Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Day 10

Today was our final day in Cambodia which was well spent learning about the Buddhist culture and enjoying one last trip to the markets. After breakfast, we travelled to the Peace Cafe to meet a monk and receive a blessing before our departure back home. When talking to the monk, we learnt a lot more about Buddhism and how it differs from Hinduism. People of a Buddhist faith do not have a God, rather the Buddha who is their teacher. We were explained the Buddhist belief in karma and how it is the consequence of an action — if you share your goodness with someone else, goodness will be shown to you in return. We were also given the opportunity to ask questions about Buddhism before our blessing. The monk told us about the tradition of the blessing originating in Cambodia and how it would give us the energy to go out and serve others. After we were blessed, we all felt a sense of relaxation, tranquility and peace. After our blessing was finished and we thanked the monk, we visited a shop at the Peace Cafe where items were handmade by people with disabilities and diseases before enjoying a nice cold drink, fruit shakes being the most popular pick. We then made our way to the markets where we enjoyed one last visit to buy gifts, bargain and get one clean pair of pants for the plane if we had run out. We enjoyed our last lunch at the Jesuit Centre after showering and packing our bags and then we loaded our belongings into a 4WD so that that they didn't get wet from the flash flooding. Our driver Pov drove us to the airport and we all said a big goodbye and thanked him for driving us everywhere. We got our last photo together and then checked in. Overall, this experience has been amazing and every single girl has taken something away from it that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. We are all so thankful for this opportunity and we are excited to return home and share our journey with our family and friends. 

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Day 9

Today we all rose early to make our way to Angkor Wat to see the sunrise over the magnificent Temple. After about 20-30 minutes of driving we arrived at Angkor Wat and the security checkpoint so they could check our tickets that we purchased yesterday. Following this, we made our way across a temporary, pontoon-like bridge to the entrance of Angkor Wat. We then sat over in a smaller Temple facing Angkor Wat as the sun rose over the Temple. Although, it was cloudy due to the heavy rain, we were greeted wi a beautiful view of the silhouette of Angkor Wat. After a few minutes of sitting in silence admiring the view, we made our way to the central part of Angkor Wat, and explored the detailed architecture that is believed to be created in 1200 AD by the King at the time. After a few hours of exploring the Temple, we made our way to the 'Blue Pumpkin' restaurant for breakfast and then headed back to the retreat centre for a rest, before meeting for lunch. After lunch we boarded our bus to make our way out to the Bayon Temple which contains several multi-faceted statues of Buddha, providing amazing views and photo opportunities includi one where, from a certain perspective, it loooks like you are touching noses with Buddha. We then decided to explore the Taprohm Temple which was created by the King at that time, in dedication to his Mother. The incredible view we were greeted with, was enhanced by the trees and native flora that had grew over and surrounded the Temple, creating a beautiful, natural scenery. It was also used as the set for films such as 'Lara Croft: Tomb Riader' and 'The Kingsmen 2' and it was easy to see why. We were then asked if we would like to visit the Phnon Bakhang Temple, also known as the sunset Temple and after a unanimous vote, we decided that it would be best to go to the Temple while we're in Cambodia. So we began the walk up the steep, rocky path and once we reached the entrance, we joined the queue to walk up the steep staircase to the Temple itself. After waiting for a while, we gained our passes to ascend the stairs, making our way to the top of the Temple, where we were rewarded with a breathtaking view of the sun setting over the horizon. After admiring the view for several minutes, we then continued to descend the steep staircase and make our way back down the hill. We then boarded our bus to the 'La Maison D'Angkor' where we shared our last dinner together as a group, as we reminisced on the highlights and lowlights of the Immersion. To conclude the night, we gathered for our final debrief session and then headed off to sleep ahead of our, long journey back to Australia tomorrow.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Day 8

Today we had a 7am breakfast to get ready for a day visit to the village of Taom. After an hour and a half drive to the village, we were greeted by Thon, the parish coordinator. Taom is a village of around 1000 people, and around 300 families. The main church here remained untouched by the Khmer Rouge due to it’s use as a storage facility for their rice. To start off the day, we split into two groups. One group went to prepare rice soup, a weekly meal where children receive a bowl of rice soup from the church. The other group played with the children of the village through games, singing, and dancing. We played games such as duck duck goose, musical statues, and the hokey pokey. We danced to Justin Bieber and One Direction as well as taught them the Macarena, the chicken dance and YMCA. The girls who were cooking, were taught by some of the local village elders how to prepare the rice, pumpkin, chicken, carrot eggs and more for the 65 odd children at the church. Once the food was prepared, we were sung songs of thanks by the children and were able to introduce ourselves. We then served the children their food, enjoying the amazing food prepared by Polly, Molly, Charlotte, Sophie, Mia and Mrs Del Moro. We were then given the chance to eat our own lunch before resting for an hour. After this, we said prayer with the local residents within the church. We heard prayers in Khmer, as well as a variety of songs. Then, Thon took us on a walk around the village. We were joined by the village children who took the opportunity to hold our hands, talk to us and give us flowers. Along the walk we saw how the local people lived in their homes and witnessed the many different activities the children do in their spare time, such as riding bikes and swimming in the river. It was an emotional goodbye, as in the short amount of time, we had all grown attached to the children who were always happy and laughing. 

From Jacqui:
It has been a privilege to guide the MSCW girls on their Cambodian journey so far. The immersion experience relies on our hosts welcoming the group into their community and allowing our young people to share their lives for a short time. It is this welcome and inclusion in the community that distinguishes an immersion from tourism. Inevitably there are times when our hosts need to alter plans made many months in advance. Today's visit to Taom was a great example of how the Lord closes one door and opens another. Spending only three nights in Pailin gave us the opportunity to spend a day sharing, serving and praying with the villagers of Taom and gave the MSCW girls an insight into a community that is quite different to Pailin.
I pray that God will continue to bless our trip tomorrow as we experience the Cambodian people's most sacred place, the temples of Angkor.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Day 7

Today we were leaving Palin so we packed our bags on the bus and went to the Marist Education Centre for our final breakfast, cooked by Brother Francis. After breakfast we played with the teenagers for the final time before very sadly having to say goodbye. Before leaving we thanked the brothers for their hospitality and they thanked use for our work. We left and drove to the block of land wher where the brothers are planning on building hostels, so that more rural children can go to school. There was already one building which was for the Brithers to stay in. We waved goodbye to the Brothers and went on our way to Siem Riep. After around 2 hours we arrived at The Lonely Tree Cafe for lunch. The cafe has a small store underneath, with items which had been made by people with disabilities. Additionally, the profits from the cafe went towards helping those who are disabled. After eating a delicious lunch we got back on the road and drove 3 hours to Siem Riep. We had dinner at our accommodation at Metta Karuna The Jesuit Reflection Centre. After dinner we went to the night markets for about an hour. The day ended with a debrief and reflection in the Chapel.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Day 6

Like yesterday, today we woke up and went to the Marist Brothers Education Centre where we ate breakfast. Then we alternated our activities from yesterday, either gardening, painting doors and window sills or teaching the younger children for the morning. After this, we travelled with the older kids to Pailin's Buddhist temple, where we had to walk up a large flight of stairs - but it was all worth it as when we got to the top, the view was amazing and there was a large Buddhist statue, temple and sacred animal statues. We then travelled to the Thai border, we got so close that Thailand was only 100 meters away. Brother George informed us of Cambodia and Thailand's rich history and relationship today. On the bus ride back to the Education Centre we sang songs with the Cambodian kids - some in English that they new and they sang us some Khmer songs. We were also able to extend our Khmer vocabulary by having some of them teach us simple phrases. At the Education
Centre we had lunch and then the kids showed us a common Cambodian fruit called 'ompel' that we picked from the trees and ate. It was sour but tasted amazing. They also had a pomegranate tree and we were able to sit with all the kids and share together. We taught them games such as AFL, tunnel ball and touch football as they had many balls, but didn't know any games. It was good to teach them some common Australian games. After dinner we went to the church where the brothers told us of their story about their vocation and what lead them to Cambodia. We said a pray, and as Marist's were able to sing the Salve Regina together. As it was our last night in Pailin all the children had a fun time dancing together. We taught them the Nutbush and Macarena, and they in turn taught us some traditional Khmer dance moves. It was an amazing experience and a modern way to break the language barrier and to make strong bonds with the kids here. It is something we will cherish forever. We are so grateful for the time we have gotten to spend with them and are excited to continue on the rest of our journey in Cambodia.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Day 5

This morning after having a great sleep in a comfortable hotel room, we joined the brothers at the Marist learning centre for breakfast. We were very excited to see pancakes and Nutella (Brother Francis is a really good cook). Afterwards we were split into two groups - one taught some young children English and one painted doors and window frames of the building. 

Teaching the children English was a very interesting and eye opening experience. Most of the children we taught were new to English but are very fast learners. We helped teach basic English skills through using games and songs like head, shoulders, knees and toes, duck duck goose, what's the time Mr Wolf and drawing the alphabet. It was really rewarding to see the children learn the basic English skills and it was also a learning experience for us, as at first we were unsure how to teach our knowledge in a way the children could understand.

While painting the doors, we had the chance to talk to some teenagers at the centre. We were all impressed by their English skills and many of us are now more inspired to learn a second language. They were quite confident speaking to us so we had many conversations about school, family, sport, hobbies and more. In the afternoon we played games with the children and teens including bullrush and Khmer games they taught us. Everyone is so friendly, welcoming and kind, and we all really enjoyed today. 

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Day 4

Today was our journey from Phnom Penh to Palin. We had an early start going to a Catholic Mass spoken in Khmer. It was really cool as we were able to see what we could recognise between the two different languages and the similarities during the mass. After this, we left for our 8 hour drive to Palin. I don't think one of us will ever complain about an 8 hour drive in Australia ever again. The roads were bumpy and uneven, no one kept to the lines and it was raining, however it all added to the experience and our driver Mr. Pov did an amazing job and got everyone to Palin safely. We stopped in Battambang for lunch, and had a looked in a really cute little shop with hand made Cambodia goods. After this we continued the rest of our trip. Everything we passed was extremely green, there were rice fields everywhere and we saw our first mountains in Cambodia, which were all so beautiful.  When we arrived at our accomodation in Palin, everyone was blown away to say the least. We each had our own double beds, a Western shower and toilet and there was even air conditioning. We were all blown away and felt extremely lucky for things which we usually take for granted. For dinner we went to the school which we're working at for the next few days. Brother Francais cooked us the most amazing meal, which we all over indulged in. It was so nice to meet the brothers and hear about the work they're doing in Cambodia, teaching the children. Tonight were all doing our first load of washing enjoying a nice cold shower then getting a huge sleep in our massive beds to be ready for tomorrow.

PS We still haven't managed to work out how to upload the photos yet !

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Day 3

Day Three: 27/9/17

Today opened our eyes to Cambodia's past, providing us with a new perspective on the country. We started off with a breakfast of bread and fruit in the Pastoral centre that we are currently staying at. By 7:30 we were on our way to the S21 museum, where we learned about the horrors of the Pol Pot regime. Our guide, Mr Lungdi, openly provided us with a understanding of Cambodia's past and how it has shaped the country today. The S21 museum was originally the torture prison of the Khmer Rouge. It was one of many prisons in which 3 million innocent Cambodians were interrogated, tortured and murdered. After the confronting visit to the museum, we travelled to a local cafe where we met Sokhany, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge. She was happy to openly share her experiences as a 17 year old female living through Pol Pot Era. After lunch (which consisted of a range of food from pizza to spring rolls), we journeyed to the Killing Fields. During the Khmer Rouge, the Killing fields were used as a location for mass murders. We were guided by an audio tour, which took us around mass graves, a lake, and a stoupa, where remains of victims are kept. Overall, the stories we heard and the sights we witnessed provided us with a new view on Cambodia's past. They have allowed us to appreciate the simple things we have and the opportunities we are given.

We are having some issues with uploading photos. Hopefully we are able to upload some shortly.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Day 2

Today was our first official day in Cambodia! This morning, we all woke up quite early, as Cambodia is 3 hours behind Sydney time. We then all got ready for the day and went to breakfast. We were quite surprised that they had fresh bread for us, and also western style spreads and foods available. After breakfast, we boarded the bus and left for the Royal Palace.

The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh is incredible. When we first got off the bus, we were amazed by the size of the palace (and also the humidity). We got a tour guide to show us around the palace grounds, and his English skills were advanced. We learnt about the history of the king, even though he wasn't there at the time, he still lives in the palace. The king is currently 65 and came into power 13 years ago. He is also a bachelor, meaning he has no wife to create heirs for the throne. The palaces were built before the Khmer Rouge, meaning they were quite luxurious. One building had 3 tonnes of silver used to cover the floor, and another had chandeliers that were the size of a table (a gift from the French king in the early 1900s). The grounds at the palace were incredible and so different to what we are used to in Australia.

After boarding the bus, we came back to the pastoral centre where we ate lunch. We then got back on our bus and headed towards the Russian markets. It took us over an hour to get there, due to the traffic, but it was worth it. The markets were a lot of fun, where our bargaining skills were put to the test! We all walked away happy with what we had acquired during our 2 hours there. Unfortunately, we got stuck in peak hour traffic on the way back, resulting in our ride home taking nearly 2 hours. We then arrived back to the pastoral centre and ate dinner.

Photos to come........

Monday, 25 September 2017

Day 1

Cambodia blog day 1:

Meeting at 6:45am this morning at Sydney airport was a surreal moment for all of us. Our first flight of the day was from Sydney to Bangkok and was a great chance to get to know and bond with some of the girls who were sitting around us on the plane. During our two hour layover at Bangkok airport we bonded over super packs of mentos and brainstormed questions we had regarding the trip. We then had our last flight of the day which was simultaneously the most exciting and tiring part of the trip as in a short amount of time we were about to land in Phnom Penh Cambodia after a very long day. We were given a very warm welcome to Cambodia at the Pastoral Centre by the visiting Cambodian children and were given a beautiful meal prepared for us. We are all extremely tired but extremely excited for this immersion experience. 

Photos to come 😄