Travels, Volunteer

The village experience with Restore One in rural Cambodia is one I will never forget. A week packed with building, teaching, learning, dancing, bike riding, marketing, cooking, playing, and laughing. Each day we each could choose if we wanted to build the new year 10 classroom, play at the pre-school, or teach english with the english teacher at the primary school. Everybody did everything at least once, and tried to experience as many different things as possible.

I worked in the pre-school with Deb for three days, english teaching for one day, and building the rest of the time. It was great having such a small group because we got to choose what we wanted to do instead of getting allocated a role. I loved working in the pre-school, although it was a bit of a challenge working with 3-4 year olds with a language barrier. Quickly I learnt that the little kids picked up things so easily just by watching me. I was given the job of teaching the matching cards game, where all the cards are flipped over, and one by one you flip two cards and try to find the pairs. After a few rounds of utterly confused faces and my bad khmer (Cambodian Language), the kids got the hang of it really quickly just by watching, and that was really exciting to see.

On the first day Deb and I were chilling on the side of the dirt road sitting on this small wooden bench waiting for Tanya to finish her meeting with the village chief, and I started colouring in the adult colouring book. It was basically just a harder version of a regular colouring book with smaller sections to colour in. I offered the little girl from the pre-school a pencil to join me and soon I had a group of young kids swarming and I was handing out coloured pencils to kids left, right, and centre. They all did a really good job colouring in the lines. Originally we weren't going to use the colouring book in the pre-school because the teachers thought it might be too hard, but after this Tanya decided to order a bunch more.

Clay, Lindsay, Tess and I chose to go with the english teacher around the primary school on the first day. We split up into groups and went though the english books with the kids. We did years 1, 3, 4, and 5. In grade 1 the kids were learning the months of the year, and we marked all their books and gave them stickers. It was really encouraging to see how well they were doing and how much they were learning.

We got to do our fair share of ute riding along the dirt roads and rural highways. Nothing beats standing on the back of a ute screaming down a road with beautiful green views and the wind whisking though your hair.

One warm afternoon after a day full of teaching and building, we ran a dance class in the primary school. Tess is a dance teacher so she was allocated the role of head dance teacher. We did the Nutbush, Macarena, Time Warp and a bunch of other fun stuff. It was very enjoyable, and the kids were all laughing. It took a bit to get them all into it, but when the music started working properly it was a lot of fun. We taught the whole primary school at once which was a lot of kids!

We got a chance to ride bikes along the dirt road to another close by village. It was really beautiful, and I felt like riding the bikes made me feel so alive, like I was living the life of a Cambodian rather than travelling in a sheltered car. The skies were so blue, and the rice paddies so luscious and green.

We biked 8km from our village to a sister village, and as we arrived we were told this was the old high school before Restore One opened the new one, and this was how far the students had to ride each day in the humidity to go to school.

Our surprise on the second last day at the village was an excursion. We were taking the year 6 kids on their very first excursion to the nearby waterpark which was very exciting. We were all given two kids to look after, and had the whole afternoon to splash around in the waters, go down the slides, and play in the playground. The park was almost empty too, so that was pretty cool to have it to ourselves. The kids had a ball which was great. A few of us even went on the zip line over the lake which was pretty exhilarating. Everyone had a go on the swans that you can pedal around the lake (pictured on the right). Tess and I came late and wanted to have a quick go but we couldn't successfully work out how to steer the thing even though all the kids seemed to work it out rather quickly, so it literally took us so many trys to get back into the dock and everyone else had left for the pool.

On our last day in the village we traveled to the rural temple Phnom Santuk, which was amazing. We stumbled up the 1000 steps and arrived with a beautiful view over Kampong Thom Province (pictured below). The temple complex has many different sections, buildings, and shrines, and it looks as if they were all built at different times. Clay and I did some extra exploring and headed along this forest bush walk arriving at some Buddha's carved into the stone. (carved into the other side of the stone on the above right). There was so much to see there if you kept exploring you would always come across something else; an underground maze system, hidden shrines on the side of cliffs, colourful buildings, or sacred stones.
After our day out to the Temple and the silk farm, we had to prepare for the village sleep out. We split into three groups and were invited to sleep in the houses of three families in the village. I was paired with Sam and Steve, and we headed off to do our market challenge. We got $25 to buy a bamboo mat, three pillows, a large mosquito net (to cover the three of us), a large strainer, dinner for 8 people, breakfast, and as much rice as we could afford. Entering the markets was a different experience from phnom penh, dirt floors, meat laying out on planks of wood infested with flies, no tourists in sight. We actually did quite well with the market challenge, we got all our vegetables for $3, and so many fruits and baguettes for breakfast.Our family had three sons, and we had to cook for ourselves as well. None of us could cook very well but Sam got some tips from Kimlang's amazing Cambodian dinners, so we decided to go for a khmer style stir fry with noodles. It was interesting to cook with the mother from our family when we didn't speak the same language, but we survived using hand movements and the limited khmer we knew. We did quite well bargaining at the markets and got a lot of food for our money, and we ended up winning the best dinner competition because we had all the Cambodian flavours. :) The below photo on the right shows us using the pump to wash our veggies very thoroughly, although we didn't realise until after that we were supposed to take a bucket from our house and pump the water into that, then bring it back to our home... Hence we ended up having a line up of children standing with buckets waiting for us to finish.

Tess had an allergic reaction to the hand sanitiser or the aerogard so we spent 45mins walking up and down the dirt road trying to find the primary school, because it was so dark and we couldn't see properly. Children were following after us laughing and sneaking around, and we walked so far we walked right out of the village into the open rice fields. It was rather peaceful though, but also eerie. As we wandered back we had to pass all the barking dogs in the dark again and we were low key scared of rabies but it made for an interesting story. Eventually we found the primary school literally across the road from our houses, and we got some help. Later we were attempting to have a shower in our sarongs under the fresh water tap outside the principals house, although we were welcomed by the curious faces of many school children, so his wife Somony had to tell them to go away.

During the darkness a few of us gathered with the kids in the middle of the dirt road and had the best time laughing, piggy-back ridding, and playing games. I played a version of tick-tack-toe that I learnt in primary school with one of the girls and many more eyes were watching. After a few rounds all the girls were playing and laughing with each other just purely from watching us. That was super exciting to see. That is when I realised the true closeness of the village, and how everyone knows their neighbours. All the kids and all the adults knew each other, a real community that we got welcomed into for one night. It was truely a lovely and amazing experience, much more than us helping them, they helped us to see the world in a different way.

The left photo above is a view from the front door of our house at 5.30am after a long night. Sleeping on a bamboo mat with no covers, barking dogs, and loud rain made it difficult to get any sleep. It got colder during the night after the storm, so I was trying to layer up with all the clothes I brought. It was impossible to sleep in any position other than on our backs, because after 30 seconds of laying on my side my hips dug into the ground and began to go numb. After a difficult and challenging sleeping experience it was time to get up, say goodbye, and set off for Siem Reap. Despite the challenge, it is something I would totally do again. I just kept thinking I got to go home and sleep in my bed at the end of the day, and I think the village sleep out taught me so much more than just the volunteering. People that regularly have no breakfast, no mattress, but huge smiles and big hearts are a joy to spend time with.

Visit the site of Restore One Charity here:

https://www.restoreone.org.au/

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Travels, Volunteer

Upon arriving at the village, we started our five day building project on the year ten classroom. The building frame was already up, complete with a local style wooden ladder up to the construction site. We had to hand build the walls by cutting timber, and hammering in all the nails into the beams behind. At first I was totally hopeless, and it took ages for me to hammer in each nail. By the next day I was doing much better, and I could actually get the nail in much quicker.

Lindsey and I were climbing up 3m to hammer in the timber to the top beams. He was of course much quicker than me. By the second day we seemed to work out a better system. Yu, kelly and I were standing on the tables to hammer in the higher nails.

I had no idea how much energy and skill it takes to build. Just building was an experience in itself, as I realised you need a lot of strength to keep going for hours and hours in the humidity.


We managed to smash out the whole classroom in 2.5 days instead of the 5 we were allocated which was really exciting. The end of the third day a few of us decided to keep working till we finished so we would have time to paint a mural on the wall the next two days.


The final and hardest section was the side with the big hole where the stairs would later go (as shown above), because there was only a flimsy few pieces of timber screwed down to stand on and a 3m drop to the ground behind us.

The last two days I was given the job to design a mural with Tess and Kali, so together we came up with the idea of a mosaic style sun and moon with the first letter of everybody's name hidden inside, and a tree from the bottom to the top in the middle.


The first day everybody else had to lacquer the outside, and Sokhun took Kali, Tess and I in the back of the ute to get the paints. We stopped at the local hardware store and bought all the colours. A few hours after painting the white background, we realised we needed much more paint... The first day we just got the base coat of white done.


The second day of mural painting everybody finished off the lacquer on the outside, and we started the sun and moon. Gradually I sketched the tree and asked a bunch of people to join in painting.


Everybody got to have a go painting as well which I think was really good, because I don't think some people realised how hard it was to paint in the lines with the big paint brushes. It was great everybody getting to build and to paint so we all learned a skill in a foreign territory.


Visit the site of Restore One Charity here:

https://www.restoreone.org.au/

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About me

I live in Sydney, Australia, and I am a university student majoring in History and European Studies. I try and travel as much as I can afford because I love adventures, and immersing myself in different cultures. I grew up in Western Sydney and lived in Singapore for a few years during high school. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to travel a lot of Asia in my years living in Singapore because it's so close to everywhere! I love photography, art, culture, history and adventures. I am a christian, humanitarian and environmentalist. Some things I like to do if I can find time are brunches, picnics, visit art galleries, read history books, and watch a good old fashioned movie. I decided to start a blog for updates on my travels, volunteering and lifestyle, and give some advice about places I've been. Check out my insta if you so desire @hippie_historian thanks for reading <3



Next trip planned -> back to Italy for a volunteer archaeological adventure with Earthwatch. Heading to a coastal town in central Italy for a dig followed by a week of travels from Pisa -> Cinque Terre -> Florence -> Roma :)


*This is a photo from the last time I was in Pisa in 2012



*A view over Marina Bay from my parents' apartment building in Singapore

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Photography

A photographer friend @dedyoktavianto asked to do a shoot because he wanted to work on some lighting and long exposure. So, we hit up Circular Quay at sunset with some fairy lights and an old lantern to get those moody vibes. I am usually more of a travel photographer so this was a bit different, but great fun. I had done a portrait shoot before with my friend @sphotography2 at Mrs Macquarie's chair.

*these images are taken on a Canon by @dedyoktavianto, and edited by me in PS & LR.


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Travels, Volunteer

The day after arriving in the village we were scheduled to do rose classes, although we were unable too, so we ended up being the first Restore One team to plant rice. It was such a great experience, and I learnt a lot from it. Planting in warm, muddy, sludge for an hour one humid afternoon gave me a new perspective of hard work. Bending over, bare feet in the hot water with mud crabs lurking. I was trying to plant my bundle as fast as possible because I was somewhat scared of all the nasties in the water.

We were pretty bad at planting, wonky rows and planting too many strands at a time. We were supposed to plant three green strands at once, which produces one tablespoon of rice each. Planting rice showed us how hard people work in the field, from dawn till dusk in muddy waters day in, day out.

We spent one hour of our afternoon planting rice, laughing and getting muddy, but we got to go home at the end of the day. That is one thing that I really learnt, and something I think about every time I eat a grain of rice.


Even though it was really fun, all I could think about was how I was hoping not to get sick. When I got back to the guesthouse I realised even though I was rightly worried, I was being pretty selfish in only considering my one hour of planting compared to those who have to plant rice as a livelihood.

We travelled to the site crammed on the back of the tractor trailer which was pretty exciting and very bumpy. Some of us walked back and some jumped in the back of the ute. We stopped off at the local stream to have a swim, and were joined by a bathing cow.

Visit the Site of Restore One Charity here:

https://www.restoreone.org.au/

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Travels, Volunteer

Last month I embarked on a journey to Cambodia for the second time, starting off by visiting the capital Phnom Penh. Cambodia is utterly beautiful and has interesting and intense history at its core. Our visit to Phnom Penh was short and sweet and consisted of 4 days sight seeing and learning more about the beautiful culture of Cambodia, before we headed off to the village. We stopped by a bunch of NGO cafes trying some amazing foods, and hearing about all the incredible organisations that are working towards supporting Cambodia. It was really awesome seeing all the good these organisations have been doing far and wide within Cambodia, and I would encourage anyone visiting Phnom Penh to check some out. The food was literally the best; healthy + yummy.

Our team was made up of 11 uni students, two fabulously fantastic adults and the leaders of Restore One, (the organisation we were working with). We stayed in the affordable Frangipani Villa, which had a great view over the city from the rooftop bar (the bottom left photo), and a lovely pool (the top left). Two doors down was the Restore One cafe (right photo), which had great vibes with its colourful shutters, hanging lights, and cool mist, as well as fantastic food. I bought a few items from the store because they were pretty good quality and I loved the inspiring quotes.

We went to the markets a bunch of times, I love market buys from overseas because I like those bohemian vibes, and you can buy market clothes for $2-$10 pretty easily so I like to stock up. :) They aren't always great quality but they are cheap and unique. Just beware that it may fall apart or the dye may run so I always wash them alone first. The Russian Markets were a couple of streets away from us, so we did most of our market buys there, we also went to the Central Market which was bigger. Orussey Market was like the Reject shop or Daiso because it literally had everything and its where all the locals go.

In Phnom Penh we did a market challenge at Orussey, where we split into groups and had to buy large tarps and deliver them to our corresponding slum houses, as the houses had been leaking from the rain. 10 of the houses were tiled by Restore One as the women work with sewing machines and materials were getting dirty from the dirt floors. It was lovely when our team got invited into the house we were buying for, and we headed up the bamboo ladder for a peak at the top floor.


In Phnom Penh we visited:

- Choeung Ek killing fields

- Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

- National Museum of Cambodia

- The Royal Palace

- Russian, Central and Orussey Markets


Adventures of Fabulous Food in Phnom Penh:

- check out the Restore One Cafe at:

No.23, Street 123, Toul Tom Poung | Restore One Charity, Phnom Penh 12000, Cambodia

> its easy to remember because its on street 123 :)

> Lebanese Lover burg is the best

> Lovely vibrant aesthetic

- Bloom Cafe:

> If your in the mood for yummy cupcakes and a refreshing iced coffee

- Jars of Clay:

> Working to provide sustainable employment for disadvantaged young Cambodian women at risk

- Titanic:

> beautiful for traditional Khmer dinner situated right on the Mekong

> good vibes + fairy lights

- Java:

> Its got paintings, its got art, its a cafe but a gallery, need I say more?

> supporting JavaArts

- Open arms:

> working to empower children in Cambodia to reach their destiny

> an exciting project training underprivileged and rescued young Cambodians with practical skills

- Friends n' Stuff:

> After a delicious meal we headed next door to the friends store that sold notebooks, wallets, bracelets, shirts, anything and everything made out of random stuff. They sold a bunch of things made out of old tyre, Khmer newspapers, and other random goods.

> By buying products from the Friends store you support children going to school and building a future for families

- Alma:

> The best traditional Mexican food in Phnom Penh


Visit the site of Restore One Charity here:

https://www.restoreone.org.au/


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