On June 5th we travelled to Cambodia to start our final month of volunteering. Our new camp was in Beng Mealea and our camp leader was called Han, a great guy who cared a lot about his community. Han had not had it easy. He told us how he was left by his parents to be raised by monks and up until he was employed by Camps International he struggled to find food to eat; which is now why he knows exactly which berries and leaves you can eat from which tree, despite this he is one of the happiest people you will ever meet. Other than running the camp for us he also has a scheme set up to get a bike for as many of the local children as possible, as some of the children attend 2 schools in one day – 1 to learn English and 1 for Khmer education, it makes it a lots easier for the children to have a bike, to date he has provided 50 bicycles.
Following Hans plans we had a lot of varied work to do:
Everyday there were English classes held in the old orphanage for children of all ages, usually taught by one teacher. We volunteered at the school twice and with the help of the rainbow song we started by teaching the younger children colours. Then we moved onto the names of fruit and animals. The older children were very inquisitive, asking us any question they could think of to practise their English, I was pleased most questions started with ‘what’s your favourite….’, I can’t get the wrong answer to that. We also played a very rowdy boys vs girls game where we wrote words on the board in English, a boy and a girl stood in front of the board waiting to hear what word we wanted them to find, as soon as they heard the word it was a mad rush to find it first and the whole classroom erupted with screams from peers trying to help their teammate find the word, even though the boys won, it was great fun. It was a while before my ears stopped ringing – hats off to all the teachers out there!
We helped to plaster a building consisting of two rooms which would be used to teach English in once complete. As we had plastered a couple of times in Borneo we considered ourselves experts (which we probabaly are not) and set about to give those kids the smoothest walls they’ll ever see.
Next to the orphanage there were some ducks running wild (they were black with red eyes – scary ducks). One of our tasks was to clear a hole of any grass/weeds growing ready for it to be concreted at a later date to make a pond. The other task was to dig a trench around the pond area ready for a fence to be put in to stop the scary ducks from escaping.
Next to the camp there was a plant nursery which Han had started to create to try and get the locals to be able to be more self sufficient. We had a few jobs to do here:
- We cleared an area to create 7 plant beds, then planted seeds of morning glory (called tra kuen by the locals and looks like green beans and spinach once cooked) and cucumber.
- We cleared the area around some trees which were already planted to stop the weeds from taking over
- We ground down some soil with our hands and planted some saplings in grow bags to be planted at a later date
- We dug holes for and planted banana trees which had been relocated from the camp to the nursery (there were a lot!! The guy helping to dig the banana trees out of camp couldn’t get enough of it!)
- Finally we laid some ‘mulching’ around the trees, this involved covering the soil with cardboard and banana leaves. The benefit of mulching is to help soil retain moisture in summer and suppress weeds
Manual work at the school
Just under a mile from camp there was a Khmer school. The school had recently had a teachers block built so that the teachers could sleep there during the working week. Prior to this being built it was hard to keep the teachers as they would sometimes have to travel a long way to get to work and would resort to sleeping in the classrooms! Outside the teachers block there was an open space which was susceptible to land erosion, our job was to build a wall around the area to stop this from happeneing. We were reunited with our hoes and firstly dug a space ready for the wall then outcame our bricklaying skills!
Aside from all the volunteering we also had other fantastic opportunities such as: being blessed by a Buddhist monk, taught a traditional dance, taught how to meditate around a campfire (very nice but also very hot – the art of the meditation is to ‘think cold’ we were told) and taken on a rural bike ride on what we’ll call ‘vintage’ bikes.