Matthew Richardson - High School Specials, Care & Community in Cambodia
My name is Matthew Richardson and I am from Guernsey in the Channel Islands. In the summer of 2014 I decided to pack my bags and journey all the way to Cambodia to do the Care & Community High School Special project. If someone had asked me how I’d spend my summer vacation after leaving 14 years of education, I wouldn’t have guessed that I’d be hurtling through monsoon-soaked central Phnom Penh doing charity work.
Arriving in Cambodia
It comes as no surprise that my arrival in central Phnom Penh, at 11pm at night, after 46 hours of traveling, came as a bit of a culture-shock. On top of the heat we thrust into a very busy city, despite it being late evening; the dual carriageways were still heaving with tuk-tuks and motorbikes (many with at least 4 passengers).
Both sides of the road were scattered with people, bustling about the sprawling Friday night. Old women were out pushing food-stalls through the street selling rice, noodles and unnervingly suspicious forms of meat. Don’t be disheartened; it is this totally new and alien environment that makes these trips so enjoyable and memorable.
Accommodation in Cambodia
The guesthouse where I stayed for the two weeks was located in the heart of Phnom Penh. The security guards at the Beoung Mealea Guesthouse and the friendly faces of the receptionists, made me feel both relaxed and welcomed. When I arrived, I was immediately greeted by Projects Abroad in-country staff, Jesse and Danny. Despite it being nearly midnight, they also offered for me to use their mobile phones in order to call home.
The guesthouse was about a 5-minute walk from one of the main Projects Abroad apartments where we usually ate our breakfast and dinner. A Khmer (Cambodian) meal will usually consist of a pot of rice and/or noodles, chicken or beef curries with added tofu and an assortment of fruit such as pineapple or watermelon.
The Care Project
After a few days of settling in it was time to start work. My first placement was at the Home of Hope located near Phnom Penh International airport. This is a home for males; the majority of whom have physical or mental disabilities. However, the first floor of the home was reserved for men of all ages infected with the HIV virus.
Our job was to construct a sun shelter over the home’s playground, since the children found it too hot to play during the summer months. Other members in our group were tasked with painting what would become a sensory therapy room. This manual work was also paired with teaching some of the younger residents and organizing activities and games for them.
The manual work was tough and certainly a challenge, however, the enthusiasm of our rep Danny and the prospect of us constructing something that would benefit the home kept us working for the week. Despite a serious language barrier, I do feel that our group bonded with the residents. You will be amazed by the level of communication you can achieve without any actual verbal communication.
Weekend in Cambodia
On my first weekend in Cambodia, it had been arranged for our group to travel up to Siem Reap and visit the world-famous Angkor Wat temple. If you ever find yourself in Cambodia then I would strongly recommend that you travel around and see the interesting landmarks or historical sites. Not only is it a great way to discover more about the country, but you will also learn a lot about the local history and culture. The Angkor Wat is a huge complex in the middle of the Cambodian jungle, exploring the temple ruins and running into some of the local wildlife made this an unforgettable experience
The Community Project
After we returned from Siem Reap and our visit to the Angkor Wat, we were sent to our second placement at the Khemara Organization. This is a local NGO with a mission to support and educate children and women in underprivileged areas in Cambodia. Our activities included teaching the children basic English through teaching books and songs. We also painted a play-set outside in the yard as well as helped out with other smaller tasks in the care center.
One of the main things that made this trip so special was the sign of gratitude and excitement on the faces of both the children and the local care workers. The children were all eager to learn and I was roped into singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” a fair few times.
My Last Day in Cambodia
The farewells at both of our placements were very emotional. It marked the end of our 2 weeks of work in Cambodia and a goodbye, not only to the people in the care centers but to the other volunteers on my project. On our last day in Cambodia we visited the Home of Hope and as a farewell gift we gave the residents fresh fruit and partook in final activities.
After this, we traveled to the Khemara Organization where we gifted the care center 4 bags of hygiene products (toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, soap), which would be used during the children’s bath time. We also put up some educational posters that some of us had brought from home and again handed out fresh fruit to the children once it had come to their lunchtime.
As I was on my flight home back to Guernsey from Cambodia, I was thinking about how I would write this article and what I could possible include about this trip in 2 sides of an A4 size paper. The more I thought about the trip in Cambodia, the more I missed the busy Phnom Penh nights and the bustling markets where locals sold hand-made souvenirs.
This trip also allowed me to meet some amazing people who had also come to be volunteers on the High School Special as well as the friendly, funny and supportive local staff. My trip certainly was a memorable one and I’d recommend Projects Abroad to any young person looking to do meaningful charity work abroad. The organization allows you to gain valuable life experience and you get to do meaningful work that make a real difference in the lives of the local people.
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