In April this year, I embarked on one of the most eye-opening trips I think I will ever have. Accompanied by Cosi from ‘South Aussie with Cosi’ and 40 other hardworking Australians from across the country, I travelled to Cambodia to do charity work.
On the first day we took a bus from Phnom Penh to a tiny village near Siam Reap. It was here I met four little orphaned boys. I gave them clothes, frisbees and a ball to play with which they loved.
At a school that evening, we cooked dinner on a large open fire for the children. We made a rice and chicken dish for them. After dinner I taught a local girl to read and write her name. The school children and staff were very grateful for the puzzles, frisbees, books, stationary and recorders that I had for them.
Over the next few days, we spent long hours out in the heat cutting King grass. We used old scythes to cut the leaves. The top half of the plant was cut off for fodder for the livestock and the bottom half of the plant is separated and we replanted it to grow more feed. King grass grows very quickly and is a very economical form of livestock feed. In some sections, we were thigh-high in mud so were advised to take off our shoes and socks. One lady in my group thought she knew better – but ended up hopping home!
Another day meant another challenge. I met a family of three young girls and their mother who lived in a very run-down hut made only from bamboo and palm leaves. We built them a new house out of tin and wood, which was up off the ground. The father works away doing construction work but I can just imagine how overjoyed he will be when he sees that he now has a sturdy house for his family to live in. We also used donated money to purchase them some furniture such as beds and chairs.
A very memorable but chilling trip was made to the Khmer Rouge killing fields where in the 1970s, a third of Cambodians were killed. We went through the high school that the Khmer Rouge turned into a prison and torture centre, and saw the many thousands of skulls there in the Memorial Stupa.
As we were in Cambodia over Anzac Day, we all got up before dawn and held a very memorable Dawn Service. One of our group members was from the Military, and said The Ode. I was invited to play The Last Post on my flute, which I did. We held the service in front of Angkor Wat, which is the largest temple in the world. It was truly magnificent to have our service and remember the fallen, with the sun rising on the temple as our backdrop.
We also did rice runs where we loaded large bags of rice onto open-air trucks and tractors, and drove around the villages and country areas giving them out to the families. We delivered 8 tonnes of rice in all (as well as other donations) so it was a very busy day! The families were so grateful. We also constructed a duck farm out of mesh and bamboo, and bought six ducklings to live there. The village children were very excited!
It was amazing to see how these Cambodian villagers lived with so little. The children had barely any possessions yet were very happy. They were just so appreciative for every little bit of help and any food and gifts they were given.
This was a hardworking but wonderful experience that was made even more special because it was all about helping others that have so little. I would love to return some day and do it all over again.
Emily Hanel | Year 9 Student