By Clara Tan
Singaporeans enjoy going overseas for vacation trips and my family is no exception. However, after a few trips, we lost interest in merely shopping and sight-sightseeing. When we knew about Janice’s plans to go on a community service project to Cambodia, we seized the opportunity for a different vacation. The trip mainly involved visiting primary schools in P. Ang Trong and Lovea village and this is a reflection of my time there.
- P. Ang Trong Primary School
The things that we take for granted in our Singapore schools are missing in the school we visited in P. Ang Trung. Having no electricity (not even a portable generator) means that students have to study in the sweltering heat without fans and proper lighting and where the only source of light is from the sun. Their only water supply comes from the pond, hence, the cleanliness of the school is greatly compromised. Sure, one can argue that this is their way of life, and that they have already been acclimatised to such living conditions. However, this should not be an excuse for us to leave them in such a state. Like the children here in Singapore, they deserve a better environment to grow and develop.
One thing that I struggle with when doing overseas community service is whether the community really benefits from what we do. However, when I saw how the younger children enjoy the playground that was built by a group of students from Singapore, I was greatly encouraged. They do appreciate our contributions and truly enjoy them.
Our task was to paint the school and built fencing around the perimeter. For that, the principal declared a 2 days’ school holiday for us to complete our task uninterrupted. The only experience my family had with painting was painting the interior of our house with emulsion paint. Thus, the high ceilings and the dirty walls of the school were a great inertia for us to get started. When we did, the students who stayed back out of curiosity or boredom watched and observed us. However, throughout the day, the language barrier and the cultural difference minimalised interactions between us.
On the second day, we stepped out of our comfort zone and engaged the young curious onlookers. We offered them brushes and paint, empowering them with the ability to beautify their school. At first, only the braver ones came forward to collect the tools and interact with us with gestures and great facial expressions. Slowly, more of them wanted to try out painting. The mistake we made was not explaining to them how to do a proper job. Their paint strokes were in all directions and there were many unpainted spots on the walls. On hindsight, if we had put more consideration into this, this problem would be pre-empted. We ended up having to patch up their work as we supervised them. However, I believe that the intangible benefits of the interaction and the connection we made with the children and allowing them to play a part in beautifying the school was all worth it.
Lovea Primary School
Apart from painting the school in P.Ang Trong, our team also held a carnival for the students in Lovea Primary School. Lovea Primary School is a more developed school with better infrastructure and resources. We planned a carnival which also included the impressive gym demonstration by Terry Tay, who was part of our travelling group and who also is our national gymnast, as well as the exciting karate demonstrations by our guide, Mr Ratana, and the day ended with a cartoon movie screening.
My family was mainly in-charge of running the game booth. It was a simple game which required them to knock down half-filled water bottles with tennis balls. Explaining the game was easy as they could observe from the person before them what the game was about. However, as facilitators, picking up the bottles and setting them back only to be knocked down again was tiring after a while. The biggest problem we faced was crowd control. What started off as two orderly queues became a huge crowd of students cutting in to the front to be the next to play. The younger children followed along ignoring the queues. Amidst all the chaos, my dad even saw a young girl pocketing a tennis ball into her bag! Unfortunately, we just had to bring an abrupt stop to the game due to time. We could see signs of disappointment on the faces of those still waiting for their turn. But the next event, the screening of Monster Inc. (in local language) immediately brought back the thrill for what was a special day for the children.
For me, this has been a really meaningful and humbling experience. It reminded me of the duty to serve. With the privilege God has given us, we should share the resources and provide help to others who are deprived. He has also given us a mission, which is the great commission to spread His Word and I must be mindful and hence the urgency to share the good news with others.
Passion is also important in our work. I have the honour of experiencing how Janice’s deep love for the Cambodians is translated into the amount of work and resources she put into serving them. She is always thinking about how to do more, serve more, give more. There are times when the things we see, or the obstacles we face demoralises us. Therefore, we must count the cost, know our reasons for helping and who to help and what we can do to help. More importantly, we should trust that God will empower us to do his work. These are the reasons that will keep us going.
Last but not least, the most practical thing I have learnt from this trip is the importance of planning and knowledge. With more knowledge there will be more foresight. Some bad experiences could have been avoided if we have known better the situation and thus better prepared for the challenges with performing the tasks. However, I admit that no matter how much planning is put in, slip ups may still be inevitable. Hence, we must be adaptable and with more experience, more effectiveness.
All in all, I felt that this was a fulfilling trip for me. I enjoyed my time playing with the children and interacting with the Cambodians. Visiting the rural P. Ang Trong was an eye opener for me, and being able to make a difference in the lives of the people is an honour. I hope that Janice and the team will stay faithful in this ministry as they continue to see God working miracles through them. In addition, I strongly urge all those with a heart to serve the Cambodian community to join them in making a difference in the lives of the Cambodians.