Teaching in Cambodia by Yamini Patel
My time in Cambodia was pretty unforgettable and whenever I’m asked about my travels there the first thing that comes to mind is the time I got to spend with the children in KKEV orphanage. I spent two months with the children, teaching them the basics of English and playing with them but also learning just as much about the Cambodian culture as they were able to learn about western culture. I applied for a teaching placement but it involved an element of care work as well and I think some care work can involve teaching. The role of volunteer is quite simply doing anything you can to make the experience your own, giving something back to the place you are working and learning at the same time for yourself.
The two days that stood out the most to me were my first and last days at the orphanage. Luckily Projects Abroad had given me the email of another volunteer who I would be working with at KKEV so I got an idea of what was expected of me before I got out there and where and whom I would be living with. Fortunately for me she didn’t give too much away so I was able to make up my own mind but I wasn’t disappointed. I remember arriving in a tuk-tuk on my induction day with a Projects Abroad member of staff, so I could meet the staff and have a general awareness of my placement. The first thing that struck me was how beautiful the orphanage was, it was bright and large, fairly new and not at all what I had expected but this isn’t to say that all orphanages are like this.
I was led to one of the two rooms where the children are taught and introduced to the teachers but I was a bit surprised about how timid the children were when they first met me. But it doesn’t last for long. As soon as I took my place on the mat whilst the teacher read them their story, I had children climbing and clambering on top of me. I felt the most endearing thing about them was their curiosity, this awe about their surroundings and new people that sums up all children but it seems more poignant when its children who you know have had a troubled background. Their English is limited but you can still communicate with them, plus the whole point is to teach them more! When it came to lunch, their energy levels seemed to sky rocket but it’s contagious, running around in the cool shade, spinning them around, kicking a ball about, it never stops and I didn’t want it to. It’s not often that you get to say that you can productively work with children yet also feel like a child again yourself. It made the two months fly by.
Until finally it was my last day at work, the children were so happy to have a party with karaoke, dancing and fizzy drinks; it’s a treat for them that we would take for granted. I had gotten them some gifts, a ball, skipping ropes and books for them to play with but it was sad because I knew I wouldn’t be seeing them again because it was time to go home which is only intensified by them not really understanding that it was time for me to leave. I remember the staff asked me to give a little farewell speech which they translated into Khmer; really all I wanted was for the children to be good and happy, for the staff to know that one of the humblest things about KKEV was the family feel that it evoked thanks to their good nature.
It struck me from my first day that the carers, cooks, teachers, even the security guards, were all a part of helping the children and loving them like their own. The staff gain just as much as the children do from volunteers, they learn to improve their English and new songs and games to play when volunteers are not around. When it came to leaving, the children ran around collecting flowers to give to me, refusing to let me go. Especially the older ones who do understand but even so they retain this optimism and gratefulness that is a captivating aspect of all Cambodian people.
I have many more memories about my time in Cambodia like trips with fellow volunteers, I was lucky enough to be travel to places other than Phnom Penh and get a real feel of the culture and history from places like Siem Reap, home to the temple of Angor Wat. This was one of my favourite trips, I remember the first day we arrived we went up to the top of one of the temples and watched the sunset. There were loads of other travellers there but it one of the most peaceful moments I’ve experienced. Ta Prom temples had to have been one the most striking places I have seen, trees jutting out of stone and crevices, it creates this amazing enigma. The other temple that struck my eye was Bayon, the temple of faces, so much so that I have a painting of it on my wall at home.
There were also the stunning beaches of Sihanoukville, this was probably the most relaxing and luxurious part of my trip. It wasn’t really a large beach, you could walk from one end to the other but it was a great place to lose yourself in a book and have a good time with other volunteers. I was also lucky enough to meet some great people; the other volunteers that I worked with and lived with made the trip even more memorable and it was nice to be able to travel with them rather than alone. There are all kinds of different people who travel with Projects Abroad from all over the world, that you get to learn from them as well and it’s a refreshing change from other run-of-the-mill gap year agencies. I don’t regret the summer I got to spend there and I hope that one day I’ll get to return.