Over the next two weeks at SeeBeyondBorders we’re hosting a wonderful group from Australia as part of our annual two week volunteering experience. Qualified teachers will help to run our Teach the Teacher training workshops to strengthen the development of Cambodian teachers; and the other volunteers will get involved with school sports, health and community days, and help to improve school infrastructure as part of our Better Schools program.
Angela, from the group has been sharing the thoughts and feelings from their arrival in Cambodia.
Day 1: New friends and new surroundings
Facebook and email faces and voices finally became real to us all as we eventually all made it to the excitement of Phnom Penh. Instantly there was a friendly warmth between those who had just stepped off the plane, the early travellers already acclimatised to the chaos of Cambodia and Ed and Kate, who set up SeeBeyondBorders and were our inspiration to take this journey. It makes you realise that we all belong to the bigger family, teachers.
Day 2: A chance to explore and start to understand the culture of the city
Anticipation was felt amongst the group as we met for our first group cultural activity, the village bike tour. We all compared our lack of recent bike experience, mainly due to living in busy Aussie cities, but we were keen to once again find our cycling legs to explore some outer regions of Phnom Penh.
Phirun, our tour guide, introduced himself as Mr Smiley, and he lived up to his name. Coming from a rural family, Phirun had worked hard to get what education he could. Through local schooling, as a pagoda boy and by working as a construction worker, chicken boy and bike mechanic he was able to pay for private English lessons. Through his work as a bike mechanic he also conversed with tourists to improve his spoken language and now has ‘the best job in the world’ as a cycling tourist guide, and an outstanding one he is.
Leisurely, we cycled on the dirt and gravel roads of the village of Mekong island, past market stalls selling food, clothes, home wares and petrol in glass soft drinks bottles.
The contrast in dwellings, from river boats, shanties and modest homes, to the new and more ornate buildings painted in soft lime, sky blue and apricot, all coexisting harmoniously, highlighted the differences in socioeconomic status of the people. We learnt about the cham people, a displaced race, who now reside in several countries with Cambodia hosting more than any other country. At the village pagoda Phirun gave us an explanation of the some aspects of Buddism. Interestingly, some boys choose to become monks to get an education.
Cows, roosters, water buffalo and crops of corn gave the village a rural feel. The river was a hive of activity as fishing boats set up nets for the days haul. The ferry arrived at the river bank as the morning came to a close and the heat of the sun was intensifying. We had all achieved our first group activity together, and there was a real sense of achievement as we reflected on our experience as we travelled back to our hotel and prepare for our visit to the Killing Fields and Toul Sleng tomorrow.
Day 3: A poem for Cambodia
I see dusty children’s clothes still intact, the killing tree with lovingly placed wrist bands and a mass grave of women and children.
I think of being a care free, safe, educated and healthy 8 year old Australian child in contrast to the fear, loneliness, helplessness and confusion of an 8 year old Kampochean child, I think of Chung.
I wonder what became of the children who survived, what would have become of those that didn’t and how could this be allowed to happen.
Sorrowful and heart broken.
I see a country with immense compassion and love of family.
I think we have so much to learn from people in Cambodia who have resilience and hope.
I wonder if the clutter of our daily lives and the demise of genuine humanity is what holds us back from greater empathy and support of others in need.
Vulnerability and strength
I see beautiful monarch butterflies respectfully dancing around the ground where so many bodies lay.
I think this dance is a sign of hope in such a hopeless place.
I wonder if we can dance as gracefully as the butterfly; learning to love, forgive and live.
I see a peaceful, green garden with hidden stories of fear and horror, there is something very different in the way this place feels.
I think about how a place of education can be turned into a place of torture and destruction of the human spirit.
I wonder if a race of people can ever truly recover…
Words can’t describe the tangled emotions I feel about this tragedy against Cambodia.
It’s a somber journey to Battambang but we’re keen to see where SeeBeyondBorders works.