After months of planning and fundraising, on Tuesday 8th March Sovann Komar Outreach Program for Education (SKOPE) returned to Kampong Thom Province with donations for two rural schools there. I first visited Chhouk Sak Primary School and Wat Chroum Primary School last November and this time I brought some children and workers from Sovann Komar.
SKOPE donated school supplies to over 900 students. Each child got individually packaged (it took hours) gifts of two exercise books, a pen, and a pencil. These might seem like small things to you or I but many of the children attending these schools do so without the basic necessities for learning. We hope with these new supplies, the children will be able to study more effectively and improve their educational abilities. But schools aren’t all about sitting in a classroom and studying text books. Along with 1,820 books, 910 pencils and 910 pens, we also took some sports equipment. Six footballs, six basketballs, ten hula hoops, ten skipping ropes, twelve say (foot shuttlecocks), and four bags of building blocks were also donated, to be split between the two schools. At this point I would like to extend a specific thank you to Sarinda, one of the teachers at Sovann Komar, and her family for donating most of the sports equipment to SKOPE’s project.
We had a truly fantastic day from start to end. We had hired a minivan to take us up to Kampong Thom and I asked thirteen of the older children from Sovann Komar Orphanage to accompany us. One of SKOPE’s key initiatives is that the children who live within the orphanage are involved in our outreach work. We also had three students from Sovann Komar School and various members of staff including Sarinda and her family, Mr Arun (my boss), Morokot (the accountant), and Kunthea (the administrator).
Everyone was very enthusiastic about the day despite the early start on a public holiday (Happy International Women’s Day!). As soon as we arrived at the school where all 900 students were gathering, I met Samreth, the man who had helped me organise the whole event. The students from both schools were asked to meet at one site for logistical reasons and they behaved excellently, all lined up neatly and patiently whilst the adults faffed around and discussed who was going to translate my speech for me. An unplanned speech, may I add. Luckily I’ve always been good at thinking on my feet and I think it went pretty well despite me never having spoken in front of close to 1,000 people before. It probably helped that most of them were under ten years old and didn’t understand English.
I had been concerned about the logistics of handing out donations to over 900 students but with my willing helpers, the whole thing barely took five minutes. The students were sat in lines and we simply walked up and down handing the books out. It went incredibly well and the children were all very sweet and thankful.
Then came the fun part: the sports equipment. I wanted to get the children from Sovann Komar playing and interacting with the children from the Kampong Thom schools. I had already warned them that they would need to be careful when playing with the younger ones as some of my helpers were the older boys in the orphanage and are fourteen and fifteen years old. They were all great and little games of football, basketball and say popped up everywhere. Some of the Kampong Thom teachers arranged skipping games for the girls and I think (I hope) everyone had a good time. Lots of children came up to me trying to give back the balls and equipment but when I explained, in Khmer, that they were for the schools, their faces lit up in the most heartwarming way.
After an hour or so of playing, the local children began to leave. It was a day off, after all. We packed up too and went to have lunch at a nearby restaurant which is run by a Malaysian woman who is friends with Samreth. After our delicious lunch the children headed into the fields behind the restaurant to look at some cattle and relax in the countryside. We were given the opportunity of writing and drawing on a board which will be secured to the ceiling of the restaurant to memorialise our day. Mathew and Rachana, two of the Sovann Komar kids, copied the SKOPE logo onto it!
Are you picturing the day in your head? You don’t have to! I’ve made a video about it so just click here and enjoy 3 minutes of One Republic whilst you watch adorable children in Kampong Thom.
Everyone fell asleep on the journey home, unsurprisingly. After I’d finished the book I’d brought to pass the time, I sat there contemplating the day. I’d been planning this trip for months and had organised everything. I got the feeling some of the staff at Sovann Komar were a little pessimistic about how the day would pan out as a result but, even if I do say so myself, it all went perfectly. Everyone knew what they were doing, everyone knew when and where they were going, and everyone was able to relax and enjoy their time knowing the logistics had all been taken care of. Without sounding too big headed, I felt an immense sense of satisfaction at how well my first day trip project for SKOPE turned out.
I felt something else too. A realisation. People always ask me when I’ll be leaving Cambodia and what I’m going to do next. I’ve become very good at avoiding giving a straight answer and that’s because I truly didn’t have one. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, where my life was going, what was coming next. Here I am at 25, with a Masters by Research, and no idea of where life is going to take me after this school year ends. But now I know.
I want to go into the charity sector. I want to work in this field, make a different, feel the way I did on Tuesday. I’ve never been driven by money when it comes to my job, hence I’m working at an NGO rather than an international school where my salary would double. I’ve always said I’d rather be poor and morally content than rich and depressed about my job. There might not be much money in charity work (at least, there shouldn’t be), but that is the arena to which I want to devote my life. I’m sure it will take time and when I return to the UK (yes, I’ll be returning), I will be starting on the lowest rungs of the ladder. But my experience with SKOPE is invaluable and I hope it will enable me to get a position in an organisation which is truly doing good and with a far wider reach and impact than I could ever have on my own in Cambodia.
So all that is left to say is thank you to everyone who has supported me so far, whether that be through donations to SKOPE or support of my wanderings and aimlessness in life. Specifically I would like to thank my parents who will be reading about my new life choice just as you are because I haven’t actually told them about it yet … I hope this is something you’re happy about Mum and Dad!
SKOPE is still working, of course. Our next project will be in Kampot where we will be donating classroom supplies such as posters, flashcards, props for teaching vocabulary words (animals, fruit, vegetables etc.), and dictionaries. If you would like to support this, we have one week left of our Crowdfunder website so please click here to donate today. Thank you.