Week 8

This has been a fantastic week. As evidenced by the showering of praise we gave each other during our Friday team meeting for team work, listening and contributing, the problems of the week previous have been solved. I got UK volunteer of the week! So I’m feeling pretty great about the week in general. We have just two weeks more of work before we travel to Kampong Cham for Debrief, and everyone’s mind has definitely turned toward the brevity of our remaining time. Working on debrief team certainly makes it seem very close.

I discovered on Monday that I’m the scorpion queen, when another beast of a similar size to the Bathroom Scorpion turned up under a pile of wood. This one seemed fairly angry, with his tail curled and pincers wide. A member of infrastructure threw some wood on top and stamped to kill this one. Moments later a lizard fell from the fan in the office, prompting a dozen piercing screams from UK, Khmer, male and female alike.

That was all the interesting beasts for the week, aside from the normal cockerels waking everyone at 4am and misshapen cats. Work-wise we’ve been doing more English, my favourite. Sre Krosang English youth club on a Monday afternoon puts me in a great mood as I bounce around the room making a fool of myself as I teach colours and fruit. The kids are energetic to say the least; I lose my voice shouting over them but their eagerness to learn is fantastic and they are never too shy to participate. I am trying my best to find the slow-learners and support them but when class size can be upwards of 40, or 50, it’s tough to give personal support. I hope that I repeat myself enough for everyone.

The eager and charming kids of Koh Krouch

The second half of the week we discussed in our youth clubs the importance of youth participation and volunteering. Because there are limited opportunities in the area we mostly geared this toward being a good member of the school and being an active citizen. We even did trust falls! We ran into trouble when the rain prolonged our session to Koh Krouch – when it rains the river is nor safe to cross, and so we were temporarily stranded there. I gave a spontaneous English lesson to fill the time, which I think was appreciated by the children who knew little more than the alphabet. They did not know of the letter ‘N’ however – something I’ve found before in other schools and with kids around the office. Perhaps it is a very forgettable letter. Some children in Koh Sampeay could not write Khmer, and were too shy to draw, so our lesson was challenging.

We completed a resource on student councils for the team that follows us, something I had suggested early on that we complete. By establishing 4 student councils we have accomplished something that was planned to take 2 years – now the student councils can work alongside VSO volunteers in the future cycles to ensure our work is sustainable. It’s great to have such a concrete impact on the schools and the future of VSO ICS in Siem Bouk.

The younger participants are the highlight of CADs

We spent our Saturday carrying out a Community Action Day on alcohol consumption, with a guest speaker and activities to educate the community on the topic. It can be difficult for UK volunteers to find something to do when the CAD starts, as it is held in Khmer. Luckily I was chosen by a baby as a suitable resting place, and the same child took me on an adventure around the pagoda. I later managed to forcefully bump my head on a low hanging gong – a hefty barrel – which was embarrassing and painful. I forced a smile and thumbs up to the room, who had turned to look at me, and quickly escaped to feel sorry for myself in privacy.

On Sunday we were up early once again to head to the impressive waterfall Sopheak Mitt. We spent a relaxed day taking pictures and playing cards in a restaurant that overlooked the spectacle. The waterfall itself is a wide expanse of thundering Mekong, at the junction of Stung Treng province, the neighboring Preah Vihear province and Laos.

One of the best, but most exhausting weeks!

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Week 7

So this week I ended up on a total of 3 committees: CAD, as before, debrief – organising our final week, in Kampong Cham, full of reflective sessions and goodbyes – and Media, promoting the team through the VSO Cambodia page and compiling a ten-minute video on our placement. So the work has been exciting and varied: I’ve been filming and running around Siem Bouk play-acting as a documentary producer, doing even more risk assessments and cash requests, as well as running our own English club in schools. I even dropped by infrastructure team briefly to measure out some wood, and spent an evening painting bookshelves.
The English club is great fun and a refreshing opportunity to be a little more involved in delivering the sessions: my role has been upgraded from peace-keeper and funny-face-maker to one of an actual facilitator and I feel like the kids know me a little better. The work has otherwise been very much similar to before; coming back to the office after a few days away has been difficult for everyone, and took a toll on teamwork but everyone’s dedication to the program has meant issues have been resolved peacefully.


Children in a nutrition session run by awareness team


On Friday morning I was woken up by a surprise. I trudged as normal, bleary eyed, to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I shut the door and began, but as I turned around I found I was in company: a rather large scorpion was chilling just 30 cm from my bare feet. My adrenaline-fuelled brain began ransacking any knowledge I might have of scorpions: do they jump? Are they aggressive or just attack when provoked? I recalled from somewhere that supposedly the larger their claws the less poisonous their sting, and his claws were fairly large, but I had no idea how useful or true that fact was. I opened the door and called to my host-mother; looking in she laughed (as she does in any situation) and reached around to get a knife from the kitchen. Still chuckling merrily, she hacked the scorpion in two – it takes a few goes to get through their armour – scooped it up and tossed it out the window! It seems you are never far from a scorpion in Cambodia, and I seem to be quite the magnet to their presence – the next day a small, and thankfully dead, one was resting close to me on my bed.


Our project assistant painting bookshelves

The weekend was fantastic; on Saturday we spent the morning fishing rather unsuccessfully. The sun was beating down on us as we went to a local reservoir, with bamboo rods crafted by one of the Khmer volunteers. There were fish around, identifiable by bubbles and the fact the bait was often stolen; however no fish were caught. A few local boys who joined us jumping in to the lake and messing with our lines probably did not help our chances of a catch.

The next day a quiet day ended with us dining once again at one of the host homes. We had the same Laos dish of hotpot, an elaborate soup with vegetables an fish tossed in, and rice. My host brother and some of his friends ate with us. We danced together afterwards to some of our favorite Khmer tunes, much to the delight of the host family who now own many embarrassing videos of the team.

Idyllic fishing