In July this year, Korowa Anglican Girls’ School sent a group of Year 10 students on the school’s first international service learning trip to Cambodia, working alongside local charitable organisations, the Cambodian Children’s Fund and the Treak Community Centre.

As told by Year 10 students Alannah Major, Lauren Harper, Sarah Manolitsas, Jenna Mehigan, Ellie Atto, Annika Spiers, Bianca Terlato, Anastasia Parakilas and Grace Richardson.

Leaving Australia

Heading to the airport couldn’t come quick enough. We were experiencing a mixture of emotions; but mostly nervous, excited and enthusiastic about the next two weeks. Upon landing in Cambodia, we were hit by how very hot, muggy and culturally different it was to anywhere we had ever been before.

Our first steps in Cambodia

When we arrived in Cambodia, we were greeted by our driver, Jun Toe, and such uncomfortable, tropical heat which many of us had never experienced. Cars were crammed with as many people as they could fit and some people were even perched on the roof! Motorbikes went speeding past at unimaginably fast speeds and the traffic seemed like organised chaos which only a local would understand. The unusual smells and dangerous driving habits didn’t concern us, as the people we met were some of the happiest we’ve ever encountered. We soon realised it’s the people that make Cambodia the amazing country it is.

Working with the Cambodian Children’s Fund

For the past few days we have been providing lessons to the CCF – the Cambodian Children’s Fund – and it has been incredible. From the moment we arrived on the first day, whether we were playing with the kindergarten children or visiting villages as part of the CCF community ‘Granny Program’, we were immediately made welcome by the beautiful people at CCF, and immediately immersed in their fantastic programs.

Each day we visited the kindergarten at the CCF school. The children were all very excited when we arrived and loved jumping on us and arguing over who got to sit next to us. We read to them, taught them Australian songs and played games, using English. It was a joyous experience for us as we were able to share our knowledge and interact with the younger children. It taught us valuable lessons and took us out of our comfort zone.

We’ve really enjoyed working with the CCF’s student leaders, who are aged 11 years and above. We ran four lessons for the CCF Junior Leaders covering issues which affect us all – global warming, pollution, recycling and a big wrap-up to finish. In our final lesson, we asked students to ‘think, pair, share’ and were thrilled at how much the students had learned. Our final lesson was filled with happy and sad tears as we said our goodbyes, our new friends giving us all kinds of gifts, from cards and drawings to scarves and posters. Their kindness and generosity was overwhelming, and will never forget the opportunity to share our knowledge, their lasting friendship and the many lessons learned will stay with us forever.

The CCF Granny Program

The CCF runs a Granny Program, and we visited grannies involved from the community. It was an eye-opening experience. These women live in tiny metal houses with no doors and virtually no possessions, yet they are so happy. One of the grannies we met lost her child when Pol Pot invaded and was left to look after her two grandchildren. She was so humble and really inspired us to be more selfless and positive. After all that they have been through, the grannies still wore a smile. Asking these lovely women about their lives and learning more about their stories was amazing, and everyone could learn a lot from them.

Siem Reap

The morning we left Phnom Penh, while all super sad to be leaving, the disappointment was masked by the excitement for the new leg of our journey. The bus ride between the two cities was very long – around six hours – and allowed us to see another side of Cambodia (agriculture and farms), which we wouldn’t have seen if we flew. The locals described themselves as ‘country boys’ compared to the busy and bustling nature of Phnom Penh. Siem Reap was significantly more relaxed and more touristy and we felt at ease as we wandered around. One of the highlights was our visit to a floating village just outside of Siem Reap on the Tonle Sap Lake.

New Friends

In Siem Reap, we were fortunate enough to go out for dinner with some of the girls from the Imagine Foundation. We had fantastic conversations with the girls and were able to track how far we had come from the start of our journey. At the beginning of our trip we were shy and awkward and did not know how to communicate properly due to the language barrier, however at dinner it became easy to get the conversation flowing. The Imagine girls were quite shy at first, but by the end of the night they were much more confident speaking English and we definitely learnt a lot about Khmer culture and the girls’ lives.

Angkor Wat

We got up bright and early the next day to beat the crowds and witness the spectacular sun rise at the amazing Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. It was still dark when we arrived at the temple complex at 5.00am. The temple was both enormous and beautiful. Throughout the morning we weaved our way through all the buildings, admiring the architecture and absorbing the scenery.

Treak Community Centre

During our final days, we visited the Treak Community Centre in Siem Reap to lend a hand with some of the students’ lessons. It was fun reading and playing games with the children. After a few days of tourist activities, we enjoyed working with the students again. The best part was seeing the excitement on the students’ faces as they met new people from a foreign country and their amazement when we said we were from Australia.

Reflection

Seeing the confidence of the CCF students and their skills when speaking English made me aware of what an amazing leadership program the CCF is operating. Visiting places like the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum and hearing about the confronting and significant events in Cambodia’s past gave us a greater appreciation for the Cambodian people and their positive attitude today.

They are so welcoming and happy even though they have experienced such heartbreak. We learnt so much from the CCF student leaders for their enthusiasm, values and passion for learning. Their constant ability to be appreciative of their circumstances while working hard to improve their situation was inspiring. We couldn’t believe the kindness of the CCF students and will never forget the opportunity to teach them, their friendship and the lessons we learnt.

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Posted by Independent Schools Victoria