This year, I decided to participate in the Cambodia Service Activity, which involved periodical planning meetings as well as sustained commitment to fundraising in order for each participant to raise a minimum of 50000yen for the cause. It also entailed a trip to Cambodia in February to contribute to service alongside the development agency Hope International.
Through this activity, I hoped to gain an increased global awareness concerning issues such as poverty, water access, sanitation and education. I also hoped to be able to contribute positively to the Cambodian community in Pursat, by helping out at the orphanage, and with the various building projects. Next, I wanted to develop my communication skills and challenge myself to learn about Cambodian culture, by effectively overcoming the language barrier in some way and get the most out of the experience.
During the fundraising period, I hoped to develop collaboration with my peers who are going on the trip and remain fully committed to the fundraising even after having attained the minimum goal. Furthermore, I hoped not only to raise money, but also awareness of the issues we are working towards solving with the Cambodia project within the YIS community.
I hoped this project will increase my motivation, organisation, global awareness and most of all willingness to help others, as it will be a chance for me to experience what I only have read about or learnt about in class, to see poverty and poor sanitation and low development through my own eyes in areas most deeply affected by the issues.
On February 2nd, 31 students from the Grade 11 set out on a journey to Cambodia for the well-awaited service project. Spending most of our time in rural areas of Pursat province, we participated in activities such as school construction, orphanage visits, English lessons and other community service project initiatives.
Increased awareness of your strengths and areas for growth: While partaking in the service project part of the trip (our time in Pursat), I became more aware of my strengths and limitations. First of all, I realized that I could work on my strength more because I had some difficulty with the heavy lifting while constructing the school building. I was also struck by how advantaged of a life I live, without realizing the predicament of the disadvantaged worldwide. I learnt that I shouldn’t take what I imagined to be simple commodities such as a functioning and readily available sanitation facilities, clean clothes, varied meals and thorough education, for granted. I was also affected when we visited a family who had recently obtained a well, and saw the wooden shack that used to be their living quarters. It housed 10 people and was barely the size of my own room. Through this experience, I gained first-hand understanding of my luckiness through direct comparison with others’ lifestyles. I hope to also try to not take any luxuries for granted in the future and work even harder towards offering others these luxuries I enjoy everyday.
Undertaking new challenges: While in Pursat, we were working to build a new school building at a rural school, since the previous one had been destroyed by termites. I had never partaken in construction, especially manual construction, before so it was a physical challenge for me to haul the rocks and sand for the foundation as well as to use the “elephant’s feet” apparatus (a tree stump between two sticks used to pound rocks and flatten them) to even out the foundation. I overcame the challenge by using my strength in the most effective way possible, taking frequent breaks and collaborating with the school children or other YIS students. Another challenge I faced was language barriers. Seeing as none of us on the trip spoke Khmer and the students at the school and the orphans had in general very limited English skills. I tried to overcome this by learning simple phrases and words in Khmer, such as hello, what’s your name, my name is, the numbers, thank you, etc. as well as not becoming flustered if there was a misunderstanding or something we were unable to express with sign language.
Working collaboratively with others: Throughout the trip, there were many instances of collaboration. For example, when laying the rocks for the foundation of the school wing, I worked with the local children to carry heavier rocks as a team and with the group as a whole to create a production line, passing rocks and sand along. Collaboration was also evident when we played with the children and struck a balance between learning their games and introducing some of our own. There were also less obvious instances of collaboration, such as sharing supplies such as sunscreen, water and insect repellant between the YIS group. Raising money to pay for the building supplies also constituted collaboration with the YIS community as well as with Hope International, the NGO we were working alongside.
Show perseverance and commitment: I think I showed perseverance to this activity through trying to be the most open-minded possible and attempts to acquire a deeper understanding of local culture (through interaction with the Cambodian locals as well as through making the most of our visits to cultural and historical sites). I felt increasingly committed to the cause as the project and the trip progressed, especially when I got the chance to visit the home of one of our new school friends as well as partaking in two overnight village stays. I also was glad to see our fundraising perseverance and commitment pay off, by viewing first hand exactly where our donation had gone.
Engaged with issues of global importance: I think the project speaks for itself, showing the group’s contact with global issues such as poverty reduction, access to water and sanitation, improvements in education, etc. Interacting first hand with people living in contrasting situations to my own helped me gain a real and genuine understanding of these issues, which are often treated superficially and on a general scale when dealt with in classes or from a secondary view, abroad. Before the trip, we separated into sub-groups and presented to the whole group about social, political and economical situation in Cambodia, which furthered our knowledge of the causes and effects of issues such as poverty and water scarcity, which continue to plague the region. During the trip, we also discussed about the situations of the people living in the communities we were visiting and working with as well as the positive consequences of our project. I also found the trip enriching to my academic subject, geography because I was able to draw many connections to theories and concepts we had touched upon in class such as global disparities, water scarcity, poverty levels and reduction strategies, population demographics, development, etc by viewing some issues discussed with my own eyes.
Consider ethical implications: There were instances on the trip when we had to consider ethical implications of our actions. For example, I considered ethics when playing with the children at both the school and the orphanage, by trying to include everyone in the games so no one was left out. To be honest, this was a challenge because I had grown closer to some children so it was tempting to interact more with them more… When reflecting on the trip, I asked myself whether it was really beneficial for us to help construct the school, given the locals are more experienced and may be able to complete the project faster and more efficiently. I also wondered whether we disrupted the classes by playing with the children or acted unethically by staying in such nice lodgings while helping such impoverished communities. The ethical issue that made me ponder the most once we got back was going to the markets to buy souvenirs, etc. with money that could have been poured into the cause instead of my own unnecessary consumerism. Thinking of this now, I feel a bit guilty and in the future, when participating in similar activities, I hope I will consider ethical implications such as these more carefully.
Develop new skills: Through interacting with locals in both the community we were providing aid to as well as the communities hosting us, I developed new found communication skills, by increasing my understanding of methods for overcoming language barriers as well as remaining open-minded and eager to learn a bit of the local language and to further understand the culture and society. I will be able to apply these social skills in a myriad of situations in the future. Furthermore, I developed physical skills through manual work that I am unaccustomed to doing, everyday we were in Pursat.
In conclusion, the trip was an amazing, enriching experience and exceeded my expectations. It’s hard to put into words how much I feel attached to the cause after participating in it. The amazing people we met are no longer just “people we help from the comforts of our homes and pocketbooks” but are now our true friends and peers. I hope to see the progress of the school once the building has been completed and hope to remain committed to the cause we worked for in whatever ways I can. I also hope to continue to expose myself to new cultures and service activities in the future and be able to help people who are disadvantaged, both at the local and international level.
Lastly, I would like to thank all the organisers of the trip, all my peers and friends who I got to work with on the project as well as all those of you who contributed monetarily, by donating stationary, etc. and supported the initiative. I would also like to express the deepest gratitude to the HOPE staff in Cambodia (in particular Li for having organised and made our service possible) as well as all the amazing people we met in Pursat. Finally, to my all my new friends Chian, Sly Noo, Sly Li, Pi Sai, Pi Nan, Yut, Eva, Tukkulisaa, Sokhran, Fong, Mao, Sly Mai, Chiiitaa, Goon, and all of you who I didn’t catch your names: I hope happiness continues to find you well and thank you for being so kind, welcoming, friendly and funny; you are truly what made my trip exceptionally special.
Please take a look at the pictures below, as they can tell you a lot more about my experience than I can express in words!