Today is my last day volunteering in Cambodia, time to say goodbye to everyone I met… and this beautiful country. I spent five weeks here and totally fell in love with the country, the experience, and in particular the kids at school. Since I first arrived in Cambodia I felt it was even more different than what I had expected, especially in Samraong, the town where we stayed and did most of the volunteering work.
It was hot, very humid, and full of mosquitoes… but somehow I always had a good feeling. Everyone would smile at you and were always happy to see you.
My volunteer placement started with a cultural immersion week; it was a great way to start and adjust to the country and culture. We got to learn about Khmer culture, its language, and food. Our coordinator, Mr. Ear, is an example of the typical Cambodian: nice, funny, and welcoming. He speaks English well and has answers to all of our questions. During our first week at the village we went to the border of Cambodia and Thailand to visit Pol Pot´s crave, made a picnic in the mountain, visited a Temple, and spoke with the monks. Every day was different from each other and by the end of the week the other volunteers had already become my friends. You share new experiences and new feelings with them. Somehow you are always in a good mood and willing to learn. This concept was quite weird to me, since Samraong is probably the poorest city I have ever been to. People are poor and they live with only basic needs.
After the cultural week I started two weeks of Teaching English at a school. At the beginning I was a bit scared since I am not a teacher and English is not my mother language.
There were two teachers and one translator in every class. The translator, called Vaung, was a Cambodian guy, very friendly and willing to help us to communicate with the kids when they did not understand what we were saying. We used to plan the classes in advance. Actually, all the lessons were very good. The kids were happy and they would understand and appreciate, at all times, that we were doing volunteering work. They looked like they wanted to learn English. In the same classroom there were kids that would understand us and others that would just repeat anything we would say.
We first figured this out when we would call them to the board and have a short conversation: “Hello how are you? – I am fine thank you and you?” (all the kids know these two sentences). But then we would continue asking, “Where are you from?” And they would just answer, “Where are you from?”… They laughed right after and from that we understood straight away that they had no clue what we were talking about. The thing is that they are so nice and so cute that the only thing you can do is laugh with them. They would all try to help each other by shouting the correct answer.
We had six different classes; in five of them we taught basic English, in the sixth one we could teach a bit more advanced English level. They were the kids with the higher knowledge of English. They would not do their homework and they would forget everything they learnt the previous day, so we would need to repeat a lot and be very patient.
Friday was the fun day; we played games and gave presents to the kids. They enjoyed it a lot, but I enjoyed it even more witnessing them having so much fun.
From day one there were always free smiles and hugs on hand!
On my fourth week I decided to go traveling around the country with three other volunteers that I met in the program. We went to Phnom Penh, Battamang, Sihanoukville; basically the places you cannot miss in Cambodia, and of course the beautiful beaches – not to mention the ´Killing Fields´ and the museum in Phnom Penh. What I learned about the Khmer Rouge regime under Pol Pot´s mandate: Cambodia has lived through genocide, horrible tortures, and suffered a lot. You can appreciate how the old pain is reflected in many people`s eyes wishing that it will never happen again.
Back at my home-stay in Samraong, I spent my fifth week in the orphanage. It is quite different than teaching at school. I felt that the orphanage was more like a big family. On one hand the kids would speak better English but on the other hand they would be less focused in class. They would ask for breaks all the time, they would eat in class and would not pay attention for more than twenty minutes in a row. However, I did get to know them very well. I spent hours playing with them and trying help to improve their English skills. On top of that, the director of the orphanage, his wife, and other orphan kids would like to join the classes, especially when we played Bingo or any other fun game.
In short, it has been the best experience of my life!
Prior to travelling I did not know what exactly to expect from the program, but it was an absolute positive surprise. I recommend this program to any person that seeks to give love and receive a hundred times more in return.