From learning about Cambodian culture to helping rural communities and engaging with the environment
Participating in a service project is an unforgettable experience for Aiglon students.
The recent Year 12 and 13 Cambodia Service Trip was both humanitarian and environmental in nature.
The aim of the trip was to gain direct insights into the challenges faced around the world and the small things we can do to help. Along with learning about the culture of Cambodia, we had the enlightening opportunity to partner with Camps International in the little rural village of Beng Mealea.
CAMBODIA: A COUNTRY WITH HEALING WOUNDS
After hours of travelling – and three flights – we landed in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, whose strong culture is intrinsically linked to its recent history. The following day we were exploring the traffic-packed streets of the capital, soaked with mosquito repellent and sunscreen. Our visits to the dreadful S-21 Prison, a torture chamber in the heart of the city, and the Killing Fields introduced us to the atrocities suffered under the Khmer Rouge regime only 50 years ago. We were surprised how many Cambodians still remember the time period vividly. Our guide shared with us how: “I could only take one road from school back home because the countryside still had mines.”
VISITING THE WORLD HERITAGE SITE: ANGKOR WAT
An immense body of water, a perfect rectangle, divided our small bus from the ancient Angkor Wat. It was only when standing on the ground next to the ruins of the main door, representing Buddha’s face, that one is hit with the realisation of how much power and culture is passed down at this world heritage site. We explored the Bayon Temple and then had a ‘Lara Croft’ moment at the hidden ruins of Ta Prohm, which is being reclaimed by nature with trees and roots clinging to the walls. We waited until sunset to marvel at Angkor Wat: the renowned temple turned a golden-yellow as the last rays bowed goodbye.
TRANSFORMING HEALTH CARE FOR CAMBODIAN CHILDREN
We had the pleasure of visiting Angkor Hospital for Children (AHC), which Aiglon funds. Cambodia is still developing its health care system, with much of the population still relying on traditional methods of healing or too isolated to receive treatment. AHC is currently on a mission to expand in all regions of Cambodia to offer assistance and educate the population. You can read more about it here
CAMP LIFE IN RURAL BENG MEALEA
After a long 7 hour bus journey from Siem Riep, we finally arrived in Beng Melea village. We were welcomed by local monks with a water blessing for purification, good luck, and renewal. We were then taken to our camp, composed of four open huts to eat, sleep and rest. The showers and the toilets were also in separate open buildings: we soon met the centipedes and lizards which visited us while we showered. The camp’s team immediately made us feel at home and even taught us some basic Cambodian to interact with the villagers. The simplicity we found in everyday life at camp was something that we rarely, if ever, experience coming from privileged backgrounds. In those few days, we felt a sense of community built upon hard, simple realities of life and where you learn to appreciate every moment.
WORKING FOR GOOD
Service is a key element of Aiglon’s guiding principles. At Camp Beng Melea we had many daily opportunities to provide service through four important projects:
Building water pots from scratch with only three resources – wood, clay, and cement. But the challenge was accepted! It was a team effort involving carrying, mixing, and putting the cement together to create the final product . In two days we managed to produce four water pots for two families to have access to clean drinking water. The pots are placed under the rain gutters of their house, and the rainwater is then collected and stored in the pot ready for drinking and cleaning. This limits the transmission of waterborne diseases.
Secondly, we continued the tiling of a path for the local public school. Essentially, this will enable children to avoid muddy puddles on rainy days. Half of the group worked on the production of the tiles, and the other half worked on laying them out with sand.
One of the most heartwarming experiences we will remember, was seeing the smiles on the children’s faces when they learned that we would teach them English. We had prepared the lessons beforehand back at Aiglon and also made some resources for them to use in future. Each student had the possibility to demonstrate their leadership skills and learn about the difficulties of being a teacher.
Finally, our biggest project was the construction of a chicken coop for an elderly Cambodian couple. Everyday for half day during our stay, our group took on the coop build step-by-step. We cleared the land of shrubs and grass, built the fence, wove grass for the roof, dug a passage for water drainage, planted banana trees, as well as assembled the chicken house. Doing everything completely by hand and with non-tech equipment, showed us how all-consuming work in less developed countries can be. For the Cambodian couple, whose main source of income is the chickens, building a chicken coop would have taken them around two weeks, but with our help, this was sped up greatly
SMALL ACTIONS FOR BIG CHANGE
We were especially surprised by the amount of rubbish left for long periods around houses, gardens, as well as in animal parks. It has not been easy for the camp manager to implement change in the community by reducing the build up of plastic waste due to the lack of education and understanding of the consequences of littering. We offered to collect rubbish and in about 30 minutes we had around 30 bags full.
But how did that affect the community around us? During our initiative we encouraged the children in the community to take part, they showed huge enthusiasm and were keen to take part. This action helped inspire the camp manager to continue the activity as a way for the young generation to start taking action on pollution management so in the future they can see a long-lasting impact on their community.
THE IMPACT MADE
It is so fulfilling to see the continual progress in the community. With the money that we donated, the camp manager was able to purchase basic food and supplies for families in need, built a bookshelf for the local English school, and fixed the road in Beng Mealea.
The camp manager expressed: “Now with your community sponsor projects. I did 2 already and now I am starting 3 projects about Beng Mealea road building. So right now I am working with villagers to get rocks to fill the broken road first and after that, we will get the soil to build up.”
A project cared for abroad like Cambodia is not something that should be ignored. We were able to bring small but long-lasting change into a community and learn about its culture and value. It was a vital opportunity for students to engage with concepts outside of our core curriculum – our lessons have come alive. We would love to encourage and see more Aiglon students take on this life-changing experience.
“Please say a big thank you to everyone. Thank you so much.” commented Han, camp manager in Ben Mealea, and we are infinitely thankful too.
Article composed by Year 13 Aiglon students Lana (Exeter) and Marianna (Le Cerf).