London T18

Having never been to Asia before, my trip to Cambodia was certainly one I won’t forget. The culture, the people and the landscape are some of many aspects that contributed to broadening my perception of the world. For a couple years now, I have had a desire to give something back to the wider community. The charity I chose to volunteer for have been helping over 30 deprived countries for over 20 years.

During my stay in Phnom Penh, other volunteers and myself went to a school located in a very poor area, hoping to improve their environment and help them learn English. It was quite a shock to find ourselves in a middle of a shanty town where the school stood. The homes were built with bits and pieces of wood and corrugated sheets surrounded by heaps of waste. The first day consisted of assessing the children’s English level and placing them in different groups. This enabled us to adapt the level of difficulty of the lessons that we were giving. The younger children learnt basic vocabulary namely colours, the alphabet and asking simple questions; more advanced students improved their mathematics and reading skills. We brought games, pens, slates and chalk to help their learning conditions. It was very rewarding to see each and every child becoming more at ease in English; their enthusiasm to learn was remarkable which manifested itself every morning as they would rush to greet us. 

We were asked to place great emphasis on showing them how to deal with waste. It was shocking for me when I saw a pupil throwing a piece of waste in front of the school simply out of habit. The waste is accumulated around them but not dealt with. This is a huge problem as it creates pollution, contamination and attracts animals that carry diseases. We therefore taught them about using different bins and recycling. We are painfully aware that our short stay will not have been enough to make a lasting impact as the children have been operating in this way for generations and may quickly go back to their old habits. Furthermore, the lack of money prevents the instalment of a regular dust-bin service, which would change their lives and is vital to improve their environment.

The school that we attended was about to close as it would no longer receive funding from a local association. We decided to make it our mission to find the money required to keep the school alive as it would have been devastating for the children if they had no longer a place to learn. Within five days, we exceeded the amount the school needed which brought smiles to all involved.

For a couple of days, we travelled up to Siem Reap in order to visit Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, two of the world’s most famous temples. Visiting Angkor Wat and understanding its history was breathtaking. Considered to be the largest religious monument in the world, this temple shifted from Hindu to Buddhist use around the late 13th century. However, the temple is still used by Buddhists as a place of worship today and designed to be a miniature replica of our universe.

Very many thanks to the MPW travel fund for supporting me with this project.

Elena Cubbon