At the start of every academic year, Reach Out Volunteers often lecture- bash, encouraging us to go on one of their programs. This summer, I decided to take the plunge – and it was the best decision I made.
I was in Cambodia for two weeks in the village of Kro Bei Riel. Our main project was to build a hut that would be used by the villagers as a place to sleep at night, but function as a classroom during the day. Previous Reach Out groups had also built similar huts. Looking around the village and seeing the huts that the other groups had built showed us that we all could accomplish this. It motivated and inspired us to start as soon as we reached the village.
Building the hut was hard work, but it was manageable thanks to the help from the local builders as well as the positive attitude of my group. One of the most physically challenging tasks that we had to do was to dig a large hole in the ground, and carry bags of that dirt across to the site where the hut would be built. This was so that the hut could be built on a height, protecting it from the floods. This challenging task was a great bonding experience for our group and it showed me how hard everybody was willing to work. This experience really set the bar high for the rest of the remaining two weeks.
While building the hut was our main project – a tangible goal – we interacted immensely with the local children. We would help out at the school, participating in their dance, art, and sport classes, and were even given the opportunity to run small English classes. While the purpose was to teach the children, I found that by spending time with the children, I learnt more than I could have ever taught them.
One of my most touching memories was a simple and quiet moment. I was given the easy task of going for a walk with four ten-year old girls to teach and test them on their English vocabulary. While we were walking, one of the girls began picking up rubbish off the ground to throw away. I was so moved by this simple gesture. Rubbish is an issue in Cambodia, as it is in many developing countries. It’s often pushed aside as an impossible and unimportant Issue. And yet, this young girl was doing her bit. Consequently, our small group of five decided to collect rubbish while on our walk. This moment stayed with me, because it reminded me how each of our small actions can potentially have an impact on the community we live in. To date, it still gives me goose bumps to think that such a young girl had such maturity.
Meeting the people from the village was the highlight of my trip. Everybody was warm and friendly, and quick to welcome us into their community. The children especially have a special place in our heart. I know it doesn’t seem ideal to have a favourite child, but I did. How could I not? I didn’t know his name, and he didn’t know mine. We could barely have a conversation because of our language barrier. All I knew about him is that he was seven years old and that I felt instantly connected to his joyful nature.
My favourite day of the trip was the last day of the program. We finished building the hut, and as per tradition, we all signed our name on a plank of wood, which would then be nailed on to the front of the hut to signify that we had built it. Signing my name on that piece of wood was a form of closure for me. I was leaving a small piece of me behind in the village, just as it will always be with me. Once the plank of wood was nailed to the hut, I finally felt like our job there was done. As I stepped back and looked at the hut we built, I gave myself a moment to take it all in. I slowly walked around the hut and carefully read each name on the plank of wood. It then hit me that my time in Cambodia was coming to an end. The two weeks I spent in the village of Kro Bei Riel inspired me to work hard at everything I do and to value the privileged community I live in. I feel blessed and fortunate to have been able to have had such a magical experience. I will always treasure it.