BOOM BOOM TICKA CHICKA BOOM BOOM!
Two and a half Weeks at CDO Siem Reap
Early 2011 when I knew I wanted to come abroad, I started looking at places offering volunteer projects; education, conservation, building - there are loads of different opportunities to pick from. However, back in England staring through the PC screen at these options it's a smash in the face when you see just how much they cost. Mostly around a thousand pounds just for under a month, sure they include accommodation - but I knew a roof over my head wouldn't be that expensive - plus how do you know your money goes to the right place?
So I took the decision to not make the decision, just yet anyway. If there was a place I found which needed help, then surely me showing up on their front door lending a hand would be good enough? How right I was - I was lucky enough to spot an old college friend on facebook who had done some volunteering at an orphanage in Cambodia; so he sent me a few details and I waited until I got to Siem Reap.
I was instructed to email "Mom" who runs the orphanage, but only use simple English - when I did so I was surprised to get a reply almost immediately stating "Yes, come tomorrow from 9am. You can teach." God, what had I got myself into? I'm no teacher!
The next day I get a TukTuk to drive me down to CDO "Near the crocodile farm", which is all I know, and hope I can spot the place. Sure enough, on the right hand side of the road I come across a big blue house - on the bottom floor there are teaching areas and up the stairs at the front house the office and childrens play area/sleeping area. A few of these tiny kids with huge smiles on their faces run up to me, holding their hands together "Hello, what is your name? Where are you from?", it's a little overwhelming, then an Aussie guy introduces himself - Alex who at 18 has made himself very much a home at CDO after first visiting in January.
"So you're the guy who has come to teach?" - "Ummmm, well no, not really, I'm no teacher - I mean, I'll do anything really. I'm here for a couple of weeks so I'll lend a hand wherever I can" - "Good because we don't really have any teachers". Within 5 minutes of me being there I'm shepherd in front of the "big class" (older kids, roughly 15 of them), trying to teach them what Vowels and Consonants are (For the record, I'm still not sure what they are - but think you can find out by watching Countdown).
After my lesson (which included a gatecrashing TukTuk driver, who was waiting for someone - was tempted to charge him), the kids all had their lunch break which goes on for 3 hours - they gobble some food down and then have a couple of hours nap. At this point Mom had returned so I got to meet her for the first time, lovely lady who greets me with a pinch on the arm.
In the afternoon, Alex and I swap roles - so I head upstairs to teach the "small class" (younger kids, roughly 12 of them), these are TINY children and I wonder if they even understand what I'm saying. They start the lesson off as the big class did "Good afternoon Teacher, how are you?" - "Very well thank you, how are you?" - "Good thank you teacher". I had been given some worksheets by Alex to hand out; very simple, just the alphabet written down the left hand side of the page and the children had to copy. As I was handing these out, most of the children seemed pretty happy and had already started filling them out. One however, the smallest girl out of the lot, simply put her head down and began to sob - "here we go" I say to myself. Thankfully, everything worked out alright in the end and they all completed their worksheets; however it amazed me how different their abilities were - some of the children could write and read, others could hardly hold a pencil.
So the first day was under my belt, and I was feeling pretty good about helping out at CDO. The first week went by fast, I met a fantastic family who had been working at the orphanage for a few weeks and had donated (along with Alex) for a brand new toilet block (with showers!) to be built. The Canadian family consisted of Andrew and Tina and their two girls, Bronwyn (9) and Anika (7) - very inspiring Andrew and Tina had taken a year off work, and are half way through showing (themselves, and) the girls the world.
The toilet block being built
There's no better way to cheer the kids up while de-licing their hair other than making funky hair styles!
Watching very dramatic karaoke videos with the kids
I had also got round to teaching the kids the "Monster Song" (actually it's known as the "Zombie Song" but trying to explain to the kids what a zombie is was far too complicated at the time), which is an old Scout song that me and my brothers used to sing as kids, and always end up singing around a campfire while camping with the family. The kids loved it and over the course of my time at CDO would constantly run up, tapping their arms by their sides (part of the song) and saying "Monster song, Monster song!" to me.
Saturday arrived and I was asked by Mom to take a couple of the kids to "AK CTV" the TV centre in Siem Reap, along with Thida (a helper at the orphanage). We got a TukTuk to take us and three of the kids, Sambo (the cleverest kid out of all of them, but also "Mr Cool"), Maek and Ra (both stunning girls) to the centre. The kids had dressed up for the occasion, the girls in little dresses and Sambo looking pretty swarve in jeans and navy blue Tshirt. The Children were there to sing (not quite sure what for), so they each had a turn singing Khmer down a microphone with a camera in their face - I managed to get a couple of sneaky shots on my camera before nearly being chucked out of the studio!
Ra and Meak all dressed up
Sambo and Ra doing their thing
Saturday evening a couple of us went to see the "Beatocello Concert" at the Kantha Bopha Childrens Hospital. Dr Beat Richter (a Swiss man), who is the founder of the hospital and three others like it in Cambodia plays his Cello and speaks about the hospitals and how we can help. There is also a short video which is played, which gives a greater insight to the work which he has done. Over the course of 20 years, he has gone against all his advisers and has successfully built and run 4 Children's hospitals in Cambodia which offer 100% free care for children and pregnant women, it even goes as far as paying for the Childrens travel to the hospital. They rely on private donations, and Dr Beat has run's his Concert every Saturday evening in Siem Reap to beg for donations. A Very worthy cause.
Dr.Beat doing his thing
On Sunday, I headed back to CDO and helped out with painting the new toilet block. Really fantastic, so glad I had the chance to see the old toilet (a small squat-toilet outhouse, with a bucket to wash with) compared with this raised (the old one flooded in monsoon season), 4x toilet/shower block. It's hot work inside them though - I asked Mom when they were going to install Air Con; fair play, she happily answered back "When you donate the money!"
Painting the toilet block
Health and Safety are no where to be seen
Oun can always cheer you up!
Monday came and thankfully so did the arrival of Leigh and Sharnee, an awesome Aussie couple, and Elliott (another bloody Aussie!). This was just what we needed - we could finally manage to separate the classes up even more, so that we could teach each ability. Monday also saw the official opening of the toilet block, the kids getting official CDO Tshirts and sadly waving goodbye to the Canadian family.
Opening ceremony - plus look at them Tshirts!
Party to say Thank you to Andrew, Tina and Co
Khmoury and her cake
That week I got some money together to get a proper concrete floor out near the kitchen - this area usually floods during Monsoon season - but even so it's nice for them to have a proper floor to prepare food on. Anyway, turns out the initial money wasn't enough - they mixed too much sand with the concrete so you could easily pick away at the concrete with your toes - so a bit more was added to do a proper job.
The place floods far too easily - Sambo doing a good job
Buying sand for CDO isn't just for mixing with concrete ...
Second go at concreting the floor
Alex had some fantastic Volunteer Tshirts put together and also some new banners for the front of the house - actually Welcoming visitors in - not that the kids don't do a good enough job anyway "HELLO! COME IN! WHERE ARE YOU FROM?!". We also had Chris and Courtney (an Aussie couple who had previously donated a roof to CDO) drop back in with towels for all the kids, and the special announcement that they'd be sponsoring Sambo through School!
New Banners for the front of CDO
Chris, Sambo and Courtney
Elliott had donated a backpack full of dollars, so that CDO could start on their huge project of a Chicken Farm out in the garden - so soon came the massive arrival of wood, for us to struggle with. I could just about carry a 15foot long piece of wood on my shoulder, Elliott didn't even attempt and then Mom's brother came over (nicknamed the Hulk) and happily stacks up 3 of these slabs and walks them out to the back garden. God us Westerns are so pathetic.
More wood for building
As we had a few volunteers knocking around who were enjoying teaching, I took a step back and did work in the office. Mainly updating the educational documentation for the Children and loading photo's of the all the development work up on to CDO's facebook page (search Children and Development Organization (CDO), Siem Reap Cambodia). I also taught the kids "The Elephant Song" - another Scout campfire song with actions; turns out they loved my added "Woooooooo" on one of the lines so would always beg me to sing it along with the Monster Song.
Just chilling with T'he
Friday came far too quickly as per normal, and Mom sat all us volunteers down for a chat. Mom is an amazing lady, but when it comes down to asking for money she gets straight to the point "We need $360 to rent some more land by the back garden for the Chicken farm". Wow, here we go, so we start knocking our heads together and finally come to a good solution - seeing as we were having CDO's first birthday on the Saturday us Volunteers decided to grab a handful of leaflets each and wear our CDO Volunteer Tshirts out in Siem Reap, to try and get as many people along to the party as possible.
Leaflet time with the gang
Needless to say, we had a great night out and managed to get plenty of people signed up for the party the next day. Silly me though, I had to be up at 8am to go to the food market with Mom to buy all the party food, so staying up until 4:30am drinking Angkor beer perhaps wasn't the best idea. Alarm failed me and I woke up at the exact time Mom had demanded I be at the orphanage. A smash some clothes on, grab a bottle of water and tell the Tuk Tuk driver to step on it, thankfully on my drunk arrival at CDO Mom isn't even ready herself! I get on the back of Mom's moped and we drive down to the market, the breeze is welcomed, but the smell at the market is not. Fish still jumping around on the floor have their heads smashed by hammers, frogs being cut in half, pigs heads happily looking up at me until I realize they have no bodies anymore. This was hell to my hangover.
Only photo I could muster up at the market
The party was great fun though - we had a spit roasted cow, plenty of food and plenty of people come in to visit the kids. Early evening the wind picked up and the rain came in, so we moved everything inside (English BBQ style) and played in the mud with the kids. In the evening I met Mom's brother in law - a very amusing guy who would constantly harass me about buying more beer "Where's my beer?!", I returned this with harassing him to drink his beer "All in one!" I also learnt about Khmer drinking etiquette - if you put your drink down on the table you are not allowed to drink again without everyone raising their glasses - needless to say the Cambodians on the table got drunk pretty quickly. My night finished with a dreadful lift on a moped, with three of us on board and me at the back. One of the girls we were dropping off just so happened to live in the middle of nowhere, down a pot-hole ridden road - I still have no idea how I managed to stay on the back!
Balloons and our Birthday Sign (good work Sharnee!)
On Sunday I had decided to take all the kids to Baray Lake - a "swimming" lake 20 minutes drive from the centre of Siem Reap. Mom had insisted we get a $20 truck to drive us all down there - this consisted of a small lorry arriving at CDO, and us lining either side of said truck with plastic chairs - Volunteers get a seat and kids sit on the laps, stand in the middle or hang off the side. To go along with this bumpy ride the engine kept cutting out and the driver had to start it with a screw driver.
Eventually we got to the lake, which was huge! Tubes and life jackets were handed to the kids and a few group photo's were taken before we all jumped into the cool lake. The kids loved it - to be fair they love anything which involves water and mud and us volunteers had an amazing time playing with the kids. Sinh, the smallest boy out of them all absolutely loved being chucked through the air - turns out I can throw a 3ft child roughly 4 and a half metres. Each time I did it, he'd bob out of the water, look a bit dazzed, rub the water from his eyes, look at me with a huge smile on his face and shout "Again!"
Baray Lake - what a stunner
Trying to get the kids ready
All pose! Ganesh, Khamma, Sophy and Rama
The kids loved it
Sinh flying through the air
Rama causing trouble as per normal
Me and Sinh relaxing
The sun blazed down on us all, and by "home time" each of us volunteers had nice and crispy foreheads and shoulders. The ride home was long and uncomfortable, but that didn't stop the kids passing out on us all - the breeze was very welcome and getting back to the hotel for a beer and a dip in the pool was heaven!
The next few days I came down with some serious illness - I won't go into any details but lets just say all my exits were flowing. I lost a couple of days lying in my hotel room, longing for my mummy - but was well looked after by Sharnee who seemed to be looking after everyone else too (4 of us had ended up ill and blame the left over cow we ate a day after it had been cooked).
Once I was back on my feet, I knew it was time to see the rest of Cambodia and finally leave CDO. Thanks to some fantastic friends and family back home, I had enough donations to head down to the wood factory with one of the CDO builders and purchase a hefty load of wood to repair the main building. There are plenty of holes in the floor and roof, which simply aren't safe with Children running riot every day - a great cause I can't thank the people who donated enough!
Me and Dad at the wood factory - this stuff costs a fortune and weights a ton!
It was a sad morning when I left CDO - I took some biscuits in for all the kids (nearly ran out so had to break some in half for the older kids - whoops!) and a separate set for Mom and Dad, sang the Monster song and the Elephant song one last time and then had to say goodbye. Thankfully I was saying goodbye to the kids at a good time - we had recently recruited more volunteers who were all ready to teach, and Sharnee and Leigh were doing a great job of organising everyone.
Look how patient the kids are - doubt they would of been if they knew the ones at the back were going to get half a biscuit each!
Getting my volunteer certificate from the kids
Many of the kids were asking when I'd be back, but I couldn't answer which resulted in some sad faces. Fingers crossed I'll be able to drop in on my way back to Bangkok in a week or so (good opportunity to ask for any more donations - the wood I bought will have to be painted! Get in touch if you can donate anything at all, much appreciated!)
So I've got less than a week to go, so doing some quick exploring round Cambodia - hopefully it's as beautiful and smiley as Siem Reap.