Volunteer Work in Cambodia

I have just returned back from my ocip in Cambodia. As i was used to sleeping and waking up early in the kampong, even without my alarm clock, i woke up at 6+ am(SG TIME) in my comfy bed. After this ocip, i have learnt to treasure stuff, appreciate more and am trying to spend less time on my handphone.
Rewinding to our first day….

my mom and i

our 19-strong team!

We took jetstar and arrived at Siem Reap Airport. It was damn small and there was no aircon. I think there were only 1-3 belts .

waiting at the shelter at the airport

We went straight to check in at Thunborey Hotel and i was snacking on my granola bars. I was famished. During the bus ride to the hotel, i was wondering how the hotel would look like, and how the surroundings would be like. Then suddenly we were told that we have reached the hotel and i looked out of the window just to see a small building right in front of us.

It was pretty good for an ocip hotel, i wasnt expecting anything much other than wifi.

The only problem was the lack of sockets. And i wore my insect repellant wristband to protect myself from mosquito bites. I must say that the wristband was relatively effective, but it did not last as long as i have expected. It only lasted me for around 4-5 days while the packaging stated that it should last around 1 week. But i guess it was because i accidentally wet it which caused the smell to disappear.

We had dinner at Angkor Night Market and shopped a bit around.

I bought my night pants, but i regretted not buying more. Damnnnn.

Day 2:

We went to Bayon, Ta Prohm, Angkor Wat , Horse Riding

our tourguide, unfortunately, i couldnt really understand what he was saying with his accent.

The temples were huge and magnificent. The scenery was beautiful but the sun gave us no mercy. It was sweltering hot.

The horse riding was ok but a little boring for me, cos i couldnt communicate with the cambodian guy , i wanted to follow xiao hui and the rest to learn to control the horse on my own. But the moment the horse canter a bit, my camera bounced and i had trouble keeping the camera from bouncing and hitting the sadle and myself. So i gave up trying to ask him to teach me how to control the horse and just sat back to watch the scenery.

Due to the intense heat from the sun , the all day out in the sun, i fell ill and was having a terrible headache. Apparently, i didnt know the mineral water bottle was only 500ml. I thought it contained around the same amount of water as my 800ml water bottle. And i only finished one bottle for that day. After that, i spammed myself with water daily.
We checked out to go to the Srok Village , which is the village where we will be doing our cip at. Prior to the trip, i had low expectations for the living conditions. I expected to dig hole in the earth to do answer all my nature calls and was prepared not to bathe, bringing all my dry shampoos and cooling powder. When we reached our accomodation and found out that we had a basic toilet, i was super relieved and happy. We had sleeping mats and cushions for sleeping. I did not even need to use my sleeping bag . The pants that i bought at the angkor night market became my sleeping pants. We were brought around the village to interact with the villagers and visit the homes. Along the way, we saw many animals, cows, dogs, chickens, hens, roosters. Basically, all the animals you need for agriculture.

For the rest of the days spent in srok village, most of the time we had our meals at the guys’ dorm. And after that we would return back to our dorm. As Cambodians sleep early at 9pm and wake up early too, we followed their sleeping cycle. Our first night was horrible as we kept waking up whenever the cat comes near us and we kept hearing the orchestra from the dogs and rooster. The boys had it worse, they had accompanying orchestra from the cows.  But later on, we solved the cat problem as we realised its because we had stacks of tuna cans placed right beside our sleeping mats thats why the cats keep coming near our mats. After we moved it away, the cat no longer disrupts us from our sleep. And we got used to the daily orchestra from the dogs and rooster. Initially, sleeping at 9 was hard for us as we are too used to sleeping at 1-2am back home, but with so much activity in store for us everyday, we gradually adapted to sleeping and waking up early.

From Day 4-7:
We started teaching basic english alphabets to the children. The first day when we met the children, they were shy and dare not approach us. When we approach them , they ran away from us. But as time passes, the children became less shy and did not run away from us anymore. As we were told that the first day of teaching will be during the holiday, so in order to attract more children to come for subsequent classes, we tried to make it as engaging as possible. For every lesson we had, we brought the children out to play for awhile as a break for them. We played skipping, tug-of-war , flying paper aeroplanes with them.
all our meals at the guys’ dorm
Wooden tables and chairs. Cobwebs everywhere. Some of the tables were falling apart. The cobwebs are huge, when i sat down beside a little boy, i could feel the cobwebs on my knees.
her eyes are too cute, super cute girl
just a simple tug-of-war and they would be having a great time playing
unglam shot of me. but anyway, the kids knew i was feeling hot, so they were trying to fan me with their files. All the files were prepared by the team for the children. None have any pencilbox, only some had pen/pencil. Only a handful carried schoolbags.
Sometime , during our free time at night, i would sit at the staircase to gaze at the sky and slowly the stars, like playing hide-and-seek with me, would reveal themselves, one by one. And Lee Yin and I would be amazed by the number of stars we see in the sky. 
A few things that left a deep impression in me:
1) when we announced the start of lesson, the children ran to their classes. When i saw them running as soon as they could to their classes, i suddenly thought of myself, when i was of their age, i have never ever ran to my classes before. The only time i ran was when i was late for school. It got me thinking that, i had the priviledge to study and i have my own pencilbox, bag pack, but i sulked at going to school. I suddenly felt ashamed that, these children, they dont have a pencilbox nor a bag pack. Some dun even have any writing materials and they used plastic bags to substitute as a school bag. I felt that, when i go back to singapore, i should really cherish my school.

2) The children were so happy just by skipping or tug-of-war or flying aeroplanes. Back home, surrounded by gadgets, iphone, s3, whatever, you name it. We wouldnt be happy with a skipping game/ tug-of-war game. We would be rolling our eyes. That was when i started to appreciate the simplicity of life.  Like what charmaine said, we hope that the children, will be like the aeroplanes that they have folded, soaring into the sky with their abilities. We hope that there will be a day whereby they are equipped with the skills to progress in life.

3) We were told that school teachers arent paid well, so the probability of teachers not coming to school to teach students is quite high. Instead, the teachers moonlight as tourguides, whereby they could earn much much more. i cant really remember how poor their salary is.. hmm i think around 80usd per month? thats their pay as teachers. and the pay for being a tourguide for a day is around 30usd. So you can see how deprived the children are of educaton. It made me feel very ashamed that when i was in singapore, i was always thinking of how to pon school/classes when my teachers come to school everyday to conduct classes. We are given the privilege to have education and yet we dont cherish it. Here, the children go to classes with so much enthusiasm, running to classes. But of course, some may say, oh cuz the chance of teacher conducting class is so low, so all the more , they would be eager to go for classes. But, i feel that, they must first have interest to go for classes, so they would run to classes. Otherwise, even if the probability of teacher conducting classes is low, if the student is not interested, she/he wouldnt even bother going.

At night, while the rest are preparing to sleep, the always-have-nothing-to-do LeeYin and Joanne will accompany our hosts in teaching them english.

As there was only a fluorescent light, and it provided limited light, our host had to use her phone as a torchlight to shine on her book in order to read. Back home, i usually read about these kind of incidents in newspaper on the sad plight of people, but i have never seen it first hand. Seeing it first hand made my heart ache, i guess a lot of things, seeing it first hand as compared to reading it on newspaper or virtual internet affected me alot. When i saw them peering over the book, i just broke down silently. Later on that night when me and leeyin were sleeping, i was telling leeyin about how i felt when i saw them studying under the torchlight.

I have personally never ever studied under a torchlight. If the light is too dim, i dont even bother to study as it hurts my eye and i didnt want my eyesight to deteriorate. So after seeing her studying under the torch light, i told myself, i cant really complain about studying in singapore. I cant really complain so much anymore being a singaporean.
Day 8:
We went to kampong cham to stay in a hotel for a night as there is no school  on that day. Before this trip, i was wondering why such a weird timing to go for hotel stay right in the middle of the ocip. But after wearing the same bermudas for so many days(i refused to wear my jeans that i have brought, they were too warm and thick for a 38 degree celsius weather), i was relieved to be able to stay in the hotel to wash my berms and other clothes. Earlier on, when i was packing my luggage to go to kampong cham , i discovered 2 cockroaches in my luggages. So i was desperate to wash my clothes at the hotel before going back to the village.

At kampong Cham, we carried out the rice-soup programme whereby we delivered 80 sausage bread with eggs to the less fortunate children. Some of the places we visited: slums, rubbish dumps, HIV home.

Visiting the rubbish dump and slums really gave me a shock. I have watched on tv how poor the children are living in dumps and slums, but it is the first hand experience, standing in the rubbish dump and slum that affected me.  Some of the children walked barefooted in the slums and there were glass lying about. The glass were from the alcohol glass bottle that the adults threw on the ground.
Before going to the slums and dumps , i thought that the villagers were not as privileged as us. But after going to the slums and dumps, i realised that the villagers are much much more privileged as compared to the people living at the slums and dumps.
If the people living at the slums and dumps were to stay in the village, it would be like a hotel for them.
When handling out the bread, i felt very helpless and useless. What could i do other than just handling bread to them? Is there a way we, as students, with no income, can help them?
If you ask me if i would return, there is a possibility. Its just a matter if i have the money, and time to do so.
After that,we had a short R&R, we visited the Man-Hill and the Expressway.
the killing tree
yes you are seeing a car driving on the bamboo expressway. man, i could feel the ground tremble under me as the car drove past my feet.
life on a boat. oops i intruded their privacy a little bit
The last place we went to for the day was the Boys Home. I am not quite sure how it works, i dont know the students are there for what reason. But i think it works differently from the Boys Home in Singapore. If you know what i mean.
It was also at this place, i realised the fragility of life. One of my friends collapsed , i saw her fingers stiffening at odd angles and i felt something was very wrong. She couldnt stand up and was later on, sent to the clinic and put on IV drip. It was chaotic when it happened, the children were shocked and crowded around trying to figure out what was going on. If i was the one, i would be very frightened, falling terribly ill in a foreign country, coupled with limited access to internet and a less developed country, it would have been a total disaster for me. But thankfully, she recovered speedily. phew.
Day 9-11

As normal classes have resumed, and with a lot of spare time, we did painting for the school during our spare time. On occasions where we had to do teaching but painting has yet to be finished, we split ourselves into 2 teams. One team to do teaching while the other to complete the painting. Before painting, we had to sandpaper the wall, it was damn dirty and required a lot of strength. My arms were super tired from it. And as we sand, we could finally see some whites in the wall. Before that ,the wall was completely brown.

chilling with durian ice-cream to cool ourselves down from the hot weather
the end product (: our mural ~
one of the many gifts made by the children for us
sandpapering the filthy walls
even the kids came to help out. Some helped to sandpaper, while some helped to fan us with hand-made fans using leaves.

Sometime when we walk from the girls’ dorm to the guys’ dorm, we will pass by many villagers’ home. And children will be playing nearby. Whenever we pass by, they would greet us. Sometime they would make gifts for us. Bracelets made of flowers, necklaces, rings from the girls and bouquets of flowers from the little boys. 

Everytime i receive the small little gifts, i would be super happy. It is not the monetary value of the gift. Its the sincerity from them, the children thinking of us when they made the gifts.the many little gifts from the children, its a pity i couldnt keep it as the flowers started to rot as time pases. But i kept one with me cos it was dry and was connected together by a wire.

handsome boys
the class monitor and i, love the mini bouquet of flowers ^^
went into the classroom just to selca with my flower. im reverting back to my previous image of being the selca-queen.
another flower band given to me by the little sweethearts
Charmaine using the paint to give me manicure
one of the days when going back to the guys’ dorm for dinner, we were greeted by hordes of cows. it was interesting to look from afar but one of the cow gave me a scare when it moved close to me. imagine seeing it just right in front of you, damn scared if it suddenly just start galloping fast.
saw a baby drinking milk from the mother cow, just had to get my personal photographer aka liying ( kidding, me no have personal photographer lah) to help me take a shot.
drinking beer to mark the last few nights in Srok Village.

Day 12

Today marks the last day of us teaching the children. In the morning, we blew some balloons and played with the children in the house before going to school to conduct our final lesson.

The children played with the balloons for a good 40 minutes without getting bored. Its amazing that just a balloon could make them so happy.
and this little toddler from the next door just popped up, he is super cuteeeee! but he refused to let me hug him, awww

In the afternoon, we prepared a carnival for the children. Few days ago, there was a clubbing party beside the guys’ dorm, so we rented the speakers and djs for the carnival. And that time at the guys’ dorm, it was clubbing in broad daylight. Yes daylight! We had a few booths only but it was sufficient to get the children hyped up!

There were food and games booths, games booth being the skipping rope, tug of war and the pingpong ball booth. Joanne,leeyin, fika and i were manning the pingpong ball booth.

our never ending queue. luckily we had the help from Rose and her husband who helped us to tell the children to line up and queue. otherwise, with our hand gestures and poor command of khmer, we couldnt get it done.
As for the food booths, we had bak kut teh and tea booth. I manned the booth alongside with the rest for only 1.5 hours the most and i was already exhausted after it. I was in charge of picking up the ping pong balls that fell off the table and there was this girl who didnt play the game but assisted me all the time in picking up the fallen balls. Super helpful assistant, still feel very bad that i didnt have any book or pen left to give to her as a token of appreciation T_T
a selca with my garland, love the garland too much! i could see my little boy was curious about my phone
so heres a photo with him!
another flower band , love the frangipani flowers, aww so nciee
a flower bracelet from a girl, i was quite surprised to receive a bracelet from her as i hadnt seen her before. but it was a pity, i didnt have my phone nor camera with me at that time. couldnt snap a photo with her. damnnn. 🙁
But ive brought this bracelet back to singapore, and sealed it in a ziplock bag as a token of memories.

selca-queen is back with another selca of the necklace/garland

For the carnival, there is also the dance square where neha was strutting her dance moves along with tata, and xiao hui was drunk in dancing with her little song sa. After we have finished manning the booth, we left to join the dance floor.

flower garland by one of the many children.
And the carnival ended with Father Gerald(sp?) presenting us with the scarf. It was a tearful goodbye. My floodgate just opened, i had to constantly look up at the sky to make the tears fall back into my eyes, or rather, not to let any tears fall. I guess even though i wasnt super attached to my girl anymore after i was transferred to another class, i stil feel sad that i was gonna leave.
Although i was only helping out in her class for the first half of my stay there as i was transferred to another class for the second half of my stay. I was honoured that she still remembers me. My eyes were swollen and super small here because of the crying. With the checkered scarf presented by the hosts, we bid goodbye .
Some random photos of the school after the last lesson:

Day 13
Today is the last day of my CIP in Cambodia. Mixed feelings, half i was relieved to return back to my clean toilet and soft bed in singapore, but half i felt sad to leave as i couldnt spend more time with them anymore. I enjoyed the times where they taught me khmer and i taught them english. Learning new language was fun when there is no pressure. Its like just an interest to be able to communicate better with them. To find out what is their needs and how i could help the children with their english.
some of the host’s family members and i
sailormoon with me! She is the older sister of the girl whom we taught her english. I suck at remembering their names >< everytime i call them by tapping on their shoulder, while they could remember mine. *guilty*
at Phneom Penh Airport, waiting to check in and go home ~
Some takeaways
Before this Cambodia ISP, i have expected primitive conditions, but i was grateful that i had a basic toilet, and i need not sleep on grass. I was expecting unappreciative naughty children who refused to listen to me but the children i met were super sweet and mostly obedient children. Only a few boys and girls were troublemaker and i couldnt be friendly with them. I had to give them my most stern looking face( dang, some of my guy friends say it doesnt look stern at all >< ) and ordered them to sit down with my hand gestures.
As i joined this ISP alone, i was initially a little worried that i will not click well with them and also because there are many many business students so i was worried that there would be huge cliques and i would be left out , but i am grateful that everyone were very nice and i didnt expect myself to make close friendship with Joanne and Leeyin(both business students). Thanks leeyin for lending me your shoulder and fika for your hugs whenever i get really emotional and end up tearing. I dont know why, i cant seem to control my emotions well in Cambodia. I usually can control myself very well when back in singapore.
Super enjoyed the community washing sessions with my first batch, Charmaine, Linette and Leeyin. But it was a nice beginning and ending, having community washing sessions with the same people, to mark the end of our stay at the village.

Thankful for…
the prickly heat powder from Jermaine, it was so much better and cooler than the powder i brought !
the cream from Charmaine, had you not brought the cream, the skin condition on my neck would have gotten much worse.
the energy bars from Leeyin and Jermaine , i still cant believe i finished all my bars! i dono how many times i have said but sometimes, my stomach do amazes me! If they didnt have anymore bars, i would be having hunger pains at night and also when on our way to Phnom Penh airport. And yes i get hunger pains easily, the cons of having high metabolism, mehhh
the fan , toilet lock and great hospitality by the host family.
the sleeping mats, cushion from the church
the watchful eyes by the police to ensure our safety at all times
the guys for volunteering to help carry our luggages, and especially mine, cus mine was the largest and yet im the 2nd smallest built ( yes, the 2nd smallest person having the largest luggage) , and YES, im the 2nd smallest, not the smallest (: Charmaine is the smallest ^^v
having such wonderful team leaders, tata, joanne, yuhding to lead us!

And  most importantly, i am thankful that my parents allowed me to go for this ISP . Had i not gone on this ISP,i wouldnt be able to experience village life, learning life values from the children and the villagers.
It is evident that, you dont need money to be happy. I can see that the villagers are happy, even if they arent as well-off as us, they are happy. The children doesnt need gadgets to be happy, they can be happy just playing a balloon or paper planes or tug-of-war or skipping ropes.
Of course, there may be people who are cynical of ISP, they may say that an ISP is too short to help you in your character development. But i feel that, it may not be in that way. For me, i realised i spent too much time on my handphone, and i should bond more with my parents, cherish them. I should also be more appreciative. So i am taking steps to change myself slowly. Using my phone less often, being more tolerant with my parents, spending more time with them. Trying to complain less about my workload and just appreciate life. Cos i know, the moment i start to complain, my mind will flashback to the kids playing with tug-of-war and the simple village life.
There may also be people who say that ISP is a waste of time, we didnt need to spend time to paint their school as our painting skills is not as good as the painters there. But like what our team leader asked that got us thinking, ‘ how would you feel if someone just gives money as compared to someone who takes the time and effort to come down to paint your house?’
To me, that is about sincerity.
We are all so consumed in the fast-paced world, we only think about getting things done fast, but not the process. Yes there are times we have to think about the outcome, but this is the time to think about the process. Adults may think in monetary aspect and speed, but i think sincerity is more important. For me, i rather be more sincere. Also, i believe, if i were the kid, i see the volunteers spending the whole day painting for me so nicely, i would take effort to keep it clean.
Some of you may say , oh the villagers are happy with the way they are, why bother?
Well , if we can help their children to soar in the sky, why not? We can help them to climb up the social ladder and enter into the city. And give their parents an improved standard of living.

So to sum it all, this ISP also taught me about the importance of sincerity and appreciating things. Yupps thats all, i hope i didnt make anyone bored.

-k’nyom srolanh srok –

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