I tried to make it a point to go on a volunteering trip once every year. Cambodia is my volunteering destination in 2014. I flew to Siem Reap one month ago with my colleagues and was back on 1 July 2015. Work has kept me busy that I did not have the time to blog. Hope I still remember the details.
We decided to fly via Malaysia Airline. Felt a bit jittery because of the airline’s past incidents, but air ticket to Siem Reap via Malaysia Airline was the cheapest. It was a good choice also because of the baggage allowance that allowed us to check in baggage of donated clothes and food.
We had to transit at Kuala Lumpur from Singapore – an hour to KL and another two hours to Siem Reap.
There was inflight entertainment during the flight to KL. Unfortunately, that was the only plane with inflight entertainment out of the four we took for the whole trip.
My first time stepping into KL airport.
There was inflight meal during the flight to Siem Reap. I took Sambal fish and it was tasty.
Upon arrival, we bought data card at the airport at USD5 which gave us 3gb of data. Despite using phone whenever I had time, I did not use up the 3gb of data after 7 days. We were then greeted with a warm welcome by staff from Build Your Future Today Center (BFT). It is a non-profit organisation in Siem Reap which aims to empower Cambodian people to be self-sufficient. You can check out their website here: http://www.buildyourfuturetoday.org/ As part of greeting, they placed scarfs with their BFT logo around our necks. Our main transport during the trip was this pickup below.
We left it to BFT to arrange for our accommodation. We settled down at Taneuy Angkor Villa. It is a relatively new villa, and not the ‘villa’ that you will imagine. Probably it is new and that its name is similar to that of another villa, Tuk Tuk drivers often got lost while driving us back. The villa is also far from Pub street, the happening place in Siem Reap. The furnishings are humble-looking.
Can chill at the balcony…
On our first day, BFT staff gave us an orientation and introduction to the organisation.
In the evening, we went to pub street, which is the most lively street in town, lined with restaurants, cafes and pubs. Nice place to grab a drink and chill with friends! There are also night markets where you can buy clothes and souvenirs. They sell similar designs everywhere, so be sure to walk around and bargain for the best price.
On the second morning, we went to Pumpeak Bun primary school. I rarely go to developing country, so this trip is really a reality check for me. The road in front of our villa is still in construction. The standard of living there is really quite bad. My friend and I had experienced mini ‘sandstorm’ there. There was once when the wind was so strong that it blew the sand. Vision was poor. Anyway, there were too many of us to sit inside the pick up, so we would take turn sitting at the back. As the rides to villages were usually bumpy, given that the roads were not well-built, it was a comfort to sit indoor.
My colleague first conducted hygiene lesson and taught the kids the proper ways to brush teeth using a mouth model. We got the kids to volunteer to demonstrate and they were rewarded with free toothbrushes. After which, we got the kids to draw. During the drawing lesson, I tried teaching the children some words that they could relate to.
The mobile library then came with books, puzzles and legos for the kids. Seems that they did enjoy puzzles! I like BFT’s idea of having a mobile library that is being driven to the villages. It enhances the village kids’ learning experience, which by itself, is very limited.
Volunteering is made enjoyable with the presence of adorable kids!
In Singapore, we often complain of distance, despite that our transport is already made convenient with the extensive public transport network. In Cambodia villages, the kids were wiling to walk or cycle long distance to the schools. Kudos to them!
After an exhausting yet fulfilling trip to the village, we were back to the city and had lunch at the Blue Pumpkin. It sells western, asian, bakery products and ice-cream. Superb place for chilling on the sofa bed. However, when we were there, there was no electricity and the air was rather stiff.
In the afternoon, we joined in the lessons conducted at BFT. The center has a room with 6 computers. They have lessons to teach the children how to use Microsoft Office. For beginners, they have this Mario game for the kids to learn and practise typing. Awesome right?
At night, we had our dinner at the following buffet restaurant, where we could eat and watch traditional Kmer dance. Price is at USD 12. We reached at 7 plus plus, which was considered quite late, as there were not much food left. The food was average only. I wouldn’t recommend it, yet I did see many tour buses at the restaurant.
To my horror when we got back to the villa, we realised we had many unwelcomed visitors. Crickets! Yucks. I wasted much time killing them, to the point that I just sat on my bed and tried to ignore their presence. The villa staff said that there were many crickets because it was raining. Fortunately, the crickets did not come and visit us for the rest of the days.
BFT is closed over the weekend so Saturday and Sunday were R&R days for us. Angkor Wat is a place not to be missed if you go to Siem Reap. As a cheap alternative, we hired a Tuk Tuk driver to bring us around the whole of Angkor Wat, including small temples. There were 4 of us and we only paid US$8 each. We were up at 4 plus to reach Angkor Wat at around 5 plus to catch the sunrise.
We also stayed to catch the sunset.
We hired the same Tuk Tuk driver to bring us to the shopping area then to Navutu Dreams Resort & Spa.
We only needed to pay US$8 for one 75 min Yoga class, which came along with free access to the gym and pools.
In the evening, a BFT staff brought us to The Khmer Barbecue restaurant, where we could watch traditional Khmer dance.
On Monday morning, we went to Bung Kung Primary school, where we taught English. Most of them did not have breakfast, so we bought up all the breads sold by old ladies nearby and distributed to the kids.
We also planted trees. My first time!
My friend being treated like a king by the children there…
We were back to the city for lunch, for which we ate at the Pizza Company.
In the late afternoon, my friend and I went to Pre-School at Araksvay village. We brought them balloons and it was their first time playing with balloons. They were excited. We taught them colours using the balloons. We only brought a few packets of cream crackers. Never had I thought that a quarter or half a piece of cream cracker (the biscuit that I don’t appreciate) could be so welcomed by the poor kids.
The next day, we went to Oroong Primary School. It was a two hour plus drive. The roads were bumpy.
We bought buns for the kids as breakfast. As part of their good hygiene practice, they washed hands before eating. Thumbs up.
I was impressed that my colleague brought over bags of new school clothes for the kids from Singapore. We had a fitting session to get the right size of uniforms for the kids.
We went to the village head’s house during lunch time. Explored the area a bit. The pond below is where they get their water for cooking, bathing etc.
Collection of red ants for a dish below…
How they cook…
Their bedroom on the second floor.
So this was where the red ants were being used. Omelette.
Thanks for cooking lunch for us!
Again, we planted trees. These kids were carrying water to water the plants.
We brought old clothes over for donation. The image of children raising their hands enthusiastically to get the old clothes that we brought over is also something that I will never forget.
My friend was here last year so she went through the songs that they taught again.
After which, we made a trip to Salakul Tmey Primary School and distributed the remaining of the food and balloons we brought. There were only 2 teachers there to handle many kids.
My friend and I sat at the back of the pickup. Surprisingly, the view on the drive back was scenic.
Pigs being sent for slaughter. 😦
Overall, I felt that this trip was a good exposure to the practical issues in a third world country. We may not be as well off as the rich people in the world, but I guess there is always a way for average people like us to help the unfortunates.