Our final day of work begins with a change to plans; we were supposed to be harvesting rice with a local community but the weather had other ideas. A little bit of rain would have meant we would’ve gone ahead, just with the added likelihood of meeting some leeches. A lot of rain overnight though meant that they couldn’t actually cut the rice that morning. Perhaps a blessing in disguise given everyone is a little tired at the end of the second week and from the sounds of it there are some potentially hazardous tools involved (plus those leeches!).
Instead we get to spend another day doing what I think most of us have enjoyed best, and that is interacting with the kids. We head to a primary school where we are given children from Years 4 to 6 for the morning, 24 thin blue pipes and some hacksaws, and left to our own devices to turn them into hurdles and run a sports day for the kids. The last one we ran was meticulously planned out with Kate’s detailed instructions for each event, ready-made hurdles and equipment supplied, and we even had a whole orientation session in preparation for it – so this time we have to think on our feet, and it gives us a thrill that SBB have placed their trust in us to get on with it. Especially without the safety net of our surrogate mother hen around as Kate has left for the UK.
We begin Apprentice-style with the group electing me project manager, then some real world maths problem solving – how do you most efficiently cut 36 hurdles out of 24 7-metre-long pipes?! Then it’s all hands on deck with everyone measuring, sawing and building with the kids’ help to put the hurdles together. The team pulls together amazingly and a tiny bit of blood, lots of sweat and no tears later, our hurdles are ready for the fun part to begin!
Fiona, Susan and I run the kids through the hurdles event, which is made twice as fun when we add an ‘over-and-under’ race as well as just jumping over them all. Isy, Ro and Sophie lead their group through an adapted egg and spoon race using a ball balanced on a bat. Ankia, Jon and Liz have perhaps the most amusing race to watch, using rice sacks to run the sack race. Watching the others makes me realise how far our little group has come in a short space of time – everyone leads the kids confidently, unfazed by the language barriers. They are absorbed in their events and the high energy never wavers – you would never know how tired everyone is after a full-on week. As the classes rotate between events they make the second session even better having learned what works best from the first. When I tell them they have to fill an extra 5 minutes because another event is running over, they are imaginative in coming up with extra games to entertain their groups. I am a very proud project manager.
It’s not perfect of course (particularly a certain sticky moment of mistaking a little girl for a little boy) but like anything is a learning experience! The school principal seems happy at the end as do the onlooking parents, and we hope that they will be able to use some of the sports activities they’ve seen going forward. All too soon it’s time for our last meal with the Siem Reap team and we all go for pancakes – though these are less the sweet ones that some of us have in mind, and more thin savoury pancakes stuffed with pork and beansprouts that Boeb and Mr Pov show us how to wrap in lettuce leaves, dip in sauce and eat. These guys are similar ages to some of us and it’s an emotional goodbye afterwards – they tell us that working alongside us has been an inspiration to them, whilst we feel it is they who have inspired us. They’ve also been impressed(/relieved?!) at how well we got stuck into the physical work having been worried when they initially heard they were getting 10 office workers visiting who were used to sitting at a desk all day!
We have a final reflection session that evening, which begins with Ed telling us how proud he has been of us and his hopes for what we will take away with us from the experience, which promptly sets off some tears. We share what we’ve found the most emotionally challenging parts of the trip, which sets off a few more. We have all bonded through the ups and downs of the trip, learned things about ourselves, gained new perspective on our lives back home, and come to respect and admire the people who work for SBB in a way that simply reading about the charity on paper or even reading this blog doesn’t begin to show you. Ed insists that we all have the capacity to change things for the better and that he and Kate are not special – whilst the former may be true, we have all come to realise that you don’t meet people like Ed and Kate every day, who have done everything that has exhausted us and more along with Sian behind the scenes, who are warm and welcoming to anyone of any age and walk of life that they meet, and are selfless in the pursuit of making a real difference to real people that won’t be visible on a large scale until beyond all of our lifetimes. It is they that have made this experience so special for us.
We have a marathon journey home the next day and have since been trying to readjust to the cold, the time difference, meals that don’t include rice, and a hundred other distractions at the touch of a button (hence the delay in this final post!). Friends, family and colleagues are all keen to hear about our experiences, though are probably tired of hearing us gush about it within minutes. I think we have each brought back a piece of Cambodia with us (though not as literally as some would have liked as we resisted smuggling any kids back!). Our experiences are sure to stay with each of us for a long time though, and who knows perhaps one day we’ll be back, maybe with others from our company that we might have inspired. So whilst sad to sign off a final post from Team Aberdeen, this is really perhaps just the beginning…
I will leave you with a quote by Lao Tzu from one of SBB’s early orientation presentations that I liked, which I think sums up why their approach is so powerful and ultimately sustainable.
“Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say ‘We have done this ourselves’.”
With best wishes for the festive season from the whole AAM team.