|Michaela||2012||Don Bosco Technical School, Phnom Penh||Cambodia|
Describe the work you did during your placement:
I was mainly an ESL teacher and tutor to the students, but I also participated in daily activities with the students. I also assisted in spiritual retreats that looked at community, trust and connectivity with others. For part of my volunteer placement, I managed the school library too.
At Don Bosco, you become part of a diverse, loving family. When I was there, there were many different nationalities that had a common goal. There were volunteers from Korea, Vietnam, France, Austria, Germany, India, Thailand and the Philippines. Students greatly respect and appreciate your presence in their school community. Your daily activities and sense of being revolve around this strong sense of community.
With my Students, we learnt many forms of English for the everyday; from conversational to descriptive. Students also passionately assisted me with my Khmer language. In the afternoon, during the school week, I would play basketball or volleyball with the students. On other days, I would help them with cleaning and gardening around the school. I also attended morning and evening prayers at the school church and went on outings with the students.
The role you play is diverse and encompasses so many areas that create holistic nourishment. You feel a great sense of spiritual connection and warmth with the students. It is a feeling that is so rare and ineffable.
Describe some of the best and most challenging aspects of your placement:
I think the most enduring, pervasive effect of the Don Bosco community was the happiness in simplicity. Cambodia has had a rugged history – geographically, economically and politically. Cambodia has gone through terrible times that impact its very demeanour in the present. Despite a sense of uncertainty that prevails, the sense of joy, love and duty override these issues.
The Khmer Students are the most loving, beautiful, sincere and altruistic individuals that I have ever had the pleasure, or blessing, of being in the presence of. The joy that emanates from their faces, the faces of their families and the interactions with one another instils a sense of serene spirituality. Their loving, generous natures deeply touched my heart; my very existence. They made you feel like family. They really loved all of you; they took the good and bad and made it into something beautiful.
Student’s birthdays were such a beautiful thing. The hilarious antics, the lovely songs, the cards, the food and the celebrations. I absorbed all of it gratefully. What was deeply touching was the sharing of one cake between 20+ Students. The student’s whose birthday it was would go around and share a spoonful of cake with each and every student. In the western world, we are quite spoilt without being fully aware. In Cambodia, what is given is treasured fully and for all its worth.
I remember Valentine’s Day when I and other Volunteers gave the students chocolates. The gorgeous smiles that spanned their faces are unforgettable. Something so small to us is such a massive thing for them. There are so many positives that you will feel volunteering with the students. They make every day worth the effort. Understanding and empathy grows in clarity the more time that is spent with them.
There is so much to tell, yet this is something you yourself shall experience. Furthermore, it will be a different experience that you will have, yet I assure you it will be fully rich. All the positives do not hide challenges though. There are challenges that you must and will face. I think the language barrier, at times, makes it difficult to fully connect with the culture. Sometimes you will feel lonely, but this is a very normal state. I think it is a very different transition that can take time to adjust. The greater the length of time, the more instilled the strength.
Explain how your volunteer experience impacts your life today:
I think there is not truly a moment that I do not think about Cambodia. It truly is a part of who I am and everything that I yearn to be and improve in myself. I greatly admired and loved everything that the students, Volunteers and Fathers of Don Bosco gave to me.
Their love was so selfless and determined, and it is such a beautiful thing to aim for in our world. Before I went to Cambodia, I had quite a set idea of the world, of where I wanted to be and who I wanted to be. Cambodia tipped this on its head. It made me realise how much more there is in life. It made me more aware and appreciative of the little things that are so wonderful.
I returned to Australia wishing to further my studies in teaching. This is what I am currently doing. I want to work with ESL students in the future. I found so much purpose and meaning in the interactions with the students at Don Bosco. They inspired where I am now. When I finish my course, I wish to return to Cambodia to see those beautiful faces once again.