In July, 19 students travelled to Laos and Cambodia on expedition. The three weeks away were full on with an itinerary that the boys created, including which trek and community project to take part in. Antipodeans expeditions are such that the students create the itinerary, manage the fundraising for the project and, while in country they are in, leadership groups that manage the finances, book accommodation and transport and arrange each day's itinerary. This proved a challenge for many of the students, especially with a large group.
The first week of the trip was in Laos. After being hit with humid heat in the 30’s, a day later we started, what was a very challenging, four-day trek through parts of the jungle and near mountain villages and rice fields. Each night we stayed in local mountain village homes of either the Hmong or Khmer people. Two of the biggest challenges for some of the boys were eating the local food and walking in the heat.
As well as trekking in Laos, the boys spent time at a local Secondary School in Cambodia. This was the project phase where the students built a garden and interacted with the local students. Football in monsoon rain was a highlight.
The boys were also introduced to the history of both countries. Experiencing and learning about the history directly from the people it affected, and being in the places that many atrocities happened, was very sobering and moving for all. However, the positivity of the local people in both countries was strongly noticed and felt.
With the addition of managing their trip, exchange rates, each other, planning and logistics we still managed to visit Angkor Wat, 'The Killing Fields', S-21, market after market after market, receive a bout of food poisoning and some even ate frog and duck embryo (which wasn’t the cause of the food poisoning). All of this was done without cellphones. No snapchat, facebook or Instagram for three weeks!
Killing Fields and S-21
On our last full day of the expedition, the whole group loaded into a bus and headed to the ‘Killing Fields’.
The first thing that caught my eye was the large monument in the centre of the fields. It had hundreds of skulls, clothes of the victims of the Khmer Rouge and various different weapons/tools used to kill the innocent locals of Cambodia. These things were on 17 different tiers within the monument. Within the fields there were many different opportunities to learn about Polpot himself and the Khmer Rouge scheme. Overall, I felt that the Killing Fields was and should be shared with everyone, not only in Cambodia but across the world.
The S-21 Museum (a high school previous to being a prison) was a lot more complete than the Killing Fields, as it held a heap of information about the types of things that would happen to the prisoners. It was a lot more interactive as some of us met some survivors and got to experience and go inside the cells that the prisoners spent weeks in. The cells were about one metre wide and three metres long. The S-21 Museum is also a very important part of Cambodia’s history and I feel that people should be educated about the events that occurred in Cambodia in the 1970’s.
During our project at Krabei Riel Primary and Secondary School (Cambodia), we stayed in the Krabei Riel Village. We stayed in between two local family houses, ours was the Principal of the school's house. The Cambodians way of living is very different to ours. Their homes weren’t at all cluttered with rugs, tables, paintings and unnecessary scary-looking masks in the foyer. We slept on bamboo mats and a blanket, on the hard wooden floor. We did have pillows. These sleeping arrangements were actually a lot more comfortable than you would imagine. They were certainly bearable. We all ate as one big group at multiple tables lined up, as our Cambodian friends brought out different Cambodian dishes, including my favourites; pumpkin curry and khmer curry.
Our toilet and shower situation was rather good, as we had a seated toilet with a bucket flush and also a huge bucket shower, which was the most refreshing thing any human could every ask for. The children at the homestay were the happiest kids I had ever met, even though they have the most basic of toys which doesn’t include technology. This is very different to the kids in our country.
Staying in the homestay has given me an amazing perspective on being grateful or privileged. Being in the environment of Laos and Cambodia over three weeks, it has taught me to be extremely grateful for what I have and how lucky I am.