Published on: 30 January 2015

10 Christ Church boys and 10 St Mary’s Anglican Girls’ School students, as well as seven staff, travelled to Cambodia in December as part of the second Service in Action (SIA) trip to work with the Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF).

Founded in 2004 by Scott Neeson, CCF provides life-changing education, nourishment and healing to vulnerable children from some of Cambodia’s most destitute communities. Director of SIA Canon Richard Pengelley, on his last trip before starting his new role as the 17th Dean of Perth, established the relationship with Scott in 2012 ahead of the schools’ first trip in 2013.

The Years 11 and 12 students were humbled by the Cambodian people from their first day in Phnom Penh. Eliza, Tamara, Kale and Michael blogged: “Everyone is extremely welcoming and friendly, always returning or offering a smile, which helps make this unknown experience much less confronting.”

A visit to the notorious S-21 prison and one of the Killing Fields sites ahead of their CCF service work was a confronting experience for all but recognised as important in the context of the journey. On arrival at the education centres, where they would work for next 10 days, the students gained new knowledge about CCF from its dedicated staff.

“This included how CCF tries to set up programs that other NGOs aren’t doing so there isn’t competition or doubling up of resources; the variety of services they provide including grandparents and maternal assistance; and the way in which they break the poverty cycle by providing food to families so children can get an education rather than working to provide food for the family,” the students said.

One teacher and a group of four students ran lessons with children ranging in ages from four to 10-year-olds. Some of the SIA team were based at satellite centres in the middle of the rubbish dump. Most days began at 6.00am, then a bus ride to their centre, an hour spent preparing for lessons and working with the children until 5.00pm. The students could then join in elective evening sessions including dance, food service or English enrichment.

Half-way through their journey Rachel, Josh, Lolita and Wei Juen reflected: “In working with children in less fortunate situations, we felt the joy and fulfillment of being able to help and educate, and learnt ourselves that despite the children’s poor and difficult background they could have such happiness and delight from simple things like a piggyback ride (which we happily obliged to). Our goal before this trip started was to enjoy ourselves and put all our effort into educating and playing with the kids – and we were hitting our stride perhaps without fully realising it.”

A highlight for the team was travelling out to a regional school, of around 1200 children, to measure feet and distribute shoes. Tom’s Shoes, as it is known, is a bimonthly activity for the CCF leadership group and the SIA team was invited to assist.

On the final day, Abbey, James, Gareth and Sarah said: “Everyone who went on this trip can honestly say that this experience is one of the most profound that we’ve ever had. Teaching the children at CCF has not only benefited the children hugely, but also left us more experienced, wiser and more aware of life outside of Perth. We have all become more rounded individuals as a result of this trip. What we have gained in 10 days will benefit is for the rest of our lives.”