Rachael Parker - High School Specials, Care & Community in Cambodia
This summer I decided I wanted to travel somewhere, but due to still being in sixth form I had a year left at school, so knew I couldn’t travel for long. I stumbled across Projects Abroad over the internet and having seen leaflets at my school. After looking into this, I noticed the High School Specials, this sounded perfect.
I remember trying to decide on a country to visit; there was so much choice and they all looked amazing. A while back I had already visited Thailand and loved it so I decided that Cambodia would undoubtedly be the same. After reading about it, it just seemed the perfect option.
First impressions of Cambodia
I had read other volunteers stories so I knew what to expect but I didn’t believe it would be exactly how people had explained it. It was loud, busy, lively and dusty. There were moto’s and tuk tuks everywhere I looked and definitely in no order. The atmosphere was exaggerated by the extremely hot weather.
I must admit I don’t think I had ever remembered being as nervous as I was while driving from the airport. I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at the apartment; I can assure you as soon as you arrive all nervous thoughts disappear; so do not worry, I know for sure that anybody who visits will love it!
My High School Specials placement
I worked at Home of Hope in the morning and Home of Peace in the afternoon five days a week. The children were so cute and I thoroughly enjoyed playing with them. Before I visited Cambodia I bought a lot of things bubbles, stickers, colored paper, pencils and coloring pencils, glue and skipping ropes etc. Giving these things to the children, it felt amazing to see their smiles (they all especially love bubbles and stickers!).
A typical day at the orphanage would involve arriving at the Home of Peace and taking the children either upstairs to play or outside, on the playground equipment they had. I remember as soon as I got my camera out the children went mad and just kept asking for a photo after photo; they were fascinated by it. At the end of each day I always ended up with some very interesting photos or videos which had been taken by them.
When it came to lunch we helped feed all the children and tidied up afterwards. The children then had a nap so we helped get them into bed. Frequently we would get a child who wouldn’t want to sleep, and just used to cling to you and want to play; in my case they just wanted to get the bubbles which I had taken.
We then visited Home of Hope; this experience was a lot harder in the beginning. Most of the children here suffered from HIV/AIDS or had special needs. This was very difficult to see but it felt good to help them. So we used to help the local staff feed them, and blew up balloons or rolled the ball to each other to play with them.
Often we helped teach some basic English too, as they would ask, or I would teach them simple English songs, which was a real hit! While I was there I remember just sitting there at lunch and thinking how people live like this with nothing and are still so incredibly happy and cheerful, everybody was so friendly also.
Traveling with other volunteers
At the weekend I visited Siem Reap to look at the temples, also seeing the sunset. Siem Reap was a lovely place and a lot more touristy than Phnom Penh. At night we went out to eat and it was brilliant. I highly recommend visiting this place. I wish I could have been there for longer because there is so much to do, and it would be hard to run out of things to do, like visiting the jungle, the floating island, the slums, etc.
My last days in Cambodia
On the last day at the orphanages we had a little party and bought the children cakes and fizzy drinks, the children got so excited and absolutely loved this. The days went by so quickly as we played lots of games with them; basketball, soccer, catch etc. Leaving the children was very sad; although it was only for two weeks I became very attached to some of them. I would do anything to go back now and will definitely be visiting again after I have finished school.
One day, before going to the orphanages, we visited the market; to buy some chicks to take for the children. The market itself was nothing like what I would have expected to see. It looked so cruel to the animals, but it was great to see how different cultures go about doing things. We took the chicks to Home of Hope and each day took feed for them. The children loved seeing them and I hope today they are still living well!
It’s hard to pick out special memories, as when you think about it all you can think about is the whole experience. The whole two weeks were very special, and none of it will ever be forgotten.
When I returned home it was completely different to when I left. It makes you realize what you have back at home and how much we should appreciate the smallest things, as well as not worrying about situations which are actually nothing compared to what some people have been through in Cambodia.
I would love to visit Cambodia and the orphanages I worked at again. I had such an amazing and eye-opening experience. If you have the chance to go, then definitely go; you’ll never look back.