Another day dawns on Kampong Cham and the group tries a new café for breakfast… After a haphazard start all are eventually fed and watered. The teachers’ set off for another busy day of workshop delivery in a fleet of tuktuks, led by the charming Mr Gideon.
Meanwhile the Projects team are like a band on tour, and hop aboard the minibus ready to roll and hit up another school and community. Today the team is joined by the teachers Eliza and Claire and we are driven through a truly vast rubber plantation. Avenue after avenue of rubber trees stretch out in perfect rows, making a nice break from the grittiness of Kampong Cham town.
About half way through our journey the team enjoys, or is subjected to (depending on your point of view and proximity to the speakers) a confusing karaoke DVD. In one of the team’s more bizarre experiences to date the 80s and early 90s power ballads roll on, fittingly Phil Collins’ Another Day in Paradise plays. The lyrics are apt as we bump our way on dirt roads through some fairly impoverished communities.
Arriving at today’s school we are treated (as usual) like reluctant rock stars. A table has been set, dignitaries gather around for introductions, and in a corner of the room a machete wielding man is preparing 10 fresh coconuts for our refreshment.
This sort of gesture is typical of the hospitality displayed by every school the team has visited. For a people who have next to nothing materially, the Khmer are incredibly generous and gracious hosts. As we meet the cheeky Principal and the formal introductions are made the group feels refreshed and touched by the thoughtful coconuts.
Well into week two the team quickly get down to business and our teachers with some back up from Amy and Maggie sort a modified art lesson for slightly younger children. These 5 and 6 year olds are lucky and unusual in that they have had some exposure to art and craft – their drawing skills impress the whole team.
Meanwhile Ed, Graham, Cathy and Marilyn get three outdoor games underway. Ed has the kids running relays, playing tunnel and captain ball and under and over. Graham organises his group in to an ever quickening game of catch, whilst Marilyn and Cathy get a group of kids skipping. The team all have smiles on their faces as they swelter in the humidity – the kids’ laughter is infectious.
The team has learned well that even getting the children to line up is a challenge – most schools have no structured PE programs, so things like taking turns are completely foreign to the children. Kids being kids means that they are quick to catch on, and we rotate the children through each station, and Sean demonstrates advanced skipping for a lucky few students.
Before the team knows it, it is time for the children to head home for the midday break and time for our lunch. We are again invited to a specially prepared feast with some local specialties – the team recommends the Khmer noodles.
Community elders and school leaders join the meal and after lunch there’s an extra special surprise for the group. We are taken to the temple by the school for an audience with a Buddhist monk. The temple is not fancy. It is a simple wooden stilt building and it feels like most of the village plus a few dogs and chooks have gathered to watch the team’s reception.
The group arranges itself awkwardly on mats in prime positions and are offered more food and told to ask whatever questions we like of the monk. With the help of Mr Hun an interesting dialogue and exchange of information is underway. In the meantime Maggie is presented a fat baby to hold and a lovely exchange occurs between women with no common tongue about grandchildren.
Another uplifting day at a local school that is doing well is beautifully bookended by our return trip through the rubber plantation and the exact same karaoke DVD. Phil Collins Another Day in Paradise is a good note to end on.