Review: High School Special: Childcare and Community Work in Cambodia by Alessia I

Summer was edging closer and closer and I still hadn’t decided how to spend it. I didn’t want to just sit around and do nothing, I wanted to do something productive with the time I had away from school.

I have always been interested in helping people and concerned about the health and well-being of others. Here in Brunei, where I live, there are very limited opportunities to get involved in care and community work. The moment I found Projects Abroad I knew it offered exactly the kind of experience I was looking for.

Living in South East Asia I was lucky that the journey to Cambodia was relatively short, with only a quick stopover in Kuala Lumpur. It wasn’t until I boarded my second flight that reality hit and I realised I would soon be there - I remember feeling both nervous and excited. I imagined Cambodia would be hectic and loud; the streets alive with constant noise and filled with vibrant colours. I was nervous about meeting everyone - I had travelled alone before but never to a destination where I knew no-one and had never been.

Arriving in Cambodia

I lived in Vietnam as a young child and I immediately felt transported back to my time there. Brunei is very peaceful and quiet. The journey to the hostel in Cambodia was a huge shock as the streets were chaotic and teeming with people and motorcycles. From holidays to my Dad’s hometown in Italy I was used to the noise and disorder of the busy streets, but the roads of Phnom Penh was something else. As I walked out on to my balcony at the hostel I was bewitched with the beauty of the streets below. I couldn’t wait to explore! I was the fourth person to arrive but slowly over the next two days everyone else arrived - and everyone was so lovely and friendly.

My Care & Community Placement

As there were so many of us, we were split into two groups and alternated between the two placements. My first placement was at Khemara Day Care Centre. The children were very shy at first, but they soon warmed up to us- running around and joining in our games. They were absolutely adorable and very sweet. We spent the time that week working in the garden and playing with the children. It was a wonderful experience and we all quickly grew attached to the children. One of the things that struck me the most was how something that seemed so simple and small to us meant the world to these children.

I had brought some stickers, colouring books and puzzles with me for the children and they were thrilled and ran around pasting the stickers on their faces and on mine too! It was humbling to see how happy the children were that we were at the Day Care Centre. It was hard to leave the children behind at the end of the week but we were all looking forward to our next placement.

Home of Hope is a home for boys with various disabilities. Our experience here was quite different to the one in Khemara but equally extraordinary and rewarding. I clearly remember arriving the first morning. As we got out of the bus and walked into the building a little boy ran up to me and took me by the hand. He led me around the centre, pointing things out to me and smiling, giving me my own little tour.

It was so unexpected and a really special moment. He was so open and accepting and so clearly happy to have us there among them. Later on in the week another boy held my hand and led me upstairs to a little open balcony area where he sat down and started pointing at the view and drawing. He gave me a pencil and gestured for me to draw with him. He was absolutely adorable and the smile on his face as we sat there drawing together was unforgettable.

Cultural Experience in Cambodia

While in Cambodia, not only did we have amazing placements, we were extremely lucky to experience and enjoy many aspects of Cambodia’s beautiful country and culture.

We went to a traditional puppet show, which was very beautiful and to shows I have not seen in the past. The markets were an amazing part of experiencing the culture and I could have spent hours and hours wandering around! Every corner I turned there were so many beautiful traditional bags, clothes and jewellery.

I feel privileged to have seen the beautiful temples in Siem Reap during our weekend away. The most moving and poignant memories I have are of visiting the Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum. The tragedies that are told are hard to grasp. It is such a big part of the history of the country and important in the understanding of the people today and important for us to pay our respects.

Although Cambodia has a troubled past, it is in stark contrast to the gentle and kind ways of the people themselves. The whole experience was a sobering lesson in appreciating what we have when so many have so little. Both trips were emotional ones and the experiences I had will stay with me forever.

Returning Home

I was happy to arrive home, but I could have easily hopped on a plane back to Cambodia the same day. Taking part in the High School Special programme was definitely one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had and I know it is one I will always treasure.

I miss the colourful streets, the markets, the food, the children at the placements and the amazing people of Cambodia and the staff that looked after us during our stay. I made some amazing friends and hope to see them again next summer!

This trip was a huge eye opener and it’s hard to grasp that two short weeks have had such a massive impact. It has made me appreciate the little things as well as the big. To anyone that has the opportunity to take part in this High School Special I would definitely, one hundred percent urge you to take it.

Alessia I in Cambodia

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