My experience at the Sustainable Community Development project was an absolutely unforgettable one. For some reason, upon booking I was under the impression that it wouldn’t be very hands on, I wouldn’t get attached to the kids. I thought I would go, teach and leave. In hindsight I can say I was foolish as no one could go to the school without being affected by the FANTASTIC children and wonderful community. I spent five weeks on this project from mid-January to late February and can honestly say I could move there permanently tomorrow.
Our daily routine consisted of waking at 7am to get ready for the day before all crowding round the big table to fill our plates with Mrs Ya’s delicious dishes. We looked forward to every meal because there wasn’t a single meal which wasn’t wholly enjoyable. After breakfast we jumped on our bikes and cycled the 15 minutes to the school. Along the way you could hear shouts of “hello!!” from children as young as two to elderly ladies sitting outside their houses, I don’t believe there is a happier place on earth than Oddar Meanchay province!
On your average day you teach for three hours in the morning, cycle home for lunch and relax in the hammocks or even take a nap! Then return for another three hours of teaching. However, there is no average day at the school- there is always some fun to be had or a new game to be used to teach the kids. Nareth, the headmaster, once came running in to my class and sprayed us all with water!
Friday’s are a bit different because that’s test day, the children LOVE this though, as they get to see what they’ve learnt through the week and after an hour or so of tests are free to play. One Friday it was so hot we all ran through a fence at the back of the school and jumped in to a huge pond to cool off. All the kids who could swim were jumping in with us and the ones who couldn’t we were hugging and splashing. Another Friday we had a huge water balloon fight which was hilarious and ended in everyone, teachers and kids, being soaked through!
One of my favourite things of the whole experience was cycling through the village and recognising children from school who were maybe from your afternoon class or just ones who went to the school and being able to call them by name and say hello. That’s the truly special thing about volunteering. On your average holiday you don’t get involved in the community, the opportunity to hear the stories of the locals never arises. On the way home from school a couple of us would go and sit on the pier over the lake and drink lemon ice tea and watch the sunset before returning to a delicious dinner.
About two weeks in we were all invited to a big “100 day celebration” party at one of the Cambodian teachers house where we danced with the locals all evening. On weekends we went into Siem Reap to see the beautiful temples or went on little excursions to other, less known temples in the north. Otherwise it was just very relaxed; reading, soaking up the sun and playing cards. My experience volunteering in Cambodia will stay with me for the rest of my life, I can’t urge people enough to go and help out! It’s by far the best thing I’ve ever done! I’ll be back as soon as I can!