This has been the fastest, most stressful week so far.
It began with a dramatic start on Tuesday: an accident involving one of the UK volunteers.
A heavy storm had cut out the electricity and I was dragged out of my room by my host mother speaking a stream of Khmer. Outside it was pitch black, and there was a huddle of people as well as many more rushing around. Everyone was speaking in Khmer, and in the dark and confusion, there weren’t many updates in English. I found out that the UK volunteer, neighbouring me, had an accident and there was blood. I began to panic, because I could not find out any more information, and people were trying to usher me into my room like a child.
I found a UK volunteer, finally, who told me that my neighbour had not hit her head, that she was okay but in a lot of pain, and she had been taken to the local clinic. When we woke the next day she had gone to Phnom Penh. We were all tired and somber at the office the next day, finding it difficult to concentrate on our work. After we went for iced coffee at the cafe we’ve called ‘The View’ or ‘The Riverside’, grateful that the day was over. My neighbour went through surgery, and over the week began to message us, and then Facetime us and, in an incredible show of strength, is set to come back over the coming weeks. We have given her counterpart, who is in Phnom Penh with her, a shopping list – mostly peanut butter and chocolate.
Work-wise this week we have held sessions in the schools which gave a brief overview on the Child Friendly School Model, a government model to develop Cambodian schools, leadership qualities and student councils. 3 of the schools are primary schools, which are always great fun to go to. In these, we play a lot of games to break up the sessions and use role plays to explain our meaning. Some of the children are so shy that it’s difficult to coax answers to our questions from them. When we do get responses to ‘what will you be when you grow up?’ we find a lot of future doctors, teachers and translators in the classes. The secondary and high schools are more difficult to hold sessions in, as it is difficult to pitch the sessions at the right level, particularly for UK volunteers who lack cultural knowledge. In these there is a lot of mind-mapping, but all of our sessions end in heads, shoulders, knees and toes.
It’s very frustrating to not be able to speak Khmer, especially when you have given so much time and energy in planning the sessions only to have to take a background role in delivering them. My job is mostly to smile enthusiastically, say ‘la-or’ (good) a lot, and shush the chattier students. Many of the Khmer volunteers in other teams were away in exams last week, and so it is just now that they are truly experiencing the language barrier at work. This, together with fatigue and the work load, has meant often by lunch time we are all thoroughly worn out.
The enthusiasm for learning and the attention we have been given by the children is a great motivator for work, even when we’re faced with a lot of forms to get money, prove we’ve spent the money wisely, and record our activities. The team of volunteers we have here are a very strong and tight knit group and there’s an amazing commitment to the work we are doing.