From the moment you land – you feel the hustle and bustle of Cambodian city life as you watch people, cars, bikes and tuktuks weave their way to their destination.
Myself and our Country Manager, Bunlay, had a hectic 4 days of being amongst that hustle and bustle as he and the Camps International team showed me what Cambodia is all about!
After flying into Siem Reap, we spent the day soaking up the culture, history and local life. We visited the silk farm, artisan workshop and the Old Market. It was great to see how these workshops employ locally and also employ those who would not necessarily get a job easily, such as the deaf. The locals are trained with the skills needed to carry out their job and receive a healthy income, whilst keeping traditions alive.
I really enjoyed learning how silk products are made – from growing the mulberry bushes, worms eating the leaves, to the making of their silk cacoons. From there, local women are employed who make the premium silk fashion items. This was only the surface of the real skillset and artistic flair of Cambodia.
That night we sat in a red and white circus styled tent and watched in pure amazement at the strength, charisma, and acrobatic skill of roughly ten performers who, with little equipment, put our Australian Circus’ to shame. Everyone that visits Cambodia must see the Phare Cambodian Circus! Which lucky for our students – they certainly do!
After a day of city life, I was ready to go into the rural villages to meet the team at Camp Beng Mealea and the current Gap Year volunteers who were living in camp. I was truly blown away by the amount and size of the projects conducted in and around this community. Han the Camp Manager is certainly proud of what has been achieved here so far, but has even bigger plans for the future.
Water Wells – Water is a massive issue for the surrounding communities as they suffer a long and severe dry season, with hardly any rain for months on end. A traditional way of harvesting rainwater is building cement water jars. It takes roughly half a days work. First step is to make the clay, then create the jar shape by using a wooden mould, and covering it with clay, then finishing it all off with cement. To start with, each family will receive one, then a second and eventually Han hopes each family will have ten jars. This is certainly an ongoing project and students should look forward to this!
Gravity Water Pipeline – Han told me a story about when he was a boy; he would drink from the same water his cattle would as he had no other option, it was the only water source. Finding fresh drinking water for his people is a strong desire of his and with the help of our volunteers we are certainly making it a possibility for many communities and families. This is achieved through a 10km gravity water pipeline which runs from the Kulen Mountain down to four villages. We have already dug out and piped 8km! This is what the Gap Year volunteers were working on.
Jungle garden – Just outside our camp there is a community jungle garden cared for by us for the locals to use and educate the younger generations on how to make traditional herbal medicine, organic fertiliser and pesticides. It’ll also help to grow fruit and vegetables for the community members to use.
Government school – this is a school that is home to 900 students and continuously work with us. In the past, one of their classroom roof would fall in when it rained. So, we built a new roof, plus we built a fence along the front to keep the children safe from road traffic, built a water tank and built a teacher accommodation block. Right now, we are extending the library to have a reading area to be used for the rainy season and are making an outdoor reading spot around a pond.
There is so much more – but you will just have to go on expedition and find out for yourselves!
Back to Siem Reap for a day of religion, history and temples! I am still and always will be fascinated by the way in which people built such monumental and elaborate structures which has withheld the test of time, weather and war. Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple, and the Ta Prohm temple will certainly leave you in complete awe as you wander around.
Beng Pae is located halfway between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, which was my second camp visit. This camp certainly has a personal touch to it, as our projects here are on a smaller scale and are directly working with individual families.
Toilets + Water Wells – Volunteers have the chance to work with families to build them out-house toilets and water wells. To make the water wells, students mix cement, fill in a mould and then allow the cement to set in round circles to create the wells and septic tanks for the toilets. This project is something that is simple but the families are certainly grateful.
Government school – In the past we have built them a football field, painted the school to make it more inviting for students, built seating areas around the playground and built shaded huts for the teachers to sit.
Houses – We have also built houses in this village for very vulnerable families which have been selected by the community and the elders. It was so touching to meet one of the grandmothers watching over her grandchildren in one of the newly built houses. Even though no words were spoken she smiled and greeted us into her home.
Last but not least, we ventured onto Phnom Penh where S21 Prison and one of the largest killing field is located. Both sites are a time for reflection and understanding as you are guided through the areas via a head-set. This was a very hard time for me hearing and seeing what happened to 1000s of people and how some managed to survive. It makes you have a deeper understanding of the Cambodian people and their current way of life, that’s for sure.
These four days were certainly not enough and I am already eager to return. This country has so much to offer and also so much opportunity for you to give back!
All the best, Sheriece