Amelia - 16. Four friends visit from Singapore
Amelia, Galina and two other classmates from Singapore travelled to Siem Reap in March 2010 as part of their own school's "Project Week." No doubt they expected to be touched by the experience, but they never expected such a huge emotional impact. Amelia tells her story...

My friends and I are Singapore based. The visit to Savong’s School and Orphanage was part of our high school’s programme called “Project Week” and three friends and I spent weeks learning more about Savong’s school, booking flights and accommodation, preparing donations, gifts, lesson plans and worksheets before finally heading over, still not quite knowing what to expect.

Where I live – an I guess in most places - people my age occasionally complain about the chore of going to school and about the amount of homework set, so meeting students at Savong’s School really made an impact on me. Their willingness to get to school as early as 5:30am while it’s still dark, is amazing. These students can be as young as 10 and as old as 22. It didn’t matter; they all looked forward to learn and practice their English with us. And although I am only 16, never was I once judged for my young age.

English isn’t an easy language and sometimes there were obstacles where it was hard to communicate, but you could see that they were always trying their best; you could see how significant education is to them. We had one class at 5pm where students would carry in heavy desks with chairs from other classrooms just so they could have a place to sit. There were always 3 or more to a table, and many were left standing. In total, there must have been about 60 of them in that classroom, always attentive and ready to participate.

What really stole my heart were the children at Savong’s Orphan Centre. They welcomed us with open arms and beaming smiles on their faces when they saw us coming. They made me feel like I was able to help them, although, in turn, they were really the ones who helped me. They touched me in a way that’s unexplainable. I saw their happiness, honesty, eagerness to learn, thoughtfulness, independence, appreciative and loving nature – a real openness which made me pause and reflect on how unfair the world is, how the gap between the rich and poor is ridiculous and yes, how selfish I can be at times. This place really puts things in perspective.

These young people are just themselves. Not once did they try to highlight their poverty or make us ‘feel sympathetic’ for them. I fell in love with all of them and miss our conversations, games, English lessons, paint wars, dancing, singing, football and volleyball.

I really did not expect to become so emotionally attached to the children, but this is what happened on our last day. We altered our original plan in order to visit the orphanage for one more day. We were due to leave at 6.30pm but with our change of plans didn’t know that many of the older boys were in Siem Reap town, and would not be back until 8. Well, we decided to wait till they returned in order to say a final goodbye. As the van approached, Senh hopped out of the van and ran towards me, already sobbing. Next thing I know, everybody was in tears. We all sobbed for the next half hour.

Now I’m home, but I think of them every day. Knowing that there are other volunteers who will visit, well that has reassured me, and so has the knowledge that those children have Savong and others to take care of them. I am so pleased that they have someone as their guardian angel. I strongly recommend visiting Savong’s School and Savong’s Orphan Centre, even if you only have a few days, it truly is a magical journey that you can take away a lot from. For me, the experience has been life changing.

Antonia
 
Antonia Everson is a recent visitor - a global traveller originally from Zimbabwe. That's her on the left with teacher Salas.
 
"It was a privilege to spend ten days at Savong's school with the invitation of Savong Svay. He is just the right mix of philanthropist and practical 'do-er' and had created a school where as many as 450 students can enjoy free English and Japanese tutorage.. In his own words, his time spent being educated by the Buddhist monks taught him about life and people and once he understood it all he left to work on his dream - achieving free education for as many kids as possible.

Life is very tough for Cambodians, especially the people I was fortunate enought to meet through Savong. When you hear their experiences of growing up under the Pol Pot regime you realise just how far they have come, and how amazingly fatalistic and accepting they are. I think I can honestly say I learnt more from them than they did from me. It was by far the most enjoyable trip I have ever experienced."

"He is now starting an orphanage nearby. Inspirational."
 
 
 
Jamie and Anna - two visitors in early 2009
Jamie and Anna are two very cool visitors who had explored the region and discovered the opportunity to stay at the school and share their time with Savong's family, with the students and with the orphans.
 
"We spent 3 months traveling through Southeast Asia looking for good places to volunteer and our experience at Savong’s was by far the most rewarding. Volunteering at Savong School was everything that we were looking for: real cultural immersion while feeling useful as a volunteer. We didn’t want to feel like we were in a “cultural immersion program” tailored for the hand-held volunteer experience. Savong School is a place where you can actually help and experience Khmer culture as it really is.
 
We had the incredible opportunity to stay with Savong’s family during the week, which meant sleeping at the school, sharing meals and spending our free time with Savong’s family and many of the orphans. Because of this, we felt like we were a part of this great community, very different and very far from home.
 
Savong is a very a fun and unique character. His ideas and life are greatly affected by his Buddhist beliefs - especially karma -which greatly contribute to his genuine belief that a man who does good in the world will be successful and well liked. It was clear to us after living with him for two weeks that these beliefs are what motivate him to do the work that he does. If you are in Cambodia and are looking to volunteer, we strongly recommend volunteering here."

Jamie and Anna

 

Have you visited the school or Savong Orphan Centre recently? We would love to share your story so that other volunteers can learn what to expect! 

 

 

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