A Cambodian Journey: An immersive experience in our shared humanity
By Chris Davies, Teacher of Mathematics, Dover Campus
At the end of Term 2, 80 Grade 8 students participated in the 13th History and Global Concerns Trip to Cambodia. This trip embodies all that UWCSEA aspires to be, by giving students a genuine insight into the hardships faced by others and an understanding of the difference they can make in the world through individual and collective action.
On the first day in Cambodia, the students learnt about the country’s recent brutal history. The students started by visiting the Tabitha Office where they learnt about Cambodia’s history and the experiences of the Tabitha staff through a briefing from the ever-inspiring Janne Ritskes, the founder and director of Tabitha. They then visited key historical sites: the Tuol Sleng (S21) Genocide Museum and the Choeung Ek Killing Fields. Both are very harrowing places, but they provide an important insight into why there is a need for the help we were there to offer.
Over the following two days the students travelled out of Phnom Penh to build 40 houses: 20 in Prey Veng Province and 20 in Svay Rieng Province. The students had been looking forward to this part of the trip for several months, working to raise funds to pay for the houses—this year, raising over $80,000. Building the houses in the heat was a very physically demanding job but the handover ceremony, when the houses were formally presented to the families, is a memory that will stay with the students for a very long time.
On the fourth day, the students visited either the Punley School in Prey Veng or the Ampil School in Svay Rieng, running activities and playing games with the children in the school. This day was quite challenging for many of our students due to the language barrier, but as the sessions went on they learnt the importance of visual cues and everyone had a lot of fun.
On the final day of the trip, our students visit one of our Global Concerns partner organisations in Phnom Penh, learning firsthand about their projects and challenges: Indochina Starfish Foundation Schools, Wat Chann Heimberg Centre, Sombok Chab Slum Young Leaders Centre, or Tiny Toones.
Students (and staff) came back from the trip both physically and emotionally exhausted but with a sense of genuine satisfaction about the work they had done, the lessons they learnt about themselves, and what they can do for other people. These are invaluable as many of the students will go on to become the Service and Global Concerns leaders in High School.
Said Kate Woodford, UWCSEA's Senior Marketing Manager who joined the trip, "The trip is an immersive journey through the recent history of Cambodia—hearing firsthand about how the country came to be in such desperate need, learning about the horrors they experienced, then creating hope through partnerships in housebuilding and education, and finally gaining personal understanding of our shared humanity during the NGO visits. I felt privileged to observe this happen; one student expressed a high degree of uncertainty and nervousness the morning of the first school visit, asking how she was going to communicate with students who had no English at the village school and hanging back in the classroom there. And yet, the very next morning, she was in tears when saying goodbye to the children who had been in her classroom at the ISF 2 school as she hugged them farewell. She had an incredibly powerful experience. What struck me was how the trip allowed our students to witness the positive impact they can make, and recognise that there are things they can do personally to connect with others in their shared humanity, despite their life circumstances being so very different."
The UWCSEA Service programme empowers students to become aware, able and active contributors to the community, whether on campus, locally in Singapore or internationally with a project in a developing country. Read about how Service is at the heart of our mission, and service activities a vital part of the learning programme.