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Published: February 16th 2011
I have already been to Cambodia 2 years ago and visited the Angkor Wat and other temples, Phnom Penh etc. So this visit, my main objective was to volunteer at Savong's orphanage and School. We stayed in Savong's house for the night and he welcomed us to stay for the remaining nights as well. Savong is this amazing guy, who has lived in poverty since he was a kid. With his eagerness to learn and educate himself, he decided to go live in a pagoda at a very young age and became a monk for 4 years learning Buddhism, philosophy and the ways of life. But however, he wanted to really make a difference in the lives of the poor children and realized that education was they key factor. Thus he got out of the pagoda, returned to live with his family and started teaching English to children in the neighbourhood who were eager learn. His dream however was to build a school providing free education. This is when his life took a turn and he met Duncan Stuart, a guy from new Zealand who decided to help out Savong. Together they created Savong's school in 2005. Soon Savong realized that
some children were so poor or they were orphans having lost their parents in the genocide. Thus he built Savong's orphanage for the excessively poor children or orphans. Currently the orphanage hosts 38 children. The first day we visited the orphanage in the afternoon.
Before I event left for my trip, I sent out a facebook message to all my friends and appealed for donation of clothes, books, toys etc. I received a great response and many of my friends donated generously. I had collected all these items to distribute to the children in the orphanage and to the needy in the neighboring villages. The orphanage is located about 15 km from Siem Reap town. As soon as we reached the orphanage the children came running to us and politely led us in to the orphanage asking questions about us on the way. I was pleasantly surprised at how well some of them spoke English and how enthusiastic and polite they were. There were children of all age groups, right from a 9month old infant to a 22 year old adult. Since it was a Sunday, the older children were working on a construction site so only the younger
At the orphanage
This kid refused to let go of me for the next hour!! :D
kids were at the orphanage. We spent the next few hours playing with them and gave away all the clothes. It was amazing to see how they were always smiling, happily playing around and so thankful. They called Savong as "Dad" and I was moved to see how well he connected with the kids. This was just the beginning of the life-changing journey I was going to be taking in the next few days.
Housing 38 children in 4 rooms was quite difficult. There was definitely not enough space and Savong wanted to make it a bigger place to welcome more children. But however, the existing orphanage is near a temple and hence they couldn't do any more construction due to Government orders. Thus, Savong paid the deposit to buy a piece of land which was just about 3km from the city. The plan was to house the older children there so that they can go easily to the city to find work or study. We reviewed the construction site in the morning and started construction the same day. However, we still needed to raise money for the new orphanage, to buy the piece of land and also the
materials needed for construction. We promised Savogn we would help him and do our best to raise the money. Late in the afternoon we decided to visit Savong's school.
Savong's school was the biggest eye-opener for me. Its this amazing place where kids voluntarily come and learn English for free. They are also taught Japanese and pretty much anything else they are interested to learn. They rally welcome volunteers to the classrooms to teach English as well. I taught English there for 3 days and I have to say, it was one of the coolest things I have done in my life. There are 3 classrooms based on proficiency level of the kids: the first one was for kids less than 8-9 years old, the 2nd one for kids less than 13 years and the last one for the older kids. My first 2 days, Loic and I taught in the youngest class. We met this amazing teacher Sala who had a great way of teaching through games like Bingo and visual aids. We had such a great time playing Bingo with the kids and it was absolutely amazing!! The School also has a Computer room for older students
to learn basic computer applications like MS Office, Adobe Photoshop. However there is a huge shortage of computers and the existing ones were 15 year old models. During my 3rd day I taught English in the class for older kids. We were learning about a lesson the polar bear. I had a great time teaching them the lesson and also taught them some grammar on how to use articles. This was when I realized the irony of life. Coming from a middle class family in India I had access to education in a good school in Chennai. However, I would still dread to attend classes, would intentionally skip classes and trouble my teachers. I was definitely a brat at school making fun of my teachers and cracking jokes. However on seeing these children who are so welcoming and eager to learn everyday of their life, it must really suck for them to not have the money for a decent education. These children really want to learn and are just trying to have a decent living but they don't have the money. The librarian who works in the school is only 22 years old and wants to become a English teacher.
However she doesn't have the money to pay for the university and is trying to learn as much as she can through the books. This was really a life-changing moment and I realized the importance of education and the how much I badly wanted to help these children achieve their dreams!! Loic and I promised we would definitely help them and we are already working on few projects to sponsor their education.
During these few days Julius and Barbara also came and taught some French to the kids. They also were truly inspired and really happy on seeing the eager faces. It was definitely one of the best experiences of my life. Soon it was Julius and Barbara's last night with us so we went out for a farewell dinner and drinks after that. We ended up being out until 3 am partying at Temple Club and Angkor What? on Pub Street. It turned out to be a great night and I was very sad on leaving them. They are definitely missed! We also went to a buffet dinner one night at Savong's persual and it was pretty awesome! It costs 12 USD per person and there was so
much food. In addition there was also the traditional Apsara dance performance which was quite enthralling and so uniquely subtle.
Soon, it was time for me to leave Cambodia but I was taking back with me a treasure of memories. This trip has been one of the most memorable trips I have ever had. Meeting Julius and Barbara by chance and travelling together for a week was simply awesome and I would never forget them. I am sure we will have chances to travel together real soon. it was also very sad to be leaving Loic after our travels together. But of course I was sure that we would be out on the road again in a few months having yet another adventure. It's this common passion for exploring the world and discovering new experiences that drives our souls! With regards to my volunteering experience, It was truly one of the best. I had such a great time with the kids at the orphanage, teaching English at the school among so many others. I vow to return back real soon and promise to help them realize their dreams in the best way I can.
Loic and I have
already initiated couple of fund-raising projects and we are working towards our common goal of helping out these children. They are now a significant part of my life and I will never forget them.
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