During the wee hours of early February 2016 , as planned, we met up at Changi airport to embark on our GC trip to Cambodia. This Chinese New Year break looked exciting for my group of friends and me as we looked forward to roll out some innovative and interesting projects for young students of science in a remote village in the scenic suburbs of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Along with two teachers from UWCSEA, we went on a short – 5 day – trip under the Green Umbrella initiative, a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Cambodia. Collectively, the amount of work that was prepared and done to influence the lives of children and young adults in the Takeo provide can only be described as amazing and a wonderful experience for the group.
We reached the Wat Chambok Bitmeas Pagoda late morning after an hour long drive from Phnom Penh airport. The cool breeze and tranquil atmosphere was soothing and we were greeted by a group of monks ,attired in austere clothes but with a warm and welcoming smile which reflected the positive energy and put us at ease. We were introduced to Venerable Sokrath, Samrath, Samrong and Margot , members of the NGO, who appraised us of the situation within the commune and the challenges that people faced, but more importantly the impact of the change we were going to make as members of Green Umbrella, as we toured the Pagoda.
Soon after, we had our first meeting with some of the middle school students of the nearby Sok An Secondary School for some video making and editing sessions. Though they were shy at first, we warmed up to each other as we shot more video footage together and even the monks joined us towards the end of the session. The day was reassuring and we retired to the simplistic, well-kept rooms allotted to us ; a first experience of staying in a pagoda!
The following day we visited the secondary school and introduced ourselves to the 300 odd students by talking about our home countries and varied cultures in an interesting culture exchange session through which, both the Cambodian students and us, gained a greater understanding of the diversity and tradition in different areas of the world.
Following the introductory ice breaking session, we showed and donated resources for science experiments for the students in grade 9. As a group, we demonstrated the simple experiments we had devised and much to our joy, we saw excitement, curiosity and the desire to learn in the eyes of the students as they willingly moved up and around the school doing the science experiments. The initiative and resourcefulness of the students could easily be seen through their enthusiastic participation in the question and answer sessions after every experiment.
In all honesty, my friends and I found this to be a challenging learning experience as we were conducting the lessons instead of the teachers, but soon found our groove and become better educators with every experiment that we conducted.
A constant highlight throughout the trip was the delicious, modest food; prepared using fresh produce at the friendly local family restaurant. The food serving/ portion size was moderate but it truly gave a hearty wholesome meal to everyone who walked in. Repeatedly armed with the energy from the splendour of the local cuisine, we would charge towards the next course of action with ease and enthusiasm.
Another project we joined in was the evening English classes that would take place in the Sok An Secondary School campus. We worked in pairs to teach the students Basic English words based on a topic, such as animals and occupations through the use of games like hangman and bingo. It was great to see that the students were engaging in the lesson and enjoying immensely the entertaining and innovative learning method, together with us.
In addition, at Karuna Kumar School (KKS) which has children from kindergarten to grade 3, we engaged in teaching and built a sound garden and a flower bed for them. It was indeed a pleasure to teach and interact with the children at KKS because of their infectious enthusiasm and endless energy. Although making the gardens was tedious and difficult,the delight that was seen in the eyes of the children made it worth all the effort.
Looking back on this experience, I could not be more grateful to the members of Green Umbrella who made this trip possible, because through this trip, I was reminded of the spirit of giving, that sometimes can be lost in the busy schedule and frenzy of our everyday lives and the simple satisfaction that comes with having done something for others. And I think I speak for everyone who embarked on this trip with me when I say, the work of Green Umbrella is indeed praiseworthy- the vision, initiative, determination and hard work of the pioneering team and the volunteers in the step by step building of the NGO and their steady, relentless and selfless determination to brighten the future of people in the Takeo province. This GC trip was an enriching and humbling experience and with immense self-contentment, I whole-heatedly and strongly recommend it to people to join the cause and carry it forward to take it to greater heights!
“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” ― Rabindranath Tagore