Carl recognized how close he and Seyma had become, and worried about how he would take his leaving. He sees a lot of himself in Seyma. "Seyma is a punk--the smartest in the class and the most rebellious." Carl said. "I don't want him to make the same mistakes that I did."
A high school dropout and a runaway, Carl fled his parent's house at 17 and started living on the streets. He knew hardship and hunger. He got involved with teenaged gangs, briefly, and drugs, a little longer. He did not start speaking to his family again until he was 19, and didn't have a full relationship with them until he was 21. In the meantime, he worked every job he could think of in Queensland -- sales, retail, insurance, bartending, roofing -- anything that would pay a living wage. When he reunited with his family, his life was straightened and changed. He says he could not have gone to Cambodia without their support.
"I've been looking for a job that made me passionate for my entire life, but I never found it until I came to SCAO," he told us.
Carl had come to Cambodia as much for adventure and the experience of living abroad as to do good. It was something young Seyma couldn't understand.
"But Carl -- you said we could watch a movie!" the boy protested. Carl had forgotten about his promise.
He was torn. As his time at the center ebbed, Carl found himself caught between two worlds: wanting to spend more time at SCAO and with Seyma and anticipating his return home to his family. He hopes the kids will remember him. "It's a catch 22," he explained. "I want even better volunteers to come so the children get the love and care they deserve, but then I know I won't be remembered as the best. I don't want to become just another link in the chain."
When the last day came, the children gathered around him to sign their names on his SCAO T-shirt. All the kids wanted to be with him as long as possible. They scampered around, hugged him, and hung off his shoulders as he packed.
Seyma didn't join in. He couldn't even bring himself to look at Carl. He was trying to distract himself, lying on top of a table off in a corner, pretending to read a Star Wars picture book. He was doing better than last time, when he'd connected deeply with a long-term volunteer named John. When John left, Seyma didn't speak to him during his last week.
"Seyma, come here and give me a hug."
The boy that never seemed to leave Carl's side reluctantly forced himself to put his arms around him meekly for a second, then let go and shuffled away. Carl looked after him with concern but was already being called to the road. The driver wanted to leave before it started raining.
When Carl mounted the motorcycle, all of the kids ran out into the street to watch him drive off. Seyma stayed behind in the center, defiant until the last moment. He ran onto the street just in time to see Carl disappear around the corner.