Myself, Lauren and Dean from the UK office had the incredible opportunity to take a group of teachers on a familiarisation week in Cambodia, ahead of their expedition with the students next year. The week was led Rory Hall, our Director for Asia, in addition to Bunlay (Country Manager for Cambodia) Hanh and Sunny (our Camp Managers) and I would like to firstly thank them all for making us feel so at home during our time in Cambodia! It was a fantastic chance for teachers to explore our camps, meet our local staff and visit all of our projects ahead of their expedition next summer, and here is just a tiny snapshot of our experiences during the course of the week!
On arrival in Phnom Penh, we had some time to explore the surrounding area, before travelling up to our first Camp, Beng Pae, the following day. On arrival we were greeted with a warm welcome by Sunny. Following a camp orientation we had a tour of the surrounding village and saw first hand some of the valuable project work that is ongoing in the area. We are currently working with the local school to improve their facilities and we are also doing a lot of vital reforestation work in the areas surrounding the camp. The following day we travelled to Camp Beng Mealea whereby a lot of our community project work takes place, in particular at Beng Mealea School which we have been working with for a number of years now. A hugely valuable project that is currently underway here is a teacher accommodation block for the teaching staff. A lot of the teachers are not from the surrounding area, and must therefore share a single room on-site. As such we are working to improve the teacher accommodation and facilities that are available.
In addition to this, we are also inviting local students to come and undertake some English lessons at our camp, which is really rewarding and we are currently working on a new classroom at the camp specifically for this purpose.
Even in this short space of time it was clear that so much work still needs doing, despite the progress that has already been made, which is why the continuation of our projects are so important.
As well as visiting our projects, staying in both of our camps gave teachers the opportunity to check out the facilities such as accommodation (male/female longhouses), communal areas, toilets, showers and to try the delicious local food & all of which is extremely helpful in preparing their students with what to expect next summer!
Following a visit to both of our camps, we travelled to Phnom Kulen National Park, where the teams will undertake their 4 day trek. This is an area of religious importance and it’s safe to say there was lots to see and learn along the way! Sampling part of the trekking route gave a great idea of the fitness level required for the trek. Even during the two-hours we were walking, we were lucky enough to see amazing views, visit ancient Pagodas and temples and ended up at a stunning waterfall & all before lunch!
Prior to visiting Cambodia, it is hugely important for students to take the time to learn about the country, and as such our last couple of days were spent visiting areas of importance in both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. In addition to its incredible natural surroundings, Cambodia is a country rich in culture, and we were lucky enough to visit the stunning array of temples in Siem Reap, which includes Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm. Bunlay, our Country Manager, has a wealth of knowledge on Cambodia’s history and gave us a great insight into important aspects of Cambodia’s past.
A trip to Cambodia is also of course not complete without taking the time to learn about the country’s history, and as such we had the opportunity to visit the Killing Fields and Genocide Museum (previously known as the S-21 Prison). This really did reveal the dark side of Cambodia’s past, and whilst it was an incredibly difficult and emotional day, it certainly gave me a better insight into Cambodia’s past and the reasons behind some of the challenges that the country is unfortunately still facing to this day.
I think I speak on behalf of everyone when I say it was an incredible and eye-opening week! Thank you to all our staff in Cambodia and we now have an even more excited group of teachers and students ready for their expedition next summer!