Local Knight takes personal mission to serve poor in Cambodia
PROSPER — Michael Wanigasekera served two years in the U.S. Peace Corps in the small farming village of Chrey Thom, Cambodia. Although his assignment ended, his desire to help the impoverished community remains. He has returned twice and plans to visit in 2023 also.
Wanigasekera, a parishioner at St. Martin de Porres Church in Prosper, is a member of Knights of Columbus Council 17304, which provided some financial support for his three-week mission trip to Chrey Thom this fall.
While in the Peace Corps, Wanigasekera’s primary assignment was to teach English at the secondary school, but he took on other projects as needs became evident. He developed a school library, a garden, and a clean water filtration system for the secondary school. After that, he helped build a basketball court and painted numerous murals to enhance the quality of life in the village.
His most important task with the Peace Corps, however, was to educate the people in Chrey Thom about the kindness and diversity of people in the United States. Wanigasekera said, “Many people had misconceptions and stereotypes about what an American looks like. I thought it was so important for them to have a greater understanding of the people of our country.”
On his most recent mission trip, he helped to construct water wells which provide 14 families with drinking water. At the primary school, he established a school library and a garden. He was also able to purchase basketball equipment and paint to beautify the primary and secondary schools.
In addition to physical projects, Wanigasekara shared the Catholic faith with a number of villagers who have little to no knowledge of Christianity. According to Wanigasekera,
“The Catholic faith is everything to me, it is the driving force for everything.”
His time in Cambodia and his subsequent year of service in AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America, a domestic anti-poverty program) have shaped Wanigasekara. He said, “My service in the Peace Corps and in VISTA was very difficult and challenging, but it changed my life. It made me truly realize that we are here to make a difference and to help others…and the blessings we are given are to be shared. Service to others, and service to our country, have been the greatest honors of my life.”
Living side-by-side and building relationships with deeply impoverished Cambodians “puts things in perspective: what truly is important in this life, that our lives are short, that material things are meaningless, that we are here to help each other and make a difference in this world,” Wanigasekara summarized.
In a village where electricity and running water are in short supply, Wanigasekara has found friendship and purpose.
By Brandon Story. Editor’s Note: NTC staff contributed to this report.