It was truly amazing, and I can't wait to see all of the kids again!

Bracelets dedicated to those who lost their lives at the Killing Fields in Cambodia

Bracelets dedicated to those who lost their lives at the Killing Fields in Cambodia

(3) A young girl's innocent and simple series of questions

We were spending each morning and afternoon at a different school since it was our first time in Siem Reap, and the staff at Caring for Cambodia (will refer to it as "CFC") wanted us to see all of those schools and differences depending on location and number of years associated with CFC. 

At one of the schools,  there was a young 8 year old girl attending the first section of the English as a Second Language ("ESL") class that Chinasa and I were volunteering in. She sat by me, she played with the ends of my kimono, and she stayed for the second section too. Not sure why, but she attached to me and worked so hard to communicate with me in as much as English as she knew. 

We ended the morning with this conversation that nearly broke my heart: 

Young Girl: "Will I get to see you tomorrow?" (as she is holding on to the end of my kimono)
Me: "No, I'm sorry, we are going to a different school tomorrow."
Young Girl: "Ok, when will I get to see you again?"
Me: "I don't know." (as I am literally holding back tears)
Young Girl: "Ok, well come back very soon, ok?"
Me: "Yes, I will do my best!"

This series of questions almost brought me to tears, but it sparked the question/thought - When will I come back to Cambodia? Wait, I really want to come back to Cambodia.

(4) Having the feeling that I may have found the job I should've been doing all along

Our time was split between assisting in the ESL classrooms, and doing a building project at one of the schools. I loved my time in the classroom because I have always loved being around kids, and as stated in point #2, these kids had a certain energy about them that made the experience so memorable. 

They were all so eager to learn - I never had that kind of thirst for learning, even though I loved being in school and do consider myself to be a tad nerdy. They all called me "teacher" and would address me that way if they had a question or wanted me to sit at their table for the next exercise. 

So I started thinking, teaching elementary school could be something to explore. After all, my grandfather and grandmother were teachers, my mom was a pre-school teacher and teaches ESL in Japan, and my brother is a high school math teacher. Maybe it's just something that runs in the family? 

I loved every minute spending time with the students. They radiated such great energy and an eagerness to learn - it was beautiful!

I loved every minute spending time with the students. They radiated such great energy and an eagerness to learn - it was beautiful!

(5) Putting my personal limits to the test

Last but certainly not least, this was an opportune experience that would help me grow outside of my comfort zone. I'm definitely a home-body; I love being close to my parents; and I have never lived outside of Texas (minus the first 5 years of my life in NYC and a college semester abroad in Florence). 

This was my chance to be entirely on my own - travel alone, live alone, be alone, and all other forms of alone. As nervous as I am about this aspect, I know that it will only help me grow into a stronger and better person. 

PRECIOUS kiddos at one of the schools

PRECIOUS kiddos at one of the schools