Kep - The Big Kiss Goodbye
Our last four days in Cambodia where spent in the beach town of Kep. Kep was not like Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in a lot of ways: it was quiet, there were few roads, and it was by the ocean. In this way, our four days in Kep seemed like an exotic getaway at the very end of our long, laboring journey. Now, we had time for sun tanning, meals by the beach, and general relaxation. But even in a nearly unheard of exotic resort town, far from the bars and slums of Siem Reap, and from the palaces and buildings of Phnom Penh, all of Cambodia was right there with us in that little town of Kep. Trash still lined the streets, spilling its way on to the beach and into the water. The street dogs still howled in the night, their manes a mess from tick, fleas, and scabies. And the people, the happiest people on earth, still managed to smile at us through all pain and poverty that surrounds them. When you leave somewhere that you had only gone to visit, in a matter of time, it is easy to feel as if you were never there at all. But as we reflected on the once-in-a-lifetime journey we had just undergone, we looked out to the corners of Cambodia and said “We were here”.
No amount of research could have prepared us for what we saw today on our excursion of Phnom Penh. We started our day, bright and early, with a visit to S21. S21, pictured in the first row above, was once a school where the children of Cambodia had a promise of a bright, successful future. Once the Khmer Rogue, led by Pol Pot, took over Cambodia in the late 70s, the entire facility became a prison where upper to middle class men, women, and children where held captive. Behind walls of barbed wire, the innocent people were interrogated, tortured, mutilated, starved, and killed. If you were lucky enough to survive, the road didn’t end there. Just when we had time to catch our breath, we loaded back into the van and made our way to the infamous Killing Fields, pictured in the second row above. In the Killing Fields, nearly half of the Cambodia population met their grizzly demise at the hand of the Khmer Rogue. Men were separated from their wives, women were separated from their children, and heads were separated from their bodies. The decapitated bodies were thrown into large mass graves, while the heads were thrown in smaller ones, all of which were left to rot in the sun. There are now beautiful stupas which encase the bones of those once buried there, but the aura of the horrid past still remains. To conclude the day on a lighter note, we toured the dazzling King’s Palace, pictured in the last row above, which shines at the heart of Phnom Penh. After dinner, we packed our bags for the last leg of the tour. Goodbye, Phnom Penh and hello Kep!
Most of today was spent on a 7 hour bus ride to Phnom Pehn, and thus not much was on the agenda. However, we did not head to our hotel with out first stopping at Wat Phnom to marvel at it’s elegant architecture which stands amid the bustling, busy streets of Phnom Pehn.
It’s safe to say that neither the teachers, nor the students, wanted this day to come; this was the day we were to say goodbye to our students and Siem Reap, for we were bound for Phnom Pehn the next morning. But, we did not let our sadness get the best of us. We had a blast! Matt Loudon celebrates a successful week with a rousing game of Bingo (top-row left). Samantha Benz and Griffin Cullen engage their students in a final review of the material they covered (top-row center). Omar Malik and Matt Loudon stand proudly behind their class for a final photo op (top-row right). After we bid farwell to TaPang School, we visited (or rather “re-visited”) a well donated by Matt Loudon in memory of his brother, the late Joseph Loudon (middle-row left). The young women had been pregnant and recently widowed the year the well was built. Matt wanted to meet the baby, and so it was done. We then visited an orphanage that, most unfortunately, like many orphanages of Cambodia, had their children hard at work hammering away a leather pieces to make art which would them be sold to visitors (middle-row right). From here, we paid our final visit to the Kiriminoen School and taught our final lessons before for the scores of eager, young scholars that we had the pleasure of teaching (bottom-row left). To end the day, we visited a Monastery (bottom-row rights) where, to the tune of buddhist chants, we reflected upon the many children of Siem Reap, be they Orphan, Student, or Monk.
Where in previous days our classes seemed more like groups, today the Teachers began to fell individual connections with there students, understanding what level of learning each of the placed into, what there needs are as students, and more generally who they are. Omar Malik is exemplary of this as he calls upon a student to answer the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” (Top). Similarly, in viewing each of the water wells that we donated, we caught a glimpse of the lives of exactly who benefits from having this source of fresh water made available to them. Omar Malik, again, shares a personal moment, this time with two young mothers who must raise their children essentially on there own (second-row left). Charmaine Milan is introduced to a women looking after three growing children, all the while taking care of her elderly mother (second-row right). Out on a hot stretch of dirt road, far from any neighbor huts, we find the family that relies on the fresh water they pump from the well donated by Marge and Marianne Garbo in order to live (third-row left). Back in the closely-knit villages, we find the well donated by the family of Alyssa Hall which provides water to a group of excited children (third-row right). And in a very moving moment, we stopped at a well donated by Kayla Grady where we met an elderly women whose hand were closed together in continuous prayer which did not end, even for a photograph (bottom-row left). After visiting the wells, most of the Teachers wanted to learn more about their younger, more shy students at the Kiriminoen school. So, the greater portion of the afternoon became a time of crafts and creativity where students were free to express themselves with crayons, stickers, and paper (bottom-row right).
Today was entirely devoted to teaching: no well visits, no temple trips, just teaching and learning. But both teacher and student brought their A-game today, which would set the pace for the rest of our time with the students of both schools. The TaPang School, the more advanced of the two schools, seemed to be ready if not far beyond every concept we rolled their way. Matt Loudon writes emotions on the board under corresponding faces on the board in order to find out how everyone in the class is feeling (top-row left). The students seemed to gravitate towards “happy” as they pose with Matt for a photo op (top-row right). Many of the teachers, like Alyssa Hall and Sara De Santis, rewarded their students by reading in them a story from one of the many books the SMC crew brought on-board (second-row left). But Sarena Granados, Erika Strickler, and Griffin Cullen found that their groups had such vivacious readers, that they should be rewarded with books and magazines for them to take home and read (second-row right). Brandon Soares and Manraj Mangat met no difficulties reviewing the months of the year with their class (third-row left). Nor does Marianne Garbos as she leads an arts and crafts lesson on how to draw farm animals (third-row center). It was at Kiriminoen School, however, that the students seemed to need a bit of incentive and reward to keep them encouraged and engaged, and we discovered the perfect prize: Stickers! The Students, particularly the boys, went bananas for stickers, like the one pictured above (third-row right). The stickers seem to have everyone determined on learning, including the teachers. Here, Kayla Grady and Brandon Soares review farm animals with their class, which included priceless imitations (bottom-row left). Beneath the shade of the school library, Serena conducts her class, with the occasional pause for the pesky paparazzi (bottom-row center). And as the school day comes to a close, Erika Strickler uses crafty teaching tools to find out from the students what time it is (bottom-row right).
Day 5 - The Wells
Following our departure from Kok Chan, we hopped in our vans for a trek through the villages, in search of the wells our class and classmates had donated. In our trek, we came across two wells donated by Martin Hall in honor of his Grandmothers, Genevieve (top left) and Helen (top right), respectively. From there, we visited not one, not two, but three wells donated by Sara De Santis! One in her honor (bottom left), one in her mother’s honor (bottom center), and one in her fathers honor (bottom right).
Day 5 - The Schools
The morning began just as it had the day before. We loaded up the vans and made our way over to the TaPang Primary and Secondary School. We had become more comfortable with our students and began applying new teaching methods. Many of the Student-Teachers discovered that their students were much more receptive to lessons when they were learning in the sunlight, free from cramped desks and dark rooms with no electricity. Alyssa Hall keeps her students on their feet with fun flashcard games in which each student is eager to participate (top left). The Garbo sisters, Marianne and Marge, take an old standard, “Ring Around the Rosie”, in give it a new spin, reinventing it as a fun flashcard game (top middle). Other students found that their students were ready for a bit of a challenge. It had come up that many of the Cambodia Students did not know their own birthday. Omar Malik decided to create a lesson in which the student subtracted their age from this year, 2013, to find out which year they were born (top right). After Morning Classes, the Afternoon Itinerary looked a bit different. Rather than going to Kiriminoen, we found ourselves being greeted by a long line of fresh faced students at the Kok Chan Primary School (bottom left). The purpose of our visit was a birthday celebration of sorts in which Upper-Division Student-Teacher Matt Loudon would get to meet the 21 students he sponsors through donation and have a tour of the school they will be attending. Matt bows humbly to a CCDO instructor and a sponsored student as he is overcome with joy (bottom center). The 6 foot 3 gentle giant hides his tears from the camera as he stands before all 21 of the young scholars that he had the pleasure of sponsoring(bottom right).
What’s that line from Blazing Saddles? “Work work work work work!” Today (and days to follow) was exclusively devoted to teaching. Omar Malik, one of the two Upper Divsion Student-Teachers on the trip, reviews numerical and mathematical concepts with the secondary school students of TaPang (top left). In the primary school classrooms, Rex Rafanelli applies English instruction to Cambodian creation (top right). During recess, Griffin Cullen sits at the high end of the see-saw while Sarena Granados sits at the lower end, showing the students of Kiriminoen School that we Westerners still know how to have fun (bottom left). While Marianne Garbo sits before the children, deep in the midst of a lesson, Erika Strickler stands behind them to assure that the children do not lose focus (bottom right).