Monday 2 December 2013

Up close and personal with Cambodian kids

I remember quite clearly how, as a teenager, I would roll my eyes whenever mom talked about the hardship she went through as a child. Life was particularly tough after World War II but the hardship did not dampen their spirits and their big family lived harmoniously under one roof.

Obviously she never failed to remind us how lucky we were which only made us scowl even more.
I've learned that it is pointless saying all these things to teenagers unless they experience it for themselves. Naturally we can't travel back in time but a trip to Siem Reap might be able to change that.

Going to Siem Reap is like going back to Singapore in the 1950s. The city, centered around the Sivutha Street and Old Market area, has colonial and Chinese-style architecture. Only the main streets are paved while the village dirt roads are filled with potholes.

You really need to go beyond the bustling city to see what life is like for the common folk in the villages.

What my mom said about going hungry and working in the farm as a young child is still happening here. The young kids walk for miles under the blazing sun (with no shoes on) to the village school and return home during sunset to continue working in the padi fields.

When I first visited Siem Reap, I was surprised to see how tiny the kids are for their age. Despite their poverty, they are bright-eyed and full of life which makes them even more endearing. I had the opportunity to be up close and personal with the Cambodian kids at the orphanage.

When you have 51 children of different ages living in a small orphanage, there is no room for favourtism or sibling rivalry. They quickly learn to share and care for each other. The older kids keep a lookout for the younger ones.

They're brought up in a loving environment with heaps of help from volunteers from all over the world, so the kids are well adjusted and taught to be respectful of others.

As they rely on the kindness of sponsors, they do not take what they have for granted. When we arrived with new beds, they all came running out to carry stuff. Almost immediately, they've got everything organised like clockwork. The floor was swept, bunkbeds were assembled and the new sleeping quarters was ready in double-quick time, thanks to teamwork.
When it was time for lunch, the kids washed their hands and lined up outside the dining room in an orderly manner.
 Then they took their place and waited for the cue before tucking into a simple meal of fish, rice and vegetable curry. I did not see any shoving, snatching or squirming.


It's close to a miracle to see kids of varying ages co-exist in such a peaceful environment. In Singapore, it's hard to see kids play together without getting too rowdy. It's the way they have been brought up. I hate to admit but we've spoilt our kids.

Of course there are always exceptions. It was amazing to see two Aussie teenagers volunteering their time during their school break. Alex (on the right) spent 6 months helping out at the orphanage. She has the biggest heart and what she has done puts most of us to shame. You can read about her journey here.

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