We're Never Coming Back

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Day 289 - Volunteers Cambodia

cambodia No wonder angelina jolie bought a cambodian kid...


OK, so since the killing fields we've busied ourselves spending our dollars on tuk-tuk rides across town, wandering the squalling, maze-like marketplace in town, drinking watermelon shakes everywhere, watching the sunset over the lake and reading fake books. It seems se asia is a hotspot for forgeries of everything including the latest bestsellers - hideously photocopied but bound together well. Unfortunately, my copy of 'Everything is Illuminated' is missing about 10 pages, which annoys me greatly, but i'm nearly finished so I can live with missing key elements of the story (why DID she marry the guy who raped her? anyone?)

anyway, when we're not doing all of the above, Sam was coming up with a brave new idea. To do some volunteer work. We always said, right from the start, that we wanted to do some while we were travelling. 2 weeks of church building, school building, teaching english, whatever. 2 weeks of helping someone else. to justify our hundreds of flights' carbon emmissions. But we never got round to it. Too much to do in south america, no poor people in new zealand and australia, and too little planning for the rest of the trip.

But here we are, outside a cafe in Phnom Penh, surrounded by street kids, stray dogs and rubbish everywhere. And sam points this out...


A quick enquiry inside and we're due back at 3pm, dressed appropriately because we're doing the work outside a mosque. Which we are. nervous. not sure what to expect. sam seems fearless. I'm ready to quit. and we sit down for our briefing, and its all ok. There's about 15 volunteers, all crowded into the cafe, waiting to be marched off to do something worthwhile. Ariella sits us down, and for 15 minutes explains to us what KLC is. Set up in June 2006, 4 backpackers crossed paths on their travels in Phnom Penh, saw all these dirty kids littering the streets, and decided to do something to help them out. They've been here since.


So, we're prepped on what songs we're gonna sing ("this is how we wash our hands..."), what games we're gonna play (british bulldog) and what words we're gonna learn (body parts, colours). Ariella goes on to explain that this whole area of the capital is stuffed full of kids - some go to school, some can't afford to. some sell books to tourists, some clear rubbish and collect bottles and cans for small change. some speak english, and some don't even speak.


Never knowing how many volunteers they'll get, or how many kids they'll get (usually between 20 and 60), we're hoping for lots because there's a huge surplus of backpackers to help out - there's normally only 3 or 4. So our army of 15 march down the road, expectant, ready.


and before we're even got into the uneven, grassy, rubbly scratch of land that's been chosen for the activities, one shirtless 5-year-old has launched himself onto my back and another is being dragged along behind me, hanging off my legs. And before we know, every one of us backpackers is stood in a circle with two cambodian children holding each of our hands. we sing some songs, mouthing the words for the kids, helping them to pronounce the words correctly. We stand around for 5 minutes while the translator explains a new game to the kids, then we're running around, playing bulldog, still clutching their hands as if we're their only lifeline, and cheering with them whether we win or lose.


and an exhausting hour later, we finish the activities, listen as the cambodian kids sing a song in Khmer (the cambodian language) then we have 10 minutes to play with the kids and use up our camera batteries. Before we've even acknowledged the start of the playtime, these kids (some of which don't have any proper 'play' time in their own homes) are crawling on me, dancing around sam, posing for photos and yelling because they want to go on my shoulders again. They're light, and their bones feel fragile and breakable. I'm cautious not to throw them around too much in case they break on me, but they bounce around with a care.


And then before we know it, its time to leave, and through the jeers of kids that don't want us to leave, we wander away, waving goodbye and blowing kisses to the ones who seemed touched to have met us. When I think we're all just as touched to have met them.


It was amazing. I'm sweating from the running around, and down a can of sprite, and sit under a fan for the debreif, before promising to do this again when we come back to Phnom Penh. Its an awesome idea. Its simple and constructive and potent. These kids are learning and developing and have an environment, for one hour, where they can play and laugh and learn and enjoy themselves without having to worry about selling or collecting or wasting away. These kids are some of the most endearing people I've met on the planet. It was amazing. And after we've hit the beach for a few days, we're coming back and doing it all again. I'm sure.


[if you're interested in doing this stuff, check out their website, www.volunteerscambodia.com, which has all the info you'll need. or email me and I'll fill you in on anything you need to know. seriously, if you're in Phnom Penh, and have 2 hours free one evening, do it. you won't regret it.]

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