Fleurine Tideman - High School Specials, Care & Community in Cambodia
My two-week trip to Cambodia would be the first I took without my parents, teachers or friend’s parents, and I couldn’t have chosen a better first trip. In Cambodia I met, and instantly connected with so many other people my age. I learned about the rich and vibrant culture Cambodia possesses, and also it’s detailed and often overlooked history. I was pushed far out of my comfort zone, and loved every minute of it.
Arrival in Phnom Penh
Upon arrival, myself and the friend I traveled with were greeted by a member of the Projects Abroad staff, who instantly made us feel welcome. In the car journey to our accommodation, he told us all about Cambodia, Phnom Penh and Projects Abroad.
It was almost hard to pay attention with the rush of senses and sights around us. There were tuk-tuks everywhere, which we later would have the opportunity to take, and the streets were simply overflowing with people. It looked so alive.
At the accommodation we met the volunteers who had already arrived for the two week special and were taken to the volunteer apartments for a mouth-watering lunch of rice, vegetables and chicken. We would continue to go to the volunteer apartments for all meals; never being disappointed by the delicious spread prepared for us by the kind cooks.
We began speaking to the other volunteers, and any awkward feelings quickly melted away. Over the two weeks we all became so close, as spending almost 24 hours a day with people allows you to develop such intimate friendships.
I am glad to say I still speak to all the friends I made there on almost a daily basis! We all came from different countries and spoke different languages aside from English, but that didn’t matter. These people understood me, and we were all there for the same purpose.
Volunteering in Cambodia
I spent my first week at Home of Hope, a center that houses and cares for boys with disabilities, orphans, elderly men and AIDS patients. There we set about painting a sensory room, building a shade for their newly constructed playground and helping the children in any way possible.
At first I was terrified, having no experience with disabilities, but as soon as that first child takes your hand and looks up at you, all worries disappear. I’ll never forget watching some of the volunteers playing soccer with the orphaned children, and seeing how they all acted not only as friends, but as brothers.
The second week was spent at Khemara, a day care center for the local children. There we were extremely busy building a vegetable patch, painting their playground and playing with the children. We sang songs such as ‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes’ and chased them with the wet paintbrushes, much to their delight. Whilst this placement was extremely different to Home of Hope, it was equally as enjoyable and fulfilling.
Weekend Trip to Siem Reap
On the weekend we were taken on an extremely long but fun bus ride to Siem Reap. We then stayed in a great hotel, complete with a pool! We visited the night market, which Siem Reap is famous for, and explored Angkor Wat temples, another thing Siem Reap is famous for! The temples were breathtaking, a true reflection of the beauty that is Cambodia. And we also got to see the temple where Tomb Raider was filmed!
Saying goodbye to everyone on the last day was heartbreaking. Group by group we left the accommodation. I had known these people for only two weeks, yet I felt closer to them than many people at my school that I had known for years.
Saying goodbye to Cambodia itself was also hard, as I had enjoyed it so much and learned so much about it. I felt like seeing the Killing Fields and Prison S21 was seeing it’s biggest vulnerability, and it made me love Cambodia even more- if possible.
People always ask if I would return to Cambodia or go with Projects Abroad again, and I always answer “definitely!”
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