After a weekend in Siem Reap, we’ve been in Kampot just over a week and today is our last full day here before commencing our journey home tomorrow. We’ve had an amazing time here and met wonderful people. I wanted to give a little summary of our experience volunteering here in Cambodia:
Annabelle (my 9yr old daughter) and I came here to volunteer with the Buddhist Library Cambodia Project (BLCP). The project provides water tanks to schools, dental services, English and computer classes, and ‘non-formal’ classes where children who are poor (financially and academically) receive extra help to bring them up to standard so they can attend regular classes. The project also has a mobile library which visits rural schools.
Our main ‘job’ here was to assist English classes, mostly helping students with their pronunciation as even the teachers have difficulty with some words, themselves having learned English from Khmer teachers. We’ve also helped by marking English papers, spent a day with the mobile library and provided donations of clothing and school supplies directly to the poorest children.
There is one school located in the middle of salt fields where the poorest children attend for half a day before a bus picks them up to take them to a government school. Their parents work in the salt fields so that they can live in houses owned by the salt field owners but during the rainy season there is no work for them. We visited the school and provided clothing we’d brought from Australia.
Later, we went to a local bookstore and bought enough school supplies for the whole salt fields school and extras for the mobile library and some of the non-formal classes. We delivered the school supplies yesterday.
The mobile library visits each rural school only once each month and the children are so excited to have books, games and puzzles to play with. These public schools sometimes don’t have a library or have a very limited selection of books. There are no playgrounds and really very basic facilities. Most now have water tanks so that children have clean water to drink, courtesy of the BLCP.
Tonight we will attend our regular English classes for the last time (three classes – 4.30, 5.30 and 6.30pm) before heading home tomorrow.
I’ve learned a little more about this country in our short time here and while I’m certainly no Cambodia expert I know that 35 years after the Khmer Rouge were toppled, these students still rely very heavily on the generosity of foreigners for the things we expect our government to provide. The education and healthcare services here are of a very poor standard. Almost half the population live in extreme poverty and corruption is rife. Sare was telling me that just last week a pregnant woman presented to hospital with abdominal pain and was turned away because she couldn’t afford a medical bill (many services come at an ‘under the table’ cost). Shortly after, she gave birth on a bridge in the middle of the city.
Here in Kampot, all the adults I’ve spoken to work two jobs to support a family and there is no pension when they retire. When I say two jobs, I mean a 10hr shift in a hotel, 6 days per week, as well as 3hrs in a government job in the mornings; or a full-time teaching job in a public school plus 3hrs every night teaching English… just to get by.
We sleep in a pleasant guesthouse with hot running water and air-conditioning for $25 per night while 50 metres down the road, whole families sleep under corrugated iron sheets in a kind of slum village on a piece of unused land.
I don’t know what else to say except that we will leave here wiser, more generous and more grateful.
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