Our 2nd try at volunteering was with a charity called 'Big Heart Project' run by a guy called Adrian who is a suprising 21 years old. We got a bus from Phnom Penh on Monday and started our volunteering straight away. We got picked up by Piseth at the drop off, we then piled two rucksacks and three people on a tiny motorbike. The 10 minute ride down the long red sandy road was a great change to city life. Stilt houses made out of wood and corragated metal sheets and farm animals everywhere! It was exciting but nerve racking stepping into a new world, definately a poorer one to my own.
Piseth spoke good English, explained all the rules to us again; "Only vegetarian food", "Bucket and water for shower", and so on. Was it a game me and Dan would be good at? More importantly, was it a game we would win an experience from? When we arrived we met the mother, who I quickly realised didnt speak any English. Then to see our room, suprisingly we had been given a double bed which included a mattress, pillows and mosquito net! We were shocked as we expected just a floor mat and mosquito net. Unfortunately the permanent teaching staff had been given the raw end of the deal, the mats instead of beds. What made it worse was a comment by Piseth saying that November was their coldest season and at night they would be extremely cold, and in effect not get much sleep with added cold and flu symptons. To our shame me and Daniel were so hot in our bed, we donated my big warm sleeping bag to the staff for them to either share or lie on.
The staff consisted of 3 men aged 22-29 and Piseth's sister who is my age of 20. She is over from Thailand, Bangkok to learn English so she can become a teacher herself. The next stop was to visit the children and the school.
Adrian is renting a government building for $25 per year (15pounds) because he has not raised anywhere near enough to build one himself. The classrooms are big with big wooden desks, very different to Siem Reap. We were both split up and put in our classrooms with our Khmer (Cambodian) teacher. As it was nearing 6 o'clock the lights switched on and the mosquito fest started. How anyone can learn with thousands of big countryside mosquito's flying in your face and around you, I have no idea. I was teaching the class and just couldnt concentrate on what I was doing and neither could my class. The shutters on the building were broken, so they swing in the wind and the light in the building is the only light for 100 metres, right next to a flooded rice field. The bites from that night are still very much infected 3 days after, with no anticeptic cream/antihistemine cream/anti-inflamatry cream, little tiger balm and handfuls of my saliva the bites just never went down. This was an issue here, the mosquito's were everywhere, you just had to accept you would be bitten here... a lot!
Finishing class and looking outside we realised it was pitch black to no exageration. Thinking naively that we would be given a huge flashlight or maybe go home on a motorbike, I was wrong. Piseth's meagre phone light would be a small guide to home. Dinner was as basic as food comes; runner beans, cabbage and tomatoes, small onion omelette and steamed rice. However, it was refreshing and very tasty. Everyone was in bed by eight o'clock and once again pitch black was our only comfort. I fell asleep rather quick only to be woken by Daniel at 12am, he had been lying awake for 3hours! But with a quick head massage from the pro he fell quickly asleep in no time.
Because the teachers only speak very basic English, having a good conversation proves to be very taxing. So most of the time they talk in Khmer instead. The roosters also like to make themselves known to the world, Daniel was awoken by their midnight squawking at 12am and then again at 4am, put it this way the countryside didnt like people who slept alot. It made me think of my Mum who sleeps through everything and anything; alarms, calling, ringing etc. Im pretty sure she wouldnt sleep through this rooster!
The day is structured with breakfast at 8 (bread and Milo) "Down time" until 11.30am, then lunch (same food as dinner), then it was not until 3pm that we eventually got to school and teach the children. Daniel loved his first class, fun cheeky loud children (very much like Daniel himself). Even in my class I could hear his voice instructing the famous tune of "head, shoulders, knees and toes" while I was pronouncing repetatively every word the teacher had wrote on the board. The issue again with this school was the teachers spoke little English themselves and it was disappointing that outside of school they made no effort to improve their vocabulary with us. To really make a difference you have to volunteer for a while for the teachers and students to listen and learn from you.
On our time when we weren't teaching, sleeping in hammocks or eating food, we went for walks around the basic village. We went to see the local buddhist pagoda where there was a statue of the oldest monk in Cambodia, we thought he looked funny as someone had put a pair of black sunglasses on the statues face. Me and Daniel thought it was a joke but Piseth quickly corrected us that the Cambodian monk actually wore similar glasses to these in real life.
We then went to see a rice field for the first time in Cambodia. There was so much green it was a never ending sea of lush grass. Young and old, tall and short rice, rice EVERYWHERE! To walk through the flooded rice fields they pile up dirt to make a makeshift path, and to keep the water filled in each square paddock. We saw many men and women working in the fields and fishing in the nearby lake. It was a 'back to the future moment' where we realised how undeveloped this place was, but it works for them. We had no idea how long we had been walking for as time really does stop in fields. We also had underestimated the sun in all its glory, as it burnt poor Daniel's nose and shoulders. If the native villagers were staring at us because we looked as white as snow compared to them, they certainly were staring at Daniel as he returned as a lobster, bright red all over, he was glowing.
The rice fields were a highlight in our Cambodia adventure. Something many backpackers rarely see. Rice is Cambodia's main source of income. This job of tending the rice fields was the work everyone was given in the Khmer Rouge period and still all hand-grown by far out villages and locals. Definately check the packet when you pick up some rice from your local supermarket and see if Cambodia is on the label as the source.
The village living experience hand-in-hand with teaching for the charity was a eye opener for both of us. It was a fantastic way to explore the culture and ways of living at a deeper level. Much respect goes out to all the villagers who have kept their traditions so well tuned, you can hardly believe you are living in the 21st century. It was a tough challenge and one that will always be remembered as one of the toughest weeks in the past set in the present.