On Wednesday 29 June 2016, nine Year 11 boys alongside Ms Tori Bell, Ms Rochelle Eggins, and under the leadership of Mr Tony McDonnell, travelled to Cambodia to embark on an eye-opening experience, which we will never forget. Cambodia is a country where there are many situations where you are forced out of your comfort zone. However this was not seen as a problem for the group. All the boys and teachers got involved in every aspect of the trip, which allowed us to immerse ourselves into, and assimilate with, the Khmer culture.
Phnom Penh was our first destination. It is a city where being street smart was very important. The constant chaotic flow of traffic caused much mayhem and challenged our preconceived ideas of what a functioning city should look like. On top of this, the constant noise of drivers honking their horns quickly removed us from our western lifestyle.
We began our Immersion experience with some challenging labouring in the harsh heat and humidity of the country. However, the Cambodian Immersion is centred around the LaValla school where we were given the chance to meet the special kids of the school on the third day in the country. We took them down to a beach in Kep (a 3 hour bus trip away) where many of the children experienced open water for the first time in their life.
Because the students come from the rural provinces, they live on site. So on the first Saturday we helped them with their chores around the property, which was where we experienced their complete love for their school. This was evident in their care and passion that they approached each chore they performed. For the next week our daily task was named “the project”, where three boys and one teacher were sent to various locations around the school to help with tasks including gardening, painting or farming. Each job presented its own unique challenge whether it be red ants biting you as you cut down vines from fences, the extreme heat when working in the full force of the sun while clearing overgrown weeds from the land behind the school or the overwhelming noise which came from manually removing rust from metal grates. Additionally the boys were tasked with teaching the kids English which was very difficult considering the students at LaValla have very limited English, if any.
LaValla is the only registered primary school for disabled children in the country. It is a community where disabled children from over twenty provinces are brought in to live and obtain an education. Seeing those who have a disability are marginalised from society, LaValla is seen as the best opportunity for these children. The children of the LaValla community are full of love and happiness. Although they find some task physically challenging, they all find a way to overcome the barriers that they face in their lives and they move on with life as if there was nothing stopping them. Everyday they would jump with joy to see us and they gladly let us into their life at LaValla. These children were not only a joy to be around, but they were inspiring. In a way that they made us all realise that there is nothing in life that should stop you from doing what you want to do.
For the final two days of our trip to Cambodia, we travelled to Siem Reap where we were able to see a new side of the Khmer culture which we thought we were beginning to understand. We awoke at 4:00AM in order to see a beautiful sunrise at Angkor Wat. The inscriptions and carvings on the walls of the temples blew us all away and gave us a different perspective of Cambodia. Siem Reap was a completely different environment to Phnom Penh because the increased demands of tourism were their main focus.
Overall our experience was something that we will never forget. The immersion allowed us to not only connect with another Marist community but allowed us to understand the challenges that many developing countries have to face on a day to day basis. The Cambodia immersion, and more specifically LaValla, made us all realise what it truly means to be a Marist community.
Josh Ferraz and Flynn Tully
On behalf of the Cambodia Immersion group