When I decided to take a journey to Cambodia with hopes of volunteering, I had no idea what to expect. With high hopes and low expectations I came to JWOC assuming I would be digging a ditch or sitting behind a computer, and hopefully helping in a classroom. What I found was so much more and I am truly grateful to have had the opportunity to play a small role.
Andy and Camilla, Andrea and Brandon, were able to design a schedule to allow me to experience many of their projects in action: Free Classes, Micro Finance, Clean Water and even a Parade with the kids. Each program I witnessed was well thought out and professionally managed to maximize the success and funding.
First I was able to ride along with Sokhorn who is the project manager for the “Clean Water Project”. We visited different parts of fairly remote villages and sampled the filtered water that is coming out of the family wells. Once we receive the water sample it is documented and placed in a chilled cooler and immediately taken to the lab to test for bacteria and toxins. This is not a particularly hard task, however it is exhausting in the intense heat and long, bumpy dirt roads...(I have become a whiz at being on the back of a motorbike and I’m considering one for home).
One of the things I love about Sokhorn (besides his superior motorbike skills!) is that he not only is able to effectively manage this project, but he also understands the value of respecting people’s homes and lives. He treats all of the villagers with a warm humility and kindness and it shows in the eyes of all who meet with him that they appreciate his genuine nature and care for their well-being. He even shares this wisdom with his volunteer Scholarship students..."That it is very important to show respect and be polite to all people"
Sokhorn and I were also paired together to look at a village 50km away to see if there was a need for a community well. After much investigation, we discovered most of the village had no access to clean water via a well. The villagers were collecting water from the mountain or out of an algae/mosquito infested pond and most were not even boiling the water they did get. The village has roughly 400 families, most of whom would have to walk several km to even get to the 1 community well that was not well situated. We were able to identify an ideal location after several GPS readings, photographs and discussions with the villagers. I hope that JWOC is able to get them this well as it would really change the health conditions of this large and very unhealthy village.
Lastly we went with a group of the volunteer Scholarship students to another village to do a hygiene follow-up assessment. They visit the homes within the villages that have partnered with JWOC on their Clean Water project, and where they have taught basic hygiene (brushing teeth & bathing) as well as water filter maintenance. This is great because it will really show the progress and success of the project. While on the road, the Scholarship students shared with me that they are so proud to be part of JWOC and know that they are fortunate to be given these opportunities to learn, but also give back to their community.
In addition to the Clean water project I was able to sit in the classroom with Somit and Sreylin. They are both, smiling, kind and full of excitement about the English language. It is amazing how the students are so eager to learn, but I think it is because these two are so eager to teach. I was able to interact with the students ages 4 to about 40 and all with different levels of English and confidence. The young kids come here to learn English grammar and conversation as well as Khmer, Dance, art, etc and also have a safe haven from their very hard daily lives. The whole team at JWOC understands that, and again, that is what is so special about this program...you are Teaching English, but also you are helping them to have the courage and pride to move into a better life.
Lastly, I was really lucky to be invited to help the kids with a Puppet Parade held in downtown Siem Reap. JWOC was flawless with their planning and were able to manage 27 kids, a motor coach, and a giant Gorilla puppet without a hitch. The kids had a tremendous time, and so did I. It was tough to see the kids head home in clumps of 2 to 4 on bicycles to their villages with only a few parents there to pick up their kids. Once again this is a reminder that JWOC provides more than a school, they also provide hope and a loving extended family to these kids who absorb every bit of love faster than the fruit snacks and lychee juice.
Thank you again for letting me be a part of this tremendous community and I hope that everyone who reads this blog has an opportunity to visit your amazingly committed and talented team and participate in what was a life-changing experience for me.