On 27 March, six students from Years 10 and 11 along with Mr Grainger and Ms Connell embarked on the first Somerset College Cambodia trip that was partnered with RAW Impact.
Despite spending about a week adventuring, learning and having a phenomenal experience, our time in Phnom Penh was all too short. There are no words to express the utter assault on the senses that is the atmosphere of this maniacal city - from the putrid smells, to the crippling poverty, the constant buzz of two-stroke moped engines whining around the narrow side streets, and the beautifully prepared local Khmer (Cambodian) food. Above all of this, however, is that despite the third-world lives many Khmer live, one cannot ignore the persevering, opportunistic and hard-working ethic that these people possess, and to witness it ... is simply an experience of a lifetime.
We arrived in the small dusty Karangalua village on our third day and quickly swapped our passports for tools to begin working on the local kindergarten, which was built by RAW. Looking at the village and seeing how people live their lives in rural areas such as Karangalua village was for most of us, the first time we had witnessed true poverty, one of many eye-opening experiences. We split up into groups, with most people working on a bamboo fence to surround the school and another group working on a gate at the entrance. Amongst playing with local kids in the playground and finishing up the gate and fence, we had made a great start to the groundwork of our trip.
The SALT school was by far the most interactive project the group completed. On arrival, we were greeted by Gunty, proud founder of the school, and his entourage of 150 adorable kids chanting their ABC's and counting to 100. The school, which started out under a mango tree, is now the pride and joy of the kids who are fortunate enough to attend. With school kids helping us carry drill bits and cut bamboo we created a variety of much needed resources like tables, chairs and cupboards. A satisfying end to a hot and dusty two days of hard work.
We arrived in Kratie Province after a long van journey and immediately began exploring the markets around the area, before returning to the Mekong Dolphin Hostel, which had brilliant views and comfortable beds, which was required in the 40-degree heat. After two days hard work at the farm, we headed back along the bumpy road to our 3-hour kayaking adventure through the Mekong River, past the famous floating forest and islands. We finished the kayak by witnessing river dolphins up close and personal under the stunning Cambodian sunset. We enjoyed many delicious meals throughout our four-night stay, and we all agreed the visit was one that we would not forget.
Whilst in Kratie, we worked on an agricultural project in the small village of Ko Ki. Most villagers don’t have the initial capital or know-how to start and cultivate simple vegetables. Having a small veggie garden can help cut a families’ food costs by 50%.
So our project here was to kick start a veggie garden, and to show the villagers what they can do for themselves. We also put up a fence around this garden and put a bug net up, to protect the veggies from bugs. We worked hard on this project for a total of 2 days and it was extremely rewarding to see what we achieved in such a short space of time.
The final segment of our adventure led us to the ancient city of Siem Reap, also known as: the City of Temples. This pseudonym could not be more accurate as once leaving the bustling city centre of pubs and markets, a world of emersion into Khmer culture awaits. The mind cannot grasp at the sheer number of temples that reside here, from the flagship temple, Ankor Wat, to the jungle temple, Beng Mealea, the sense of culture and history here is overwhelming.
This was a fitting closure to our trip that really brought the history of Cambodia to the forefront of our minds. Amongst all else that we had personally gained, there was plenty to reflect on during our flight home, namely how fortunate we are to live in a country such as Australia and how fantastic the opportunities we gave to others and received ourselves as a result of this trip.
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