Cambodia, Volunteering

Clare’s Cambodian Diaries: The month that was – the third and final round!

Well the past 5 weeks went by awfully quickly. For those who have been following my Cambodia trip, you may have realised that my time in the country is almost over, therefore it’s time to write my final post. 

Picking up from where I left off in my last “month that was” post, I started out in Sihanoukville spending a relaxing 3 1/2 days on Otres Beach with James and Anthony. It was really nice to just stop thinking about work and chill out for a few days, and it was even better being able to spend it with James after not seeing him for 10 weeks! I wrote a more detailed post here where you can read about everything we got up to, which was not much – basically just relaxing on the beach and eating!

 

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Sunset on Otres Beach

We headed back to Phnom Penh together then James and Anthony flew home and I caught the night bus to Siem Reap. I spent 3 full days in Siem Reap doing everything except seeing the temples! Last time I came to Cambodia I was with James and we spent 4 full days exploring almost all of the temples within a 2 hour radius of Siem Reap. We had a such a great time that I didn’t feel the need to see them again and I didn’t want to ruin my memories from last time! So instead, I had a fantastic time going to the Angkor Conservation and Biodiversity Centre, the Siem Reap Landmine Museum and the Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre as well as doing a cooking class, getting a massage and shopping (read about my adventures here). I also did a lot of relaxing by the pool at my hotel in preparation for my final 4 weeks at work! 

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Travelling in the tuk tuk with Tee
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A gibbon at the biodiversity centre
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Preparing paste for our fish amok at the cooking class

After my 10 day holiday it was time to head back to DDSP. I only had 4 weeks left however taking into account public holidays it was really only 3 1/2 weeks! When I got to work on my first day back I sat down and wrote a big list of all the things I needed accomplish. Some of the projects I had been working on were long term or ‘invisible’ projects such as doing on the job training with staff so those projects didn’t require anything to ‘finish’ them as such. However, there were quite a few projects I had been working on that just needed a couple more things done before I could tick them off my list.

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On the job parent training with the physiotherapy team

Over the final 4 weeks I managed to wrap up all my small projects and ideas pretty quickly such as finalising visual timetables, reward charts and informative posters. I also finished off my major project at one of the special education classes – student profiles for the wall! I had been working on the idea for ages but kept running into obstacles so it felt great to finally have everything up on the wall and looking pretty. I felt it was important that the children were known as people rather than just for their disability – it also gave me a good excuse to put their goals on the wall and to personalise the classroom a little bit. We decided to create a profile for each student which would include their name, age, gender, disability, their likes and dislikes, their favourite thing to do at school and most importantly their current goal. After much deliberation we decided to display it in the form of paper balloons, which soon turned into a display including grass, clouds, flowers and butterflies. The balloons are attached to a house which has a group photo of the class on it. It looks very inspired by the movie “Up” but I promise you that wasn’t the original idea! Unfortunately due to timing I only got to finish the display in one of the classrooms, however I made the teachers at the other classroom promise to send me a photo once they had theirs on the wall!

 

Our display on the back wall of the special education class at Prey Ngy primary school. See what I mean by "Up" inspired?
Our display on the back wall of the special education class at Prey Ngy primary school. See what I mean by “Up” inspired?

I also managed to get a few more trainings done in my final 4 weeks with a couple of informal trainings on documentation with specific staff as well as a parent training on play and a staff training on different disabilities. The parent training was a lot of fun as I started by doing around an hour of content, then after breakfast/morning tea we spent the rest of our morning making toys out of things they could find around their home such as socks, bottles, stones and plastic. I had 3 stations – sock puppets, hanging mobiles and rattles. To make it a bit more fun I also printed out some pictures and got some coloured paper so that everyone could decorate their toys to their hearts content. The staff training in the afternoon went just as smoothly – I taught the staff about Epilepsy, Spina Bifida, Cri du Chat and Fragile X Syndrome as I have seen children at DDSP who may have these disabilities. The staff had heaps of questions, everyone took part in the activities and everyone was really interested in learning about some new disabilities which was awesome.

 

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Some of the beautifully decorated baby rattles made from plastic water bottles with soft drink can tabs, stones, plastic and seeds inside for noise.
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The gorgeous puppets some of the participants made out of socks, paper and buttons. There are pigs, mice, buffalo and … other animals…

My final week ended up beginning with something a bit different. On Monday I had a nice morning out in Krakor (a neighbouring town) at the Heifer International ‘passing of the gifts’ ceremony, a ceremony done annually in Pursat province where families who have received gifts from Heifer pass these gifts on to another family. DDSP is involved as Heifer give them funds to distribute a certain number of pigs and chickens to poor and vulnerable families each year as a form of income generation. These pigs and chickens then breed, and it’s one of the offspring that the families pass on to another family. It was a very fancy occasion with monk blessings, traditional dancing and various speeches from Heifer, DDSP, the education department, the deputy head of Pursat province and some of the mothers who received gifts. At the end we were also provided lunch which was a bonus! We brought 6 of our DDSP kids from the Pursat special education class with us so I sat with them all morning which was fun – they don’t seem to care that I can’t actually speak to them!

 

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The very beginning of the ceremony

In addition to finishing off everything at DDSP, there was also a lot going on outside of work!

I had been planning to head back to Battambang for ages but had never got around to it, and seeing as I was getting very close to leaving I needed to go back soon! So, on the weekend of the 5th and 6th of March I travelled back to Battambang to basically see everything I didn’t see last time I was there. I pre-organised for DJ the tuk tuk driver to take me out, so on the Saturday morning I headed out to Wat Banan then on Sunday I joined 4 other girls on trip to Wat Ek Phnom, Wat Somrong Knong and the Well of Shadows. I wrote all about it in the second half of my Battambang post.

 

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Wat Banan
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Wat Ek Phnom

Just in case I wasn’t doing enough with my time already, for the last 7 weeks of my stay I casually volunteered on Friday evenings with a different NGO in Pursat. Building Bridges for Children, or BBC, is a local NGO in Pursat that offers English language and computer classes to children in Pursat and also assists with educating vulnerable children in rural villages at preschool and primary school level. One of the teachers, Kakada, is the mother of a child who attends the physiotherapy centre run by DDSP. Kakada and I got talking one day at physiotherapy and I found out about all the amazing work she does both here in Pursat and with her old school in Siem Reap, and during the conversation she invited me along to see BBC in action. I went one Friday evening, then I ended up returning the following Friday evening and it went from there – I ended up visiting 5 times in total. It was quite nice to be doing something a bit different on a Friday evening, however I did find out that I am a terrible English teacher! It turns out the English language is quite complex and a lot of it doesn’t make logical sense – I wasn’t very good at trying to explain why we have so many words that are spelt differently but sound the same, or vice versa, or why different English speaking countries have different words for the same thing. I definitely have a new appreciation for ESL teachers!

 

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Standing outside BBC with some of the staff (Kakada far right)

My last week came along far too quickly and ended up being a bit odd as Samnang (the director) left for Vietnam on Tuesday afternoon and wouldn’t be back until the weekend, so we ended up having my farewell dinner on Monday night! We went to one of the nice local restaurants, had a big feast and DDSP gave me a couple of presents and an appreciation certificate which was extremely kind of them. The odd part was that after my farewell dinner I still had 4 more days of work, so I said goodbye to Samnang on Tuesday and everyone else on Friday. It was bittersweet – I’m excited to be going home to see everyone but I am definitely going to miss all the people at DDSP.

 

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Staff photo! (Apologies for the bad quality photo!)

My final Friday in Pursat ended quite unexpectedly. I went to head off to work in the morning and on my way out I was invited to a wedding! So that evening after I finished work, I dug out my best attire (a maxi-dress with elephants on it and a silk scarf – LOL!) and headed downstairs to the party. The son of the woman who owns the hotel got married last weekend in the USA (where he lives) however him and his now wife had come to Pursat to see their families and have a celebratory party. It was actually a lot of fun – tonnes of food, heaps of dancing and everyone was super nice and welcoming to me. I even made a couple of Khmer friends which was cool!

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Dancing at the wedding party

On Saturday afternoon I gathered my bags, said a teary goodbye to everyone at the hotel and the restaurant and boarded my bus to Phnom Penh. Luckily Samnang was staying in Phnom Penh after flying back from Vietnam so I had a nice final dinner with him at a local buffet restaurant!

At the moment I’m sitting in my nice hotel next to the pool in Phnom Penh (Manor House Boutique Hotel) with plans to just relax and shop until I fly out tomorrow. I did some shopping this morning and had a massage, however because it’s Sunday some of the shops I wanted to go to are closed. So, tomorrow I’m planning on finishing off my shopping then going back to Daughters of Cambodia to have another excellent foot spa. I’m enjoying my last couple of days in Cambodia and I’m really sad to be leaving, however after talking to everyone at home over the past couple of weeks I’m definitely looking forward to getting back, settling into life again and finding my first job as a qualified OT in Australia. Oh, and having some delicious food over easter! See you soon Australia!

 

P.S If you’ve enjoyed following along with my Cambodian Diaries, follow us on Instagram where we’ll be posting daily with photos from my trip! 

Thanks for reading!
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