Friday, June 27, 2008

LMU Alternative Breaks Volunteer - Lorena

Joining Journey's Within our Community for two weeks was one of the best experiences I have had in a long time. From the moment our plane landed in Cambodia, I immediately knew I was in for a different experience. For two weeks, we visited several of the JWOC projects and got to know the scholarship students overseeing the various projects: Clean Water, Language Schools and Micro-Finance program. I was so impressed with the scope of programs that address such crucial areas in Cambodia. One of my favorite volunteer placements was teaching at Wat Thmei. Working alongside the teachers, we got to read stories, practice grammar and pronunciation. The best part of classes was just getting to know the kids, sharing our stories and hearing about theirs also. Before we knew it, we were alternating words in Khmer and English. I really looked forward to going to Wat Thmei in the afternoon. One of the students won the hearts of all the volunteers. She brought us personalized bracelets with our names on them. She said it was a gift for us. Witnessing the grace and dedication of the students was the best gift I could have received. For me, it represented that JWOC time and resources were invested in the right place: the people of Cambodia, the youth that can pass on the information and work ethic for future generations. My experience volunteering through JWOC has undoubtedly changed me and I plan to keep in touch with the organization. I'm excited to see how it will continue to develop.

LMU Alternative Breaks Volunteer - Alexis

My name is Alexis Costales and I came to volunteer with JWOC along with 11 other Loyola Marymount students, staff and faculty. In a total of two weeks time I was fortunate to meet the crux of JWOC and see first hand what smart and genuine effort can produce. Three mornings were allotted for special projects. Richard Fox, a professor at LMU, and I were asked to conduct a survey in order to look at the school attendance of primary school age children(6-13) in two villages JWOC works in. I remember hearing about this opportunity prior to coming to Cambodia and immediately felt great interest in taking on the task. It was hard to estimate what the survey in Veal and Tropeangses villages would actually entail. Monday, May 19th, was our first day of administering the survey; we were to cover most if not all of Veal Village. Chhin Se, our translator for the first two mornings, was so important to not only the survey itself, but to Richard and I for his commitment and patience with the process. Also, I would like to thank Phay Narla for his help on the third and final morning in Tropeangses village. I have always argued and desired for the application of my studies to the work and volunteering I do in Los Angeles and past experiences abroad. This education survey was unique and the direct application of my academic studies. Looking back I see a rare instance when I felt completely of use to a group of people I formerly imaged as being beyond my help. I did not anticipate the amount of work needed as well as the importance the survey would have with me personally. I now have faces and stories that represent the primary education report. They are faces and stories of the families that motivated Richard and I from the beginning and will continue to motivate us to work for worthwhile, just and necessary projects for the betterment of others in the future. The findings of the report pointed out some of the serious problems and challenges facing the families in poorer villages in Siem Reap. I am grateful for the opportunity, but more importantly, I am proud and hopefully to have worked on such a ‘special’ project for JWOC and the community of Cambodians they seek to work for and be with.

LMU Alternative Breaks Volunteer - Brock

During our time in Siem Reap, our group had the opportunity to work on JWOC’s recently acquired property which will be the future site for their community center. The center is located next door to the Journey’s BandB. When we arrived, the house (which is being transformed into a community center) and the land were in pretty bad shape because the property has been vacant for a while. One of the biggest problems with the house was the worn paint on the walls. Over the span of a couple of days, our group worked with JWOC scholarship students sanding the walls of the entire building and also applying primer to the walls. After the primer dried, we were able to paint three of the rooms in the building which resulted in a noticeable aesthetic difference. Other minor tasks included clearing cobwebs from the house, cleaning the ventilation, and weeding the yard (which afforded us the opportunity to see a variety of critters that live in the Cambodian soil). Even though we won’t have the opportunity to see the project through to completion, we feel that the work we put into the property moved it closer to being ready for use. It was also quite enjoyable to work side by side with the scholarship students, learning bits of the Khmer language, and joking throughout the day.
Jesse and Melissa explained to us that the community center will serve a number of purposes. The center will provide an office for the micro-finance project, serve as a place for community members to gather, provide housing for volunteers, and will also be home to a café which will give locals vocational training. The center will allow JWOC to increase its capability to work with impoverished individuals from Siem Reap. By providing educational opportunities and offering credit to the poor, JWOC is fighting poverty with a holistic approach. Assisting with the renovations of the community center allowed us to participate in this fight, even if it was only in a small way.

LMU Alternative Breaks Volunteer - Dre

Journeys Within has given me an incredible opportunity to travel much differently than I have before. I have been fortunate to understand the culture from the Khmer people themselves. Rather then being limited to the privilege of guided tours and hotel views, I have been introduced to the real side of Siem Riep.

One of my favorite moments of this trip, and probably one of the greatest moments of my life, was when I was taken to see the water wells of the Clean Water Project. I was taken by one of the university scholarship students riding on the back of her motorbike. Having never ridden on a bike before, I thought I would be a bit apprehensive about getting there. Yet, not one moment did I feel unsafe. Feeling the cool air as we rode for about an hour on the countryside was an amazing sight that most tourists don’t get the chance to see. I couldn’t believe that just days before I was sitting at home in the U.S. We drove far from the main town where tourists tend to stay. Although the village that we went to had rarely seen foreigners around their area, they still welcomed us with open arms and big smiles.

I was able to see about six of the water wells that JWOC had installed within the last month. Providing clean water to communities that normally drink and cook with water invested with bacteria and waterborne disease, JWOC has given new life to these people. The scholarship students as well as the staff are so dedicated to not only the work they do, but the people they serve. Their open hearts are evident in their commitment and it’s no surprise Journeys Within continues to succeed. I hope they continue to change the face of tourism.

LMU Alternative Breaks Volunteer - Lynda

Here, men are so shy. There’s no doubt that I have probably noticed this more since I am a woman. On my first day at the Wat Thmei language school none of the men were comfortable talking with me! We attended three different classes across three days and they all started out the same. In the beginning you really had to initiate the conversations but it was really great to see these same individuals become more comfortable with speaking English. The students really enjoyed working on their pronunciation, so much of my time spent here was going over how to make some of the simple sounds we native speakers can make so easily. One sound in particular was the t- and th- sound. Many of the students would say “three” and “tree” as the same word and they were so happy when they actually learned how to say the two differently. I’m sure I looked pretty goofy standing at the front of the class demonstrating where their tongue should land when they say these words but it was tons of fun and so rewarding to share in their excitement.

I will never forget how eager the women in the class were to ask if I had a boyfriend. When I answered yes they were that much more excited about it. The series of questions often went as such: Do you have a boyfriend? Are you married? Do you have children? Why don’t you have children? This may not be considered a great conversation starter back home in the US but it was often a great one here and led to some neat conversations with these students. I’d say just about everyone asked us this.

Overall my experience here at Wat Thmei was amazing. I enjoyed getting to know the students along with the Khmer teachers. In the end I even gained a pen pal! Her name is Ek Chakriya (surname, first name) and I really look forward to keeping in touch over email.

Lynda Villagomez

Loyola Marymount University student

Los Angeles, CA

LMU Alternative Breaks Volunteer - Carol

I simplified the training modules for the micro-lending program. Keeping in mind that the borrowers are the targeted audience, I selected basic terms and phrases that they would understand. I tried to emphasize creativity when selecting a business. I noticed that many borrowers stick to typical businesses such as recycling and selling groceries. But to emphasize innovation and sustainability, I mentioned as an example a business where tourists can get their picture taken in traditional Khmer costumes. I kept the main information on the slides, and took out some of the fat. I hope that these new presentations will draw the audience’s attention and guide the borrowers to successful business paths.

For the micro-lending, the students drive their motorbikes into the villages to collect the payments. It is convenient for the villagers who have to stay home to run their business and look after their children. I went to collect the loans with Ra Ya. The first family we visited greeted us warmly. They invited us inside their homes and offered us chairs to sit on. This welcoming interaction was great. The borrower’s husband was a tuk tuk driver so he spoke English. He was interested in where I was from and whether or not I went to school. Likewise, I was interested in getting to know more about them. The students visit their assigned borrowers weekly, so there is a strong sense of trust between them. This is one of the factors why I think the lending program is a great success. Ra Ya respects the borrowers because they work diligently and repay their loans. The same can be said for the borrowers who respect her. One of the borrowers was not able to pay this week due to a medical expense. Unforeseen circumstances do happen, and it is difficult for people to save money for events like these. They are used to living on a daily wage. So JWOC is working on this problem. I am hopeful that this program will be able to decrease the number of defaulters and continue to grow strong.

LMU Alternative Breaks Volunteer - Farah

My name is Farah Srichandra and I am Junior, Biology major at Loyola Marymount University. My volunteer experience through LMU’s Alternative Breaks in Siem Reap, Cambodia was both an unforgettable and rewarding experience. During my two-week stay, from May 14 to May 27, I had the chance to travel to many villages with Journeys Within Our Community (JWOC) and the university students from JWOC’S scholarship program. During my two week stay in Siem Reap I worked on the layout of an organic garden and courtyard at Wat Chork Buddhist Temple. My take on this project was to plan a blueprint of a 25 meter by 2.5 meter garden in the central quad area of the pagoda where students, monks, and teachers could have a central meeting area. We picked to plant flowers such as marigolds, which are commonly used to give offerings to the monks and for the temple. The purpose of the organic garden is to plant vegetables and flowers which the temple community could use on a daily basis. The students could in turn sell the flowers, grow their own food, leading them one step closer to becoming self sufficient. My work primarily consisted of closely observing and assisting our volunteer coordinator Melissa in a variety of procedures including planning an organic garden, purchasing flowers, and setting up compost stations at the pagoda.

It was a true gift to be able to learn one-on-one from excellent leaders about all steps in the process of building a sustainable non-profit organization. The men, women, and children I met at the squatters village were badly in need of clean water, and I am grateful that we were able to help them. They were also lovely hosts and were excited to show us their culture. As they showed me where they worked and lived, I was often struck by the fact that their health is important not only to their quality of life, but often also to their ability to provide for themselves and their families. It was at these times that I realized the importance of JWOC’s mission. The staff at Journeys Within Our Community in Siem Reap were hard-working, welcoming, and totally committed both to caring for the Khmer community and to helping us volunteers become comfortable in a foreign environment. Time and time again they went out of their way to share their own personal experiences along with the rich history of Cambodia. In addition to the volunteering aspect, I experienced enormous personal growth, now I can put a human face on the issues of poverty and global health inequity. Yet this volunteer work was only a small part of my journey through Cambodia. I had the opportunity to experience what so few foreigners ever see: the traditional life of a modern Cambodian family. I didn’t just travel to Cambodia, take a few pictures in front of a few historic monuments, and write off my visit as complete. Instead, I got to see part of the real Cambodia

Ultimately, what I took away from this experience was so much more than just an advanced understanding of the Khmer culture. In this end, this experience clearly reaffirmed to me how important education is for the growth and advancement of these communities. Learning about the Khmer way of life gave me a different perspective on how to view the world. Without LMU’s Alternative Breaks, I cannot imagine how I could possibly have seen and learned so much as an undergraduate about solidarity, Khmer cultures, and my own desire and ability to make a difference in others’ lives. I hope to one day give more to the underdeveloped world and make a significant contribution towards their advancement, access to better health care and reduction of poverty.

—Farah Srichandra, Loyola Marymount University Student, Journeys Within Our Community Volunteer 2008

LMU Alternative Breaks Volunteer - Kyle

I felt privileged to meet with the monks at Wat Chork. We got to see where this group of monks live, study, and worship. We visited Wat Chork early in our trip and came back multiple times which allowed us to develop relationships with some of them. Most of the monks I spent time with were 18-24 years of age and were incredibly friendly, curious, and down to earth. Some were more eager to practice their English than others, as their English levels spanned from giving you a quiet shy stare, to some monks who were inquiring about US politics and even interested in learning more languages. Getting to walk around and talk with the monks as they gave us a complete tour of the temples enhanced the intimacy of my experience there. They explained the story of Buddhism as it is displayed artistically in one of their worship temples. I got to hear about the alternative life style of a monk, as it is very different than the average life of a Cambodian citizen, which includes their sacrifice of dancing, alcohol, contact with females, no dinner policy, no killing of any living being and how all these sacrifices will bring them closer to their Buddha and allow for less distraction during meditation. I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with the monks, hearing about their stories of pre-monk hood and exchanging both Khmer and English lessons with each other. We got the honor of having the monks shave our head as they do to themselves every 15 days. It was a surreal experience being that immersed in such a foreign culture's long time religious tradition. I would not trade my experience with the monks with any other, and can truly call some of them my friends.

LMU Alternative Breaks Volunteer - Mark

For my special project assignment, I was placed with a group of two other volunteers and a scholarship student to work on researching potential business opportunities for JWOC in the local community. Our goals was to find a business opportunity that would both benefit the community and help raise funding for JWOC and at the same time giving the scholarship students real life work experience as they would manage the business. Our targeted industry was recycling, and for several days we went out into the local community, with a scholarship student as translator, to interview locals at various levels of the recycling chain to discover potential market entry opportunities. This was a type or service I had never before experienced. Being given the opportunity to utilize the business skill set I have been developing in college while pursuing my BBA and BSA was an empowering and new experience. As a result, my view of service and its role in my future life has been greatly reshaped. Through these experiences I now realize the synergies that exist between my desire to serve the community around me and my studies of business. No longer do I view these two pursuits as endeavors that are mutually exclusive. I now hope to pursue a career path that will enable me to fuse my love for business and passion to serve, a desire that has been greatly fueled by my two weeks in Siem Reap and experiences with JWOC.

LMU Alternative Breaks Volunteer - Chris

Prepare to take a step back into the tenth century. Angkor Wat’s magnificent construction draws you in and once you have the opportunity to walk around the site it is hard not to feel as if you were an ancient Khmer. The whole experience will leave your eyes dazzled and your heart pumping. Another one of the great aspects of the temple experience is the diversity in temples you get to experience. The large and regal Angkor Wat all the way to Ta Phrom with its beautiful integration of trees intertwined in the temple stones.

However always important in a tour is your guide. The guide was selected by JWOC and it was just yet another example of JWOC making a good experience, great. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable on the temples but it was his sincere passion for the subject that stood out to me. His commentary was presented with a strong sense of pride for his country and her history. Therefore his heartfelt presentations made you feel connected to the community with a people that might have otherwise seemed foreign.

When I think of JWOC one thing comes to mind. Community. Yes it is one of the words that make up their name but it is also their mission. It is a virtue that they excel in. Anyone can travel to Cambodia and visit the temples but JWOC allows you to experience Cambodia as a Cambodian, as a guest not merely a tourist.


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