KPMG puts emphasis on Corporate Social Responsibility, and the Give Time initiative is an excellent opportunity for employees to take some time off work and participate in meaningful volunteering work.
A group of 4 of us jumped on this chance given to us, and researched on which organisations we could help. Our fellow colleague recommended Save Poor Children in Asia Organisation (SCAO), which we thought was an excellent Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO). Their objective is to educate poorer children in rural villages outside of Phnom Penh.
Do take some time to check out their website!
We liased with head volunteers Lennart and Luzie, both of them are long term volunteers in charge of SCAO I and SCAO II respectively. There are two schools at the moment, with a third school in the works. SCAO I is nearer to the city of Phnom Penh, whilst the newer SCAO II is located at Som Roung Village, 18km and an hour’s drive (via Tuktuk) North of Phnom Penh.
The village is home to about 550 residents, and most of them do not have the luxury of living in a concrete/brick house. Many stay in wooden huts along the small dirt roads, or on stilts that are lined up along the rice fields.
SCAO II is a house built and funded by several international donors, and the classes are conducted on two floors that were converted into classrooms. Us volunteers stay in the same house, so it is really convenient and saves us travelling time.
On a daily basis, volunteers take turns to conduct classes. There are Pre-School, Intermediate, Advanced, as well as evening Conversation classes. Lessons start from 9am, and sometimes end at 8.30pm. It’s not an easy job teaching from morning till night! Thankfully for us, home-cooked meals are provided during breakfast and dinner by Sovanred and his family, who lives in SCAO II and takes care of the house.
The communal meals typically consists of rice, and two dishes of vegetables such as cucumber, pumpkin, yam, beansprout, or onions. When we’re lucky we get Khmer curry with bread! Because of the busy schedule and the living conditions, volunteers here generally skip lunch.
It’s a joy to teach enthusiastic children, who are all so eager to learn and practise English. Some of the students have been with the school for more than 2 years, and it’s heartening to listen to personal stories about how much they’ve improved from attending lessons taught by the volunteers at SCAO.
In a village/kampung, everyone is really friendly and the first phrase they use to greet foreigners is a chirpy “hello!”. It felt welcoming to walk down the road to the coffeeshop, and the kids whom you’ve taught just a few hours ago will run along, smile, and wave “hello”. I guess these are the kind of experiences you won’t get to enjoy back in the big bustling city.
During the night, we worked hard to give the walls a fresh coat of paint. It was our first time painting (walls) and we were worried initially that we would screw up their house and they’d be the ones living with our “artwork”. In the end, we didn’t fare too badly I think.
We even done up a mural of the world map for the children to learn about the continents.
After working hard, we took some time off to play soccer with some students of SCAO. They were really good for sure, with mad dribbling skills. However, in the Cambodian heat we lasted about 20 minutes before we had to call it a day.
Unlike the other volunteers who are used to skipping lunch, the four city boys couldn’t take the hunger pangs. They kindly introduced us to their local coffeeshop that sells the best Cambodia milk coffee, and also a street stall that sells instant noodles with egg. It was our saviour.
Did you know, the amount of condensed milk they used was so abundant I could drink teh peng with the free tea refill after finishing my kopi peng. That’s two drinks for the price of one! Great savings 🙂
I think this plate of noodles costs 75 cents.
Our not-so-secret hangout during this trip has got to be the rooftop. Imagine sitting under the stars, with a can of beer, and just chilling with friends in a foreign land. It’s something that’s not replicable back in Singapore, especially with this unbeatable view.
It pains me to leave within such a short time; feeling like I could do more to help out. If anyone reading this is interested in giving, please contact SCAO to find out how you can benefit the children in one way or another! They are currently in the discussion to build a 3rd school, and I’m sure any sort of funding will be beneficial.
Happiness doesn’t result from what we get, but from what we give.