Impressions of Cambodia
Posted 07/12/2016 12:23PM

After spending the year learning about Cambodia and the work of NGO Caring for Cambodia (CFC), a group of 11 students traveled to Siem Reap, Cambodia, in early June to help construct a wall at a CFC school to keep out cows and strangers. They also worked in local educational facilities in Siem Reap, assisting with the English as a Second Language program. Math teacher Kerry Venchus chaperoned the trip to Cambodia along with Tim Venchus and Danny Schiff. Below is a fascinating story about a boy she met, Chun, as well as a list of reflections from her time there.

Written by Kerry Venchus

Chun is a 12th grade student attending the Aranh School in Siem Reap, Cambodia. We met him while helping out with the Food for Thought program, which was created to feed hungry children (and other members of the community) so that they had the energy and focus to learn in school. Chun was there to translate for us and answer our questions about life in Cambodia, school, and his future plans.

To say he is an impressive young man doesn’t seem adequate. We only spoke with him for about an hour, but I have thought of him every day since. Tim and I even inquired about sponsoring him in college, and secretly I thought about what it would take to bring him to TASIS to live with us while attending school for a year. Given his situation, Chun will only be able to attend university if he is talented enough to earn a scholarship.

He said that he was only one person, but he was one, and he could make a difference, even if small.

We soon learned that we are not the only ones impressed by Chun. One member of the Caring for Cambodia (CFC) staff confirmed he is remarkable. In fact, a member of the board of CFC is already planning to try to bring Chun to the US for school. I hope they can work out all the details. I’m pretty sure Chun doesn’t have official paperwork of his birth, never mind a passport. Chun is not aware of this possible plan to bring him to the US. He was worried about going away to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, a six-hour bus ride, because it meant leaving his mother and siblings home. Sadly, Chun’s father passed away last year. Now his mom tends their small plot of crops while Chun and his siblings go to school. The children help on the weekends, but sometimes school group projects take Chun away, which makes him feel guilty. Chun is lucky that his mom has seen the value of education, as many children in Cambodia don’t have the opportunity to attend school because their families need their help at home.

While speaking with Chun he told us of his dream to help Cambodia become a stronger country. He loves Cambodia, but through his research he has learned that it is way behind in the ways of the world. He recognizes that there has been some progress, but he feels it’s way too slow. He wants to help change by earning a degree in international relations. I got chills when he said that he was only one person, but he was one, and he could make a difference, even if small. It immediately reminded me of Mrs. Fleming’s quote at the front of her Bible. I had goosebumps.

I plan to follow Chun’s progress, as I have no doubt he is going to help change the world for the better.

Venchus shares below some of her general impressions of Cambodia.

I’ve been overwhelmed by the things I’ve seen while here in Cambodia. Here is a small, incomplete list:

  • Unfinished, dilapidated shacks with one or two walls that were family homes; some were homes of CFC students from the Aranh school whom we got to know during our time there

  • Unbelievable amounts of trash piled beside homes, schools, in the water, by the side of the road, in alleys, and in fields

  • Children, no more than 12, searching through trash for food and things to possibly sell or use (like plastic bottles and bags)

  • Mothers drugging their children to scam tourists into buying powdered milk for their “sick” children (and then returning that milk to the store to split the money with the store owners)

  • Too many stray dogs to count—a pack of whom fought to be the alpha while our group stood nearby, waiting to pass

  • The dog we passed each time we entered the Aranh school, who went from being emaciated, to lethargic, to dead on our last day

  • Chickens pecking at trash and so scrawny

  • Bone-thin cows

  • People fishing in a swampy, stagnant, trash-filled river

  • The atrocious Pol Pot ruling and genocide of educated people and their children

  • The rebuilding that has started but has a ways to go from the civil war that took place less than 40 years ago.

  • The constant happiness that emanates from the children we are working with at the schools, from elementary to HS

  • The conversations had and connections formed between TASIS and CFC students in a short amount of time together

  • The city center of Siem Reap, which is full of light, music, night markets, and parties every night

  • The Food for Thought program, which is helping kids get needed nutrients and food each day (although the thought of eating that porridge, which didn’t smell very good, every day, made me sad—realizing that before the program they ate nothing made me even more sad)

  • The learning of English and the realization that it will help create options

  • The dreams of the children for what they would like to be in the future (in the past their options would have been tour guides, farmers, or working in the market, but now they include doctors, nurses, lawyers, and teachers)

  • Chun!

Photos taken by Tim Venchus. Click here to see more great shots from the trip.

TASIS Global Service Program

The Global Service Program was envisioned by Jan Opsahl ’68, who became the first international student at TASIS when he came from Norway in 1965. The pioneering program was launched in 2013 with major support from a most generous donation from Mr. Opsahl and his family to set up the Global Service Trust. This Trust, along with support from the TASIS Foundation, make this incredible, life-changing experience for our students possible.

The Global Service Program transforms lives by providing every High School student a unique opportunity to connect across borders through comprehensive experiences that build empathy and encourage personal responsibility. Participation in the program—which is designed to awaken students to humanitarian needs, inspire them to build enduring, mutually beneficial relationships, and lead them toward a life of active citizenship and committed service—is a graduation requirement.

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