Monday, 25 August 2014

5 days in Oorong, Cambodia, a Lifetime Experience

Yea! I survived yet another adventure!!

Let’s rewind our time back to Singapore’s National Day. While everyone was busy celebrating and partying, I was packing my stuff, ready for another chapter in life.

Overseas Volunteer.

It came with mixed feelings understanding how many people felt that we, city dwellers, often screw things up instead of help, and how many “volunteers” were more interested in the photo-worthy shot than actual helping. I was in such a dilemma before I depart, afraid I might fall into the same circle. I was a Project Manager by training, yes I tried mixing cement, laying bricks and plaster walls during course of study as well as during work. But I wasn’t exactly fluent in these. I really wanted to help, though I don’t know how.

And so the fateful day arrived and the few of us met up at the airport, only then we heard news that 1 guy was sick and had to pull out. The small 7 became a smaller 6.

We checked in a total of 16 cartons including 14 boxes of biscuits and 2 boxes of miscellaneous items including gifts, portable printer as well as some candies. It was fairly easy as the airline we took, Silkair, did not specify numbers of luggage we can check in, so things were fairly easy. But still, 16 boxes of cargo attract loads of attention.

We finally reached our destination and funny thing happened. The immigration officer wanted to check our boxes. He motioned one of us to open one of the boxes and eat one of the biscuit in front of him. Next, the most hilarious thing happened.

He signaled him to one side and we saw him “pouring” out the biscuits. Apparently he was as hungry as we were. *chuckle*

We were in for quite a pleasant surprise as we exit the airport and we saw the sweetest thing ever.

Yes. The kids came to pick us up! *wheeee*Obviously the driver came as well. We quickly took some photos, loaded our loots and off we go.

We arrived at the center located in Siem Reap after a short ride, about 30minutes. I was quite surprised that the BFTC was looking fairly decent!

The NGO leader was very kind and he started to brief us on the history of BFT, as well as the schedule for our trip. *Refer to Landmine museum for more information on History of Cambodia*

We had a brief lunch before we headed to the village at Svay Leu 2.5hours away to kick start this awesome journey. And this is our accommodation for the next 5 days! ps. i thought it looked like a sombrero. Lol. 

We had a little shock when we reached our accommodation for 5 nights. We were definitely not expecting a 5 star hotel or even air-conditioning when we signed up. But our leader did assure us that the accommodation will not be too 凄惨(qican), meaning miserable.  But the horror slowly unfolds.

After long deliberation, we decided that the 6 of us should sleep together on first level judging that the “bathroom” was on level 1 and sleeping together feels safer. The first night was hot, literally, since there wasn’t even a fan. I know, I know, spoiled brat from the city.. But seriously, it was so warm you start to sweat the moment you come out of bath. We had to leave the doors *note: main door* open the whole night.

Did I mention about the “bathroom”?  For starters, it wasn’t much of a bathroom to start with. There was a tub to collect water for bathing and a toilet bowl with manual flushing. This was actually not that bad. But oh well, there is no light in the toilet, we had to light candles. But on the second day, we were actually quite relieved we didn’t had to see what was in the toilet on our first night, if not it might be too unbearable for us. Why? Insects. Countless. Insects.

We started our next few days early with breakfast in the town before heading to the village to help. The journey from town to village was about a 1.5hours ride on a super bumpy road. So bumpy, you jumped around on the truck.

Our Mission: Build a Toilet & Teach the Children

When we finally reached the school, we wanted to give the children there a little "door gifts", since we have SO MUCH biscuits. The children were all too courteous, their upbringing must be a hundred times better than ours. They bow each time we gave anything to them. What broke my heart a little was when these children knew we were giving out biscuits, they ran to the puddle of water along roadside to wash their hands.

We were no experts in building, despite having a degree*. We could only helped out like our local Bangladeshi (no offence) workers – carry water, mix cement, carry bricks, and occasionally, help to lay bricks. The other 2 girls were mainly interacting with the children and teaching them, while we, did more manual chores.

Side note: Our dear kids have previously used this water to wash their hands before they had their biscuit snacks. It was a emotional roller coaster ride.

One thing that warms my heart was the fact that the children there were all very kind and took initiatives to help and learn. For one instance, we were short on manpower on Day 1 and what they did surprised all of us.

It didn’t end there, we needed water and sand for our cement mixture, and there, you guessed it, they offered to help. They could continue kicking their balls, playing with each other, but they didn’t and they chose to help.

It wasn’t easy at all. Nobody said it would be. And we knew. We basked in sweat and dust everyday. The sun was no less scorching each day.

But our efforts were evident.

We build.

We taught.

We played with the children.

We shared.

And 5 days was gone with a blink of an eye. We were so productive in this short 5 days with the help of many people, we build a toilet and countless relationships. Some volunteers had it better than the others while some had it worst.

For us, it wasn’t as glamorous or noble as it might seemed. We built a toilet with loads and loads of help from the villagers. We struggle with toilets and food and even accommodation. Imagine swatting hundreds of (I’m not kidding you) flies while you eat, including numerous unknown insects crawling around. While you sleep, although we had a mosquito net, all sorts of insects and whatsoever you name it we have in are touring around our “room”. It’s really quite scary to have a salamander crawling around the room while you sleep.

But one thing we all can agree is that we took away more than we gave, more valuable than our pockets and our time was the villagers taught us what we city dwellers often forget, we could be very happy even with very little

With that, our journey ends with a bang. If literally, it will be with a screech. Our car broke down on our way back to Siem Reap. Oh well, broke down seemed to be an understatement judging that our wheel flew out when we were on the road. Read that right. FLEW OFF.

And there we end our amazing journey in Oorong.

At the end, I just wanna note something to take away for everybody. This happened on our last day in the village when we were chatting with the translator and the kids.

It was a very impromtu question from our leader, "So, where do they get their drinking water? Do they have wells or something in the village?" understanding that they, like us uses rainwater for general cleaning and washing.

Warning: prepare your tissue ready

"The villagers, do not have wells... You see, when we are rich, we can choose... To drink clean water, and eat healthy food. But some people, they have to survive, they can only choose, to survive on what they have."

It came like a emotional lightning. Of course we expected these to happen in rural villages, but we realised, how much we had, and how little, them, being so simply spelled out in mere 2 sentences.

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