Sovann Komar and SKOPE recently played host to some students from Millbrook School, New York, who came over as part of an educational trip to get involved in our outreach programme. Which, naturally, meant I was running most of the weekend. There were eleven students and three teachers visiting to organise activities for and I think everything went smoothly. At least, by Cambodian standards. The theme for the overall weekend was: playgrounds!
On Saturday the American students and some of our own kids worked really hard to recondition the existing playground in Sovann Komar Children’s Village. After eight years of enthusiastic playtimes, it was looking a little dilapidated. So we replaced the sandpit, painted the climbing frame, swing set, and seesaws, hung a new rope swing, and replaced the jumping tyres.
Everyone got stuck in and we were all covered in paint, sweat, sand, and mud by the end of it. But that doesn’t matter in Cambodia in July because there’s always a monsoon around the corner to wash it away. And what better way to experience the rainstorm than by playing a game of football (or soccer, for my American readers)! Those of us who preferred to stay dry (ish), helped with the construction of a giant banana boat.
Sunday was SKOPE’s latest project in Prey Veng province. It was much more ambitious than all of our previous ones combined. And by that, I mean we were doing multiple things, most of which required manual labour. Here was the schedule:
- Hand out stationary to every child (equipment donated by a very generous supporter from China and supplemented by the headteacher at Sovann Komar School)
- Plant trees
- Hand out water filters to each family
- Create a cement base for the new water well
- Build a playground
I was most involved in the first and last point as SKOPE fundraised to support those two endeavours. The trees and water well were supported by Sovann Komar itself, Panasasatra University of Cambodia, and donors from the United States. The water filters were donated by Millbrook School.
The playground was an idea I had had a few months previously. It was a somewhat daunting task but with so much help from various men at Sovann Komar and the children themselves, it soon became viable. I held a design competition for the playground layout for the children at Sovann Komar, involving them in the structure from the start. The frame itself was built by me and my manly helpers and erected a couple of weeks before the official donation day. On the day itself, we had painted tyres to nail up for monkey bars, ropes to thread for a climbing ceiling, more tyres to tie together to make a climbing wall, and an amazing spiderweb design.
This aspect of the day took the most co-ordinator, the greatest number of people, and the most brain power. Seriously, knots are confusing. Luckily, one of the girls from Millbrook School was a former rock-climber and with her advice, several other students were able to create sturdy, safe connections. We also hung two tyre swings from trees which were inundated with children as soon as our workers were out of the trees above them.
I’ve never seen so many children climbing on a structure before. As soon as we stepped away, they ran for it, scaling up to the top with ease, swinging on the ropes and clambering through tyres. It was one of the happiest sights of my life and one I will never forget. Also, the playground stayed standing so that was a win!
In the evening of that night we sailed the banana boats we had made the night before and then had a feast of home-cooked Khmer food, slaved over all day by several of Sovann Komar’s mothers and employees. Then it was time for singing and dancing and generally having a great time. I was so impressed with the way the Sovann Komar children interacted with the Millbrook students. They were confident, friendly, and helpful and I hope they have formed long-lasting friendships. The goodbyes were tearful, let’s put it that way.
Monday morning was the end of Millbrook School’s trip but they had time to eat breakfast with my unusually shy Grade 5 class before teaching English. From origami to reading time, singing songs to conversation classes, Grades 1, 3, and 5 loved learning from our young volunteers.
And then they were off, continuing on their adventure through Cambodia before returning to New York later in the week. It was amazing to host these bright, funny, caring young people and I hope they had as good a time as we all did here. It was fantastic to meet every one of them (you, if you’re reading) and everyone hopes you come back to visit us again soon. Sovann Komar and SKOPE are very grateful for your time and energy and look forward to continuing our relationship in the future.
Oh and just in case you missed it, here’s the link to a video of our amazing weekend.