[Posted by Matthew B]
Seven volunteers, five days, lots of cement and sand! But before we reached Battambang and the Sdey Leur schools cluster we met in Phnon Pehn for some Getting to know you time. So who are the volunteers; first there’s our focal point and the woman who has made it all possible with her dedication and effort, Claire. Her good friend Tamsin is here who worked together with Claire on the cookbook we used as a fundraiser, and also Donna and Matthew who met Claire on similar volunteering back in 2012. Adam and Jess, a couple from Sydney bring smiles to faces wherever they go and last but no means least, Lily Bee.
Temples, museums, good food and good company were the order of the day in Phnom Penh, also taking in a bike ride across the Mekong for a leisurely hour or two, however the offer of another 30 minutes for six brave souls turned into three fascinating hours looking for a ferry and braving the worst traffic PP had to offer, but what an experience. Drivers here won’t run you off the road as I’d expect to happen in some first world cities, instead the chaotic traffic is all very polite and respectful.
We also had a private screening, the movie, “A River Changes Course” which looks at the hopes and fears of rural Cambodian families, making their living off the land or river in changing times, as urbanization and globalization offers both opportunities, and challenges. My one big takeaway, is that destiny is no longer theirs. They work for someone else and find it increasingly difficult to live the simple life of their forefathers, and stay debt free. Generational slippage, or is it that Cambodia needs to modernize. Time will tell.
A sobering morning at S21 and the Killing Fields, S21 being the infamous Khmer Rouge prison. Seven people survived the torture and death here, two are still living. We were fortunate enough to meet one of the survivors, Chum Mey, and hear his story. Our guide was also a 13 year old girl in 1979 and as the Khmer Rouge were overrun by the Vietnamese, people started to piece together their lives, it took her three months to walk from PP to Battambang, a coach journey that took us maybe six hours.
The Killing Fields where people were taken to be executed has taken on an air of serenity despite the barbarous acts that happened there. The stories are no less shocking but the gardens provide the chance for reflective contemplation on why it happened and why it still happens in other countries today, albeit on a different scale.
Word games abound on the journey to Battambang, starting seriously, ending in giggles and a bit of fun. More from our first two days at the Sdey Leur school tomorrow.