by Rachel Fitness

Students reflect on Cambodia trip

At a recent assembly, senior students from last year's Cambodia trip spoke of their experiences in early December 2018, as they embarked on a life-changing service journey.

In the words of Annie Hantz: 

The fear of insects; a foreign culture; an uncomfortable climate; a poverty-stricken third world country; were all common worries amongst my friends and I. Yes Cambodia... so I’m up here today to give you a brief introduction about an incredibly diverse, fascinating and educational trip, which was going to Phnom Penh in Southeast Asia, Cambodia. From the 2nd to the 16th of December, 2018 we spent time with the Flame charity visiting their centres and supporting their commitment to changing and in educating the young lives of those being raised in the poor slum areas.

My biggest highlight was forming connections with all of the kids at Flame. To see these kids with so much joy just makes you realise how much you have and how little we really should complain! If someone had asked me before the trip if I was nervous I would have said "a bit yes" but now, fast forward two months, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. The slum experience reflected why we were really there; to serve others and this was the most rewarding part of going to Cambodia. Everything we did in the village allowed us to better the lives of those living there. From teaching English to children of all ages, to playing New Zealand and Cambodian games and more.

While I can't change the world or heal Cambodia, I'm a firm believer in the 'pass it on' theory and that if I influence or help just one person who can make a better life for themselves, then they too will go on to also help others in the same way. So give it a go, it is the trip of a lifetime. and now we will have a reflection from Holly followed by a short video of our time in Cambodia.

In the words of Holly Skelton:

Transformational service. Two simple words, but somehow each of us have such a diverse understanding of its meaning. For many of you here today, service is merely an accessible opportunity for recognition, acknowledgement or maybe even the initial buzz of helping someone in need. Before this trip, I did not truly understand the effect that service can have on a community, nor the positivity it can reinforce on our own lives. 

As we drove through the busy streets of Phnom Penh, I observed as parents, teenagers and children rummaged through enormous heaps of filthy rubbish, scavenging for any potential resource that their creative minds could find useful. With houses perched on stilts that towered over a rushing, brown river of defecation, to shacks constructed of thin cardboard walls and rusted tin roofs, we were surrounded by the horrifying reality of almost seven million people.

 However, despite being constantly burdened with the responsibility of survival, the children we visited were among the happiest I have ever seen. Unlike our own society, they did not find comfort in materialistic ideals, but instead with the enjoyment of going to school, playing games and singing songs. 

From travelling around the slums of Cambodia on the St Paul’s book tuk tuk, to visiting the temples of Angkor Wat, this was a truly life-changing experience that I will cherish throughout my life. So I urge you, embrace this opportunity with open arms and I ensure your interpretation of transformational service will be redefined forever.

In the words of Kate Healy (Head Girl):

What is something you simply could not live without? I could bet $100 that many of you (although you won’t admit it) would have thought of your phone or your car or any other superficial object. Now I’m not shaming you. In fact, I will be the first to admit that I would find life quite a bit harder if I were to not have these objects. But in the scheme of things, a phone is just a phone and a car is just a car. This is something I realised when we first arrived in Cambodia, but that only really sunk in when we entered the slums. 

These children were wearing the same clothes day in day out, covered in dirt and grime caused by the fact that they had to build a home and lifestyle on top of an open sewer. So why is it that these children appeared to have more happiness than one of us when we get the new iPhone? It is a question I don’t have the answer to. What is it these children have to be happy about? Now, I know it sounds cliché, but maybe it is hope? The hope that with every time the book tuk tuk comes into the slums that they are one step closer to leaving the sewer, to building a lifestyle worth living. 

We spent this time in the slums teaching the children math, English, music and with every new thing they learnt, a wider smile crossed their faces. The smell, the sounds and the flies did not seem to faze these children. They weren’t going to let something as small as that hinder their chances at a better life. When our time was up, we left the slums. A simple action for us. But one many of those children might never take.

In the words of Liam Waide:

Flame. To ignite the spark in young children, to create a flame that will burn forever. That is what Flame does. With a generation wiped out across Cambodia as a result of the Khmer Rouge, Flame is one of many organisations that is helping get Cambodia back to what was once a powerful leading nation. Flame goes to those kids, teenagers even young adults who want to make a change in their life; to find success and hope. Flame takes a tuk tuk into the slums to offer free education to those who have nothing. Accompanied by three centres across Phnom Penh which facilitate as classrooms. With the help of St Paul’s, these classrooms are a luxury! This inspirational act is reflected by the kids who attend these sessions for a few hours a day; who arrive with smiles, enthusiasm and a positive attitude to learn. For those in slums, their classroom is the environment around them, but Flame transforms that space into a space of fun learning and reward. The circle in Flame’s logo is more than just a shape. It represents the circle of success and completeness. A fraction is the kids, teenagers and young adults who are keen to make a change. 

Another part are those who have taken up the challenge to teach these kids who complete the circle, but also who give the slum kids hope and faith in themselves and that there's more to life than what they have been handed. Huge thanks to Sue, Nicola and Thai-and of course the Flame crew. 

We were honoured enough to spend an evening getting street food with the young teacher/adults of Flame. A few told their story of how they found Flame and how they got to where they were. One story I won't forget is when one of the guys told us about how his parents passed when he was a young boy in the slums and how he saw his mother pass in front of him and how vulnerable and useless he felt that he couldn’t help or do anything to save her. The same young man is now in his last few years of a doctorate in medicine so he can help prevent the same thing happening to young people in the slums, just like he was. Fair to say after those stories a lot was put into perspective. 

So we headed off on an adventure out to the late night streets to grab some dinner. Entrees consisted of oil and garlic fried crickets, slugs, cockroaches and these little white things that explode in your mouth. Just have to tell yourself it tastes like chicken. We then all separated and found little local street restaurants and had some traditional Cambodian food and deserts. The lesson taken from spending time with the young adults of Flame suggests that there isn't such thing as barriers between cultures or language and that no matter where you come from you can do whatever you want as long as you put your mind to it.

This experience and opportunity is seriously a once and a lifetime trip. It is so worth every cent funded and put in, the things you learn about yourself, but also about another country's culture is really precious knowledge to have. It grows your appreciation and awareness of the world, things and people around you.

In the words of Lily Carr Paterson:

For a week and a half, we had been faced with many emotional challenges in Phnom Penh, that left many beautiful, sad and peaceful memories with us. We had time to slip in a few small tourist attractions while in Phnom Penh, such as visiting Silk Island and going on a boat cruise. 

To get to Silk Island, we travelled by tuk tuk, and by a ferry, which took us over the world’s third most polluted river. Silk Island is an island that makes silk from silkworms. The creative women who make the silk scarves sit all day at a seat crafting beautiful patterns to add to the scarves. We also had the opportunity to sit and have dinner on the top of a boat with the Flame helpers, which was a great way to get to know them, and where they came from. While these sights were so great to see in Phnom Penh, there were also some very heart-breaking sights to see. Before going to this site, many of us barely had any knowledge on the great affects the Cambodian civil war had on Cambodia. Half the day was spent at a torture museum that was originally used as a school, but later turned into a place for imprisonment and torture for any of those who in their eyes were against the revolution of Cambodia. 

The most heart-breaking of all was seeing the killing fields in the afternoon, where 17,000 thousand children, women and men were all murdered right where we stood. Coming away from that day, all of us were in shock. We couldn't wrap our heads around the fact that a human could treat another human like that. 

With the Flame children's smiles still in our hearts, we departed the Lovely Jubbly Backpackers on the Tuesday morning of the second week, ready for the six-hour bus ride that awaited us at the front gate.

In the words of Daniel Rickman:

As you have all heard, the Cambodia trip is truly an amazing experience, and I urge anyone to go. However, the experience is not the same for everyone. Each member of the trip went through their own individual journeys, and challenges. Unlike some, I personally didn't change much until the end of the trip, despite seeing the disgusting slums and smelling the stench of the open sewer, but weirdly I didn’t feel changed, I expected this to be the case. It was when we were being tourists in Siem Reap, the change or realisation really hit me.

There was a small group of us walking through the night market, when we came across a ring of beggars. Each one was holding a small child, some even shaking them as if to make them cry. One in particular was an extremely deformed child, who had a deep scar running down the centre of his face, but the worst was his eyes. He had a look of utter hopelessness, shared by all the young children in the beggars ring. They all seemed dead inside, without hope. This was when I realised that the reason I was not affected in the slums, was because of the kids. Despite their living conditions, they were full of laughter, smiles and most importantly, hope. This is the hope the Flame gives them, the hope that they will have a better future. In addition, it inspired me to know that as a school, St Paul’s is contributing to making a difference in these kid’s lives. As a school, we support Flame and pay for the book tuk tuk to bring education to the slum kids each year. If you take one thing from our experiences in Cambodia, know that St Paul’s is making a difference and that we are able to give people hope. I really encourage you to go on your own journey and I hope to hear some of your stories next year, thank you for your time.