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.
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.