In early June, 13 TASIS students traveled to Siem Riep, Cambodia to work with the NGO Caring for Cambodia. Our students spent their days teaching beginning English and helping out with meals at two CFC schools.
Below are excerpts from the journal of Monica Landoni '15.
Thursday, June 11, 2015
I have waited with excitement the whole year for this trip, and now finally I am here: Cambodia! I ultimately realized my destination when we took our last flight, the one from Bangkok to Siem Reap. It was a small prop plane, and honestly, it didn’t instill a great sense of safety… During the landing I looked out of the window, and the more we got closer to the land, the more I distinguished wrecked houses and huts, immersed in a dry plain littered with tall, thirsty palms. That desolated landscape reminded me of many scenes from movies set in underdeveloped countries, where people live in poverty, in their houses made out of dirt and trash. However, this time it wasn’t a movie, but reality. And the thing that made me reflect the most was that it wasn’t my reality, but the one of someone else, born and forced to live in those conditions, without any option. Once I got down the airplane, I realized that the more I saw of this new culture, so different than mine, the more I developed a sense of awareness of the fact that I had come as a spectator of this reality, so surreal, but so tangible at the same time... I felt like in another dimension. Not that I didn’t know about the rampant poverty around the globe, but it’s just so true that witnessing things with our own eyes is completely different than hearing stories.
In the afternoon, after resting for a little while, we visited one of the Caring for Cambodia schools, Aranh school. I didn’t expect it to be this big. It has students of all ages and, for the little I was able to see today, they all seem very sociable. For these children, CFC schools represent a hope for a better future, not only for themselves, but for the country as a whole: it’s education the solid base for a new beginning.
Saturday, June 13, 2015
This morning we taught English to little kids in Aranh School. The kids are more than adorable, and their enthusiasm and curiosity reminded me of what school is like for them, underlining the importance of education and my luck of having had an excellent one. I really enjoy teaching the kids English, just being in the classroom, playing with them.. they’re so sweet! Many of the ones I’d met yesterday remembered me and my name. Although it seems banal, hearing their cheerful voices calling me by name is heartwarming. But then I go through the long, logging road in awful conditions that leads us to the school, and I remind myself of the reality in which they live in. Many would say that “you can’t do much,” or that “it’s life,” and that “they’re used to living like this anyway;” but it’s really because they don’t know what it means, and because the problem doesn’t pertains to them. If people got to know every single one of the poor families that live there, they would change their minds. Emotional bonds and relationships would create between each other, and people would start caring for those families and their problems because it’s like they became their own problems. This is why seeing things with their own eyes helps people understand and realize what’s going on around them.
Monday, June 15, 2015
Another hot day in Siem Reap. This morning we had to wake up at 5 am in order to serve breakfast to the students. Their breakfast consisted in a simple bowl of soup made with something that looked like vegetables and legumes. This time, my group served to another CFC school, a much smaller one. Here the kids were much more shy and quiet. They slowly ate their breakfast, and left in an orderly manner once they were done, one at the time. Later, we returned to Aranh school to meet our pen pals. My pen pal’s name is Serey, and she is very friendly. I really wanted to meet her and it was a pleasure for me.
In the afternoon we had a friendly soccer game with our pen pals, and I also got to walk around the school to say hi to the little kids. Now they recognize me and know me by name. it’s really a feeling that I can’t describe the one of seeing the children running towards me, pulling me, hugging me, laughing and playing. The braver ones even give me cute kisses on my cheeks. Watching them in their innocence is a priceless sight. I hope I can give them at least half of what they are giving to me; the more I stay here, the more I want to help.
Today we also painted some desks and stools. At one point the kids arrived, along with their curious looks. I handed the brush to one of them, to let him play for a little while. With great surprise all of the other children took a brush and started helping our group until there was nothing left to paint. They had used their entire recess time to help us, but the most surprising thing was the way they did it: all of them were extra careful not to stain themselves or their friends with the paint, and their job didn’t look like the one of a kid playing around with brushes, instead, it was well done. I noted a great sense of collaboration among these children: their help is genuine, and they want nothing in return. I’ll miss them when I go back home, it’s going to be heartbreaking to leave without knowing what future reserves them. In Cambodia it’s hard to imagine a brilliant future for someone even if they had gone to school….
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
This place is stealing my heart… this morning my group taught again to levels 1 and 2 of ESL. During the small breaks we played with the children, and I kept on receiving small bouquets of colorful flowers they picked from the fields. It’s incredible how much a simple gesture like giving a flower is so filled with love and spontaneity. What struck me most of these children is their generosity despite the little they have. They are extremely polite and respectful, and very clever too. It’s sad to see that this kind of behavior is rare among children where I live and normal here in Cambodia, and even sadder is to see that children here don’t have even half of the opportunities children in Europe have. Unfortunately is impossible to transfer on paper the feelings these children are transferring me. Despite my attempts I’ll never be able to fully convey the idea of what the kids are giving to me. Emotions are so intangible that there is no other way to know them besides feeling them, and to do so, one must live and experience what I’m experiencing here.
In economics I’ve studied that one problem with the development of countries is the lack of paved, viable streets. Now, with all of the problems a developing country might face, this one doesn’t seem like much of a priority, but only now I understand the barrier that this problem can represent. Every day, to reach the school, we have to go through a bumpy, unpaved road with the van; it takes us 30 minutes just to travel a few kilometers. Again, this is something that makes me realize how many things we take for granted, including streets.
Thursday, June 18, 2015
Today schools were closed because, from what I understood, it was the king’s birthday. Therefore, we took the chance to visit some temples. I’ll never forget what our tour guide told us this afternoon in the van. We asked him what happened to him family after the regimen of the Khmer Rouge, and he replied that his entire family had died except for one uncle and two brothers (they have large families so he must have had many siblings). He was telling us about it and at one point he said “sometimes I wanted to suicide.” This statement really captures what Pol Pot has done to his own people, and the conditions in which they were left: nothing but desperation, and the desire to even suicide! There are so many people in Cambodia like our guide, who were left with nothing an especially with nobody after the genocide. This made me realize the importance of my job here in Cambodia: help recover these people from such a terrible and destructing event.
TASIS Global Service Program
The Global Service Program was envisioned by Jan Opsahl ’68, who became the first international student at TASIS when he came from Norway in 1965. The pioneering program was launched in 2013 with major support from a most generous donation from Mr. Opsahl and his family to set up the Global Service Trust. This Trust, along with support from the TASIS Foundation, make this incredible, life-changing experience for our students possible.
The Global Service Program transforms lives by providing every High School student a unique opportunity to connect across borders through comprehensive experiences that build empathy and encourage personal responsibility. Participation in the program—which is designed to awaken students to humanitarian needs, inspire them to build enduring, mutually beneficial relationships, and lead them toward a life of active citizenship and committed service—is a graduation requirement.