Hannah Webb - High School Specials, Care & Community in Cambodia
Every time someone asks me about my time in Cambodia I end up talking for hours! I had such an incredible experience there and have so many happy memories from spending just 2 weeks in the country. I would honestly recommend it to anyone who is interested; it was a life changing experience for me.
Arriving in Cambodia
I flew out to Cambodia with my friend Holly on the 12th of August 2012. It was my first time traveling without my family so as you can imagine I was a little nervous! It helped to have someone to navigate the airports with me, but I found that I met other volunteers along the journey (you could tell by the backpacks!). We had 3 connecting flights and the journey went smoothly. After a delayed final flight, we arrived at Phnom Penh airport at 1.30 am, exhausted but so excited.
Even from the journey to the apartments in the dark, I realized just how different Phnom Penh was from home, and I could not wait to start the project the next day. The Projects Abroad staff told us a bit about the apartments, handed out keys, and gave us a pack with details of each day’s activities for the 2 weeks. I shared a room with Holly and we were both surprised at how comfortable it was (we were prepared for the most basic beds and furniture). The beds were slightly larger than a single and comfy, with more than enough pillows. The bathroom was shared with another girl on our floor, and was also nice. Each floor in the apartment had its own balcony and, as we were on the seventh floor we were nearest to the rooftop balcony.
The next day, we were introduced to Kanika, Seang and Pises, who outlined what was expected of us and what we would be doing while volunteering. This induction meeting was really helpful, as we were meeting the people who would support us with any queries or problems during our stay. After this, we traveled to Home of Hope and Home of Peace, the two orphanages we would be working in. The journey by tuk tuk was one of my favorite things about Cambodia; there was so much to see on the way and it felt really exciting (if slightly worrying) being in a tuk tuk for the first time!
My Care Project
Our mornings were spent visiting Home of Hope, an orphanage for boys. It was really moving meeting the children and, at first, quite overwhelming. However, I found that they were so happy to see us volunteers and receive attention that it was extremely rewarding. We also helped painting the walls and teaching some English, which the children obviously thoroughly enjoyed. On the Wednesday when we arrived, a little boy who had a lot of difficultly walking, and also could not speak, asked me to push him round the gardens in his wheel chair. It was clear he loved it and, despite the heat and exhaustion, I loved it too. I ended up pushing round 3 children, all in one wheel chair! I will never ever forget the smiles on their faces.
Our afternoons were spent at Home of Peace. The children here were younger, and it was mixed gender. We were greeted by the sisters, who were so welcoming, and showed us round the building. We helped with creative activities but also practical tasks such as washing and feeding the children. I particularly enjoyed the afternoon spent with the children painting canvas pictures. I received one from a boy called Swat which is now hung up in my room as a reminder of my experience.
As advised by Projects Abroad I took some arts and crafts materials and some games with me for the children. I found that balloons were a favorite! Holly brought some nail varnish and gems which also went down a treat! It was really nice being able to bring something to do with the children, as it created a bond between us and them, without the use of language.
After reading the Cambodia handbook provided by Projects Abroad, I was prepared to feel a bit homesick, and find the culture possibly a little bit difficult to adjust to. For me, this wasn’t the case! It is so different culturally to where I am from, but I found this exciting and eye opening. The roads were crazy, the people were unbelievably friendly, and the food was delicious! I really liked it as a place, and I am hoping to go back in a couple of years.
Another thing I enjoyed about Cambodia is the night life. Whereas back at home, there would be very few people about at night, both Phnom Penh and Siem Riep were busy! While in Siem Riep, we also visited Angkor Wat. This was an amazing experience and if you go you must make sure you take a camera. The temples are beautiful!
While we were there we also visited the Genocide museum and the Killing fields. I had never visited anything quite so devastating before and it was eerie being in a place where masses of people were killed. Most of the original structures were still in place but I found the most moving part for me was the glass building full of skulls. I found the visit upsetting but I thought it was important to pay my respects to victims.
I found that on the evening before returning home, I wanted to stay for at least another week. From what I saw, Cambodia is a wonderful country, but there was so much more I wished I could’ve seen or visited. I also met some incredible people while in Cambodia. The other volunteers were so supportive and fun to be with! I made some friends that I am going to stay in contact with (and hopefully visit) for a very long time. The flip side of this is that it was actually quite upsetting leaving them at the airport. It was very strange spending two weeks with a group of people every day and night, to go home and only have contact through a phone or the internet.
I am hoping to return to Cambodia next year or the year after to volunteer again, and also visit some of the places that I did not have time to see. I am also planning to travel to London to visit some of the people I made such good friends with while away.
Living in the city of Phnom Penh was an amazing experience. It allowed me to interact with the locals, while also enjoying tourist activities, such as the markets. I would recommend the High School Special to anyone interested, as it is so eye opening. Cambodia has become a place I have an attachment to even after just 2 weeks, and I am determined to return in the near future! I am so grateful to everyone who made my time there so special.