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LAU Wai Kwan, Lingnan University

 

 

LAU Wai Kwan, Bachelor of Arts,

Lingnan University

Cambodia Service Trip 2014

 

Cambodia is a third-world country located in the southeastern Asia. It was once covered by countless landmines during wars in 1970s. Greatly influenced by its brutal military history and political instability, the socio-economic development of the country has been stagnated in the past decades. In spite of its gloomy and lifeless image, I have seen the purest beauty from the happy faces of the innocent kids which I met in the Cambodia Service Trip.

 

The Cambodia Service Trip was organized by the Lingnan University Wofoo Leaders’ Network. Wofoo Leaders’ Network is a student-led organization designed for the university students in Hong Kong, funded by the Wofoo Social Enterprises. It aims at nurturing responsible young leaders for the society through leadership training, civic education and social services. The Cambodia Service Trip was a five-day-four-night journey in addition to several pre-trip training workshops and post-trip sharing session. The goals of the activity are to serve the children in orphanages as well as the Cambodia community. Besides, the participants are given the precious chance to learn and experience the culture and history of Cambodia in person. Before we set off, we had designed several activities for the children according to the requests of the orphanages. We also prepared some gifts as prizes of the games.

 

During our stay in Siem Reap, Cambodia, we visited several orphanages including ACODO, Children and Development Organization and Life and Hope Association. There were 17 students participated in the service trip. We were divided into 3 teams. Each team was responsible for leading the activities in each of the orphanages while the other teams will help to carry out the activities. We prepared English classes along with singing and dancing game for the first two orphanages as the targeted children are younger. For the Life and Hope Association which consists of female orphans of older ages, we prepared computer skills classes and handicraft-making activities.

 

Although we had planned on the enactment of activities and discussed on the possible scenarios that would arise in the process when we were in Hong Kong, there were still difficulties encountered while we were in Cambodia. When we arrived at the first orphanage, ACODO, we met another voluntary group which had already been there for a couple of days. We had a time clash with them. Re-arrangements of grouping were made immediately. Also, the actual time for activities in the first two orphanages was longer than what we were told. Therefore, we came up with new games and allowed free time between participants and orphans. Actually the crisis turned out to be a valuable opportunity for us to get closer with each other. Moreover, we realized that the three orphanages all had limited space for activities, which differed from the descriptions we got previously. In order to solve the problem, we decided to adjust the scale of our activities so that it could fit into a smaller venue.

 

Even though we have made various plans for different possible situations before departure, one very essential thing that could be expected was the response of the children. Due to our difference in culture, education and background, it was very difficult to imagine how they would perceive the content of the events we prepared. When we carried out the activities, there were moments that the orphans did not seem to understand our instructions. They did not show much interest at the beginning of the activities as we had hoped. Thus, we had to improvise new ways to express the ideas. Another issue which could directly influence the outcome of the activity was the prior communication with the organization. Before departure, we wanted to know more about the details of the orphanages so as to have a better planning on the events. However, as a place with rather limited internet accessibility, we did not get responses as speedy as in Hong Kong. When we arrived there, we also found that there were discrepancies between the description of the organizations in the emails and the actual circumstances. Again, we needed to accept the situation and made changes at the point.

 

Reflected upon the experience, I think quick adaptability is an important ability which the participants should acquire when they join overseas outreaching activities. They should anticipate that there will be many unexpected situations coming up, and be confident to handle the problems and react quickly. Hence, creativity and flexibility are equally important. Also, participants should engage in teamwork during outreaching activity, especially when they are in a foreign environment. They need to trust each other and avoid blaming others.

 

In spite of all the difficulties, this Cambodia Service Trip has left me with many memorable moments. I can still remember clearly the happy faces of the children when they saw us. Despite the wide age difference, they shared a similarity, the innocent nature like angels from heaven. I met a 6-year-old boy in ACODO. He was little and shy. His English proficiency was low, yet I tried to open up his heart by playing simple games with him with his three toy trucks. We did not even use any verbal language to communicate, but just used body language to begin the game. However, it turned out really well. We revised English words and drew the words like trees, suns, stars, eyes, etc. into pictures on the color papers which I brought from Hong Kong. We had a very happy afternoon.

 

In the second orphanage, Children and Development Organization, I met two girls. I was told that they were 10 and 11 years old. I felt really shocked as I heard this since they looked thin and short compared with the children of the same age in Hong Kong. Because of malnutrition, they were not well-grown in terms of physical appearance. While we were staying together, the two girls were timid. At the beginning, they seemed to be feeling awkward about meeting strangers of different ethnicities. When I asked them questions in English, they would discuss on what the answers in English before responding to me. However, after playing the English games and dancing together, we became closer. They were very generous. They did not possess many belongings but they were excited to show me their notebooks and bags. They also brought me to their classrooms and playgrounds, which allowed me to know more about their living environment and school life. We took pictures and I helped them revise their lessons.

 

The friendly manner and approachable personality are not only the characteristics of the orphans. They are present among the Cambodians which I had met during the trip, including the hotel staff, waiters at restaurants, tourist guides, hawkers on the streets and even the ordinary pedestrians. They are all very friendly. Once a hawker at the night market told me in broken English, "You are beautiful. I am not. You see, we have different skin colors!" Actually, the way she believed that I was more beautiful, and thus superior, had made me feel very sorry. Indeed, we are both Asians and live on the same planet. We are just around four hours of flight apart from each other. Nevertheless, we speak different languages, have different skin colors, expose to different weathers and come from different histories. Even though it is difficult to understand and communicate, there is one fundamental thing in intercultural exchanges that this service trip has taught me. If we are willing to care for each other wholeheartedly, none of these differences should become a barrier between us. The service trip has offered a chance for me to rethink my identity in the world as well as how to connect with people who are of totally different background.

 

After the service trip, I have also understood more about the poverty and education issues in a third-world country like Cambodia. Although the orphanages are built and sponsored by charitable organizations, there are still many areas which need to be improved promptly, such as the hygiene and amenities of the environment. The tables and chairs in the orphanages are not stable. The children share stationary. Some of the orphanages we visited are small which cannot fulfill the demands of the energetic children. The numbers of computers are not sufficient. The internet connection is unstable as well. It seems that these places are neglected by the majority of the world, who honors globalization as making the world a better place. It strikes me even harder that these orphanages are less than half an hour driving distance away from the famous world heritage, Angkor Wat. When lots of people flood into the temple and worship a kingdom which no longer exists, how many of them have imagined the current life of the orphans on this very same land? The service trip has showed me that the problem of inequality is acute. Assistance should be provided for such needy people. As an educated young adult, I strongly hold the belief that I can make some changes to their situation and help them to confront their difficulties.

 

Apart from visiting the orphanages, I went to the Ankor Wat in Siem Reap. It was built in the 12th century by the Khmer Empire. It represents the respect towards the tradition and symbolizes the importance of religion and authority of the Cambodians. Besides, the natural beauty and solid structure of the monument imply the wisdom of the Cambodians. As we travelled to Phnom Penh, we went to the Tuol Sleng Museum, which was a school but transformed into a concentration camp during the governance of Khmer Rouge. At that time, many intellectuals were sent to the camps and treated inhumanly. As we got in the museum, we could feel the terror as pictures and instruments were shown. The museum has given us a history lesson.

 

As a post-90s undergraduate student, I feel thankful for the opportunity of receiving the Reaching Out Award (ROA) for joining the Cambodia Service Trip. Opinions toward the local university students are not uncommon as in various media coverage. Nowadays, the Hong Kong young adults are often criticized for their irresponsible and immature behavior. In my opinion, while these comments may be over-generalized, I agree that youngsters in Hong Kong should step out of their comfort zone and open up themselves. Instead focusing merely on the academic performance, they should also excel in non-academic areas and explore their talents. Taking the advantage of the award, students are particularly encouraged to join various kinds of overseas events. They are assisted to go abroad and take part in the trend of globalization, which can widen their horizons and increase the knowledge of culture and history. While staying in foreign countries, they will learn to be independent from family and be responsible for themselves. With the help of the ROA, students are given more support to join activities, such as conferences, workshops, internship, service programmes and etc. Through these outreaching activities, students can learn how to interact with different people and how to respect others. Their interpersonal skills, communication ability and language proficiency can be improved. Ultimately, their global awareness can be enhanced and elevated. All these could be very helpful for them to grow into better persons as well as prepare for the labour market after they graduate. Therefore, ROA definitely serves a paramount importance to the students in Hong Kong.

 

Following the end of trip, I am ready to engage in the international campaign of helping those in needs. After reflecting my identity as a global citizen, I will be more active in joining non-academic activities in other places around the world. As a university graduate, I think it is time for me to return to the society and use what I have learnt in the past years of studying to help the people who are less educated. I hope that I can become a useful and knowledgeable person, not just to Hong Kong but also to the world.

 

The Cambodia Service Trip is really a life-changing journey. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Reaching Out Award, for supporting my trip and promoting the chance for Hong Kong students to explore the new world. Without the award, I will miss a journey that not only explores the world but also my own self.