Life is a reflection of what we give

March 21, 2024
Sometime around noon on a hot Sunday towards the end of August, unsuspectingly fate had destined me for an exciting meeting with Elzo de Haan and his wife Aldje van Helden. The main characters in this story are an elderly couple from Enschede, a medium-sized city located in the eastern part of the Netherlands, not far from the border with Germany. My initial assessment of them was that they were just another guest from the land of tulips passing through Bulgaria for a short time. However, my intuition told me there was something special about Elzo and Aldje. It was betrayed by the warmth in their eyes and the pure smile, which I read as a symbol of mental balance and contentment with the way they filled their days. I had a hard time resisting the urge, mixed with a great deal of curiosity, that required me to ask questions. While I was formulating the first one in my head, Elzo surprisingly got ahead of me:
- What's that on your T-shirt? – asked me, the nice guy with white hair and fiery eyes.
- Map of the world depicted with geometric shapes. - I answered immediately.
- Do you know what's on mine? Elzo asked in his turn.
I read quickly the inscription Sherpa in a catchy font. From there, I suddenly got into an intriguing conversation (like with old friends) that reminded me forcefully that human will and kindness are an invariable part of us.
The story of the Sherpa inscription on the t-shirt Elzo was wearing took us back nearly 30 years to the time when he and his friend embarked on an unthinkable cycling journey from the Netherlands to faraway Nepal. Just a few years ago (already 70 years old), he and his wife Aldje undertook a new cycling tour (over 5,000 km) around Nepal and Tibet - doing it for charity. They told me they are now traveling in a camper van but don't like it, and their hearts are still on bicycle travel. What strongly attracts them to this way of travel is the slow pace that allows them to immerse themselves in the environment, feel the breeze and the smells and the opportunity to examine in detail the places they pass through. Last but not least, they both unanimously tell me that bicycles easily connect them with the local people and culture.

Ambassadors of goodwill

Just when the astonishment had blocked everything else in me, and I didn't know what to say, Elzo pulled out a new t-shirt from the blue van parked in lot #14. This time, I could read Camb-odia veiled under an imitation of the iconic Coca-Cola inscription. I already guessed this was a prelude to a new story, but I did not see how it could surpass the previous ones. Here I was wrong - in his unique style with a charming smile and a fire in his eyes like a 20-year-old young man, Elzo casually mentions to me that since 2011 almost every year he and Aldje travel to Cambodia. And yes, you may have guessed correctly by now that they travel around on bicycles, but with a mission. One that it is clear proof that even the sometimes dormant empathy and pure virtue have their tireless ambassadors who don't stand out but leave their deep mark.
Elzo and Aldje have dedicated themselves to exploring remote rural regions of Cambodia and helping the local people who are ignored by their own country and corrupt rulers. My Dutch interlocutors share with sadness that even on their first visit to the Asian country, they witness how the people they meet walk kilometers to get highly polluted water or have to collect raindrops to survive. Both tell me how hundreds of people they meet are seriously ill from the lack of drinking water, and some even lose their lives to something that we in the Western world have long taken for granted. Once confronted with this heartbreaking story, our main characters decide they have to do something about it. Elzo is a former hydro engineer with extensive international experience. He harnessed his knowledge, energy and free time to the cause of discovering flowing water underground, building water pumps and a purification system that would bring immense joy to the people of local communities. Over the years, he and Aldje created a foundation dedicated entirely to this mission, involving local people who wanted to continue the cause and help, infecting with their kindness other Europeans who wished to contribute to the common good.

We become richer when we give

Without asking, they tell me that the time spent among these communities in Cambodia is probably the best in their lives - the joy they see written on the faces of the local people gives meaning to their lives. I learned that even at the first meeting with the local residents, they welcome their Dutch guests extremely warmly and share the little food with them - without knowing at all what the purpose of their visit is. Elzo is 75 years old - I was surprised and asked him why rest and peace are not a priority at their age, and he just smiled. Instead of an answer, he told me that next January they are traveling again to the country famous in the travel magazines for the splendid Angkor Wat. However, you won't learn about the travails and hardships of Cambodian locals in magazines and digital travel brochures - the world is too busy for these problems. My new friends say they are just a drop in the ocean, but I know that the ocean is made up of many drops. We exchanged contacts with Elzo and Aldje. I feel them younger than me in spirit. To what extent is what happens in our lives a reflection of what we give of ourselves? I turn to wave goodbye, and I see in their faces a radiance of love, kindness and calm - for myself, I have found an answer. By the end of the day, I find it hard to think about anything else, flipping through the phone options for a round trip to Phnom Penh. January in Bulgaria has never sounded particularly attractive to me...
Having the pleasure of working for twenty years in a field that confronts me with diverse and incredible human destinies is a priceless wealth without analogue. To this day, this remains the strongest personal motivation to go to work every day with a smile, desire, and a powerful longing to face the unknown, and it usually strikes when you least expect it. And what if your exciting story begins at 7 Lakes Camping? At least you can get charged with inspiration, and it's everywhere.
If you are curious to follow Elzo and Aldje's work or wish to support their cause, you can follow Elzo on Facebook or contact them through the foundation’s website.

About us

Located at the foot of the majestic Rila Mountain,
7 Lakes Camping is the perfect getaway for the whole family.


1 "Serafim Yordanov" str.
Separeva Banya, 2650,
(next to "Plazha" complex)

+359 879 12 63 30
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