In June 2014 I was lucky enough to travel with Victorian School Rosebud Secondary on their expedition to Cambodia and Laos. The following is my account of our incredible project phase.
Our project started with a bus trip to Battambang in Cambodia. When we got to the bus station it felt like we were celebrities; with accommodation providers, Tuk Tuk drivers and food vendors running along both sides of the bus waving goods and services at us. It was funny but also slightly intimidating.
Our project site was Ptea Teuk Dong, a school in the small community; where children from the village come to learn English as this will benefit them as they grow older, mostly within Cambodia’s growing tourism trade. The site also provides accommodation and employment for local people who have been victims of domestic abuse.The site itself was beautiful, the first thing I saw when we arrived was a stilt house over a pond laid up ready for lunch.
Our project host, Rith, gave us a tour of the facility and explained our work areas. Our tasks were: to concrete a hydroponics area, repaint the hydroponics pipes and revegetate a mushroom farm. Our project was divided into two sections; as it was the weekend our first few days would be manual work, the rest of the time would be interacting and learning with the children.
We broke into smaller groups so that we could attack multiple areas on site.
One group started on painting the hydroponics pipes. The villagers use hydroponics to grow vegetables to sell to the local community in the wet season, the money earned goes back to support the school. In the dry season when it’s harder for the locals to grow their own crops they use the setup to grow food to support themselves and their families. The pipes when brought are blue, but this colour makes it too hot for the plants to grow, painting them all white reflects some of the heat and the crops grow more efficiently.
Another group started with concreting, this involved collecting hard-core from around the school site to lay down as footings for the concrete. Once down we had to then smash all the large pieces with a club hammer before layering it with sand to level it all out. A local tradesman then concreted the area whilst the challengers mixed the sand and cement.
The rest of the group spent some time removing an old mushroom farm and then laying out a new mushroom crop. The team worked closely with the head gardener who had to explain all the aspects of the planting through sign language as he spoke and understood no English at all.
A highlight of our project work was seeing how the actions of World Challenge teams impact the community. We went on a tour around the local village with Rith. One of our stops was a lady who used to help at the school as a paid staff member. She had to leave the school as her two daughters had bad medical care whilst young which left them mentally disabled, she left so as to be able to look after them. The project supported her by setting up a weaving loom for her at her house using World Challenge donated funds. She is now able to earn money from home whilst looking after her children. She makes cotton scarves to sell, the loom takes 7 days to setup and then she can make 3-4 a day. She sells them for $2 each which makes her hourly wage about 60c. Rith says she is a lucky lady and is quite rich in her community and is very grateful to the student groups that have helped her.
The second element of our project was the interaction with the school children and local community.
The challengers decided to organise a fun day for the community children as well as the school students so as to maximise the impact they would have on the region.
When the school children arrived our challengers started to interact with them through simple games, stories and sports. Another group of challengers went into the local village with a translator to inform children who can’t afford school that they could come and join in. When this group came back it looked like something from the Pied Piper with a string of children following the few challengers that went into the village.
At the peak there were about 60 children at the school which usually hosts 15-20 students.
I played volleyball with a group of local boys and challengers, they found it very funny to try and teach us counting in Khmer.
Two – Pee
Three – Bay
Four – Buan
Five – Pram
Six – Pram moy
Seven – Pram pee
Eight – Pram bay
Nine – Pram buan
Ten – Dop
The children kept laughing at my very bad pronunciation, their English was fairly limited but what they knew was said quite well and I was able to hold a basic conversation with them.
The day finished with a firing squad of water balloons with the challengers soaked by the village and school children, followed by a lolly hunt. It was great to see the children happy and playing and how something as simple as a few lollies could completely change their day.
For the second fun day the challengers looked on the success of the previous day and the group got together and planned a few more activities.
Some of the Challengers went to purchase more supplies whilst the other challengers went around the village again. On the walk around the village we started talking to a parent, (fortunately he had quite good English) and he told us his children couldn’t come and play as they had too much fun the day before and when they went home they were tired and needed extra food which he couldn’t give them, as he couldn’t afford it. The Challengers were quite affected by this and decided that they would get some food and then feed all the children as well as playing games with them.
Feeding 40 children was quite an interesting and heart-warming experience. We prepared rice, vegetables, some meat and pineapple. Even though most of them were very hungry they all waited patiently until everyone was served and they were told they could. One girl maybe ten years old was with her little sister; she took all the meat from her bowl and put it in the younger girl’s bowl in exchange for a bit more rice so that her sister had the better food. This simple gesture went unmentioned, however it is probably my top memory from my time on project.
Program Facilitator, World Challenge Asia Pacific