Friday 27 March 2015

volunteering in Cambodia

I can't believe my time in Cambodia volunteering has come to an end. It honestly does not feel like I have been here for 4 weeks but alas, it is almost time for me to hop back on another plane.

I know you have all been busting to know what I have been doing and how it's been going.

I live at a volunteer house with several other volunteers. The number varies from week to week as people's placements end and start. Currently there are 21 of us in the house. We are all volunteering under the same organisation, International Volunteer HQ but we are mostly placed at different placements around Phnom Penh. 

The entrance to our house.

I was placed and have spent the last 4 weeks at Joy Day Care Centre. It is part of the ministry of TransformAsia, which was started by Setan and Randa Lee, who survived the Khmer Rouge and have devoted their lives to helping Cambodia rebuild. Their organisation supports many projects across Cambodia. 

My day starts at about 7:30 when I wake and get ready for work. Breakfast is provided at the house and is white bread with a variety of spreads and fruit. I have become extremely proficient at spreading my toast with the back of a spoon, for some reason bread knives are a rare item in Cambodia. I gather my packed lunch of rice and meat with vegetables and head off at about 8:30. My Tuk Tuk driver waits for me outside each morning and takes me on the 15 minute journey to the centre.

Cruising in my Tuk Tuk

I usually arrive just before the children do and so I get the room ready for them, get their uniforms off the clothesline and await their arrival. Some mornings I chose to go on the morning pick up which means I have to arrive an hour earlier.

Example of some of the houses where the children live.

Attempting a bus selfie

Most of the children live just outside of Phnom Penh around the town dump. They come from some of the poorest families in the area with the majority of their parents working at the dump foraging through piles of rubbish in search of anything worth selling, recyclable items mostly. They earn just a few dollars a day, if that. If their children did not attend Joy Day Care they would more than likely be foraging through the rubbish as well. They would not attend any schooling if it was not for TransformAsia and Joy Day Care, which is provided to them for free. At the centre they also receive medical and dental care if they require it. 

This clip describes it in more detail:

Once they arrive, any time between 8:45 and 9:00am, they line up in a straight line, one of boys and one of girls. They sing a few songs, most with actions, some in English, but mostly in Khmer. Once finished they pray and then head upstairs. The number of child who attend the centre varies each day and can be anywhere between 20 to 35. The maximum number they can facilitate is 40.

Morning assembly

The building is 4 stories high. The first floor is like the dining/assembly hall and kitchen, the second floor has 2 classrooms, the little kids room (ages 2-3) and the big kids room (ages 5-6), the third floor has the office and another classroom (ages 4-5) and the top floor is where one of the teachers lives, but is also the where the volunteers have their rest time and where we watch movies on a Friday.

I have spent most of my time in the little kids room. Once they come upstairs we shower and dress them in their uniforms. Their hair is washed and their teeth are brushed. Their home clothes are washed during the day. Some of them wear the same ripped and stained clothes each day, some way too big for them, some way too small for them. None of them wear footwear.We have anywhere between 8 and 13 children in the room on any given day. Once they are all showered they have free play time until about 10:30. The older children participate in more formal lessons of both Khmer and English.

Play time! They LOVE the duplo/lego and it is often the cause of some pretty nasty fighting!

The little kids room

The older kids participating in an English lesson. They are learning the days of the week and the months of the year

At 10:30 (or thereabouts!) a bell will ring signalling lunch is ready. We pack up, pray, head downstairs and have lunch. The room is swept and the mats laid out for nap time.

Lunch time!

Whilst the students eat there are jobs to be done. I usually hang out the washing, help serve food to the students, it's like an all they can eat buffet of rice, soup, meat, vegetables and varies slightly from day to day, wash the dishes and clean up after they have finished. This usually takes them until about 11:15am. Once they are finished they are free to head back up to their rooms to "sleep"...I say "sleep" because for the most part they run a little wild while all the teachers are downstairs, but eventually they settle. 

Washing up station!

The teachers have lunch and then everyone settles down for rest time. Some days I wander to the shop up the street to buy a bottle of water and an ice-cream for 1000 riel each, (25cents!), before napping. I always manage to fall asleep during rest time, despite it being on the floor.

My nap time

We wake at 2pm and head back downstairs where the children are usually just starting to stir. We get them up, shower them again and then dress them back in their home clothes and they play again until just before 4pm when we pack up and get ready to go home. They usually also have another snack, fruit mostly, during this time. 

Sometimes they colour/draw

At 4pm the children leave in the minivan, a 14 seater that they all cram into, anywhere up to 30 of them, along with some of the staff members and head home. My Tuk Tuk driver is usually waiting for me at this time and takes me back to the Volunteer House. I usually arrive home just prior to 4:30pm depending on traffic and which route he chooses to take. 

The Joy Day Care School Bus

Other volunteers filter in during the next hour or so before dinner is provided at 6pm. Some nights we chose to head into the city to eat at a restaurant or go to the mall, but mostly we just chill at the house and get ready to do it all again the next day.

The view of our house from the outside, ours is the one one the right hand side

There is not a strong enough adjective that I can think of to describe the experience I have had over the last 4 weeks, amazing, humbling, thought-provoking, emotional are all ones that pop to mind at first. These children have so very little and yet their eyes and faces are some of the brightest and bubbliest that I have ever seen and I will never ever forget the experience I have had.

If you want to know more about Joy Day Care, and even donate to the cause please check out this website. If you want more information on volunteering in Cambodia or many other countries around the world, I strongly recommend IVHQ

Linking up with With Some Grace for FYBF, A Brit and a Southern for Weekend Wanderlust, Chasing the Donkey for Sunday Traveller and Maxabella Loves for Weekend Rewind... Check them out!!

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