Bittersweet goodbyes as we leave our families and the Island where which we called home for the last 5 days! Even though we are filled with excitement for the next part of our adventure with Pepy tours, we are nostalgic to leave a place and people that we formed a deep connection with… Upon arrival to the Island we were given the warmest of welcomes from our new families, and along with that we all received a bike to use as our main mode of transport across the Island. Even though our families in Melbourne are thousands of miles away, we now had someone to call Mae (mom) Pok (dad), bongba- on broh (brother) , bongba- oun srey (sister), Ta (grandpa), yeay (grandma). Amongst other things we learned this week, this homestay program allowed us to realise that no matter how big a language barrier may be, human connections can be formed without the use of words.There really is an international language.We also came to the conclusion that bucket showers are the most exciting way to shower! Every morning we continued with our Khmer Language classes (Peasa Khmer) and ’the way of the day’, where we are able to hear the beautiful teachings of Buddha and practice clearing our minds through meditation (thank you to our mentor and ex-monk Yut!). Our days were filled with witnessing firsthand the work of Cambodian Rural Development Team (CRDT), going on bike rides, interacting with our brothers and sisters, and among other things, learning to cope with minimal electricity. At first we seemed to be coping just fine, until S stumbled down the stairs in the dark and gave herself and the whole family a fright (minus the cuts, bruises and embarrassment she’s alive and breathing)! For the second time in Cambodia we were receiving a blessing from a Monk, but this time it was in form of a baptism, where we sit down on stairs wearing sarongs whilst the Monk pours buckets of perfumed water and flowers down on us while reciting prayers in khmer. Not only was this day refreshing and a blessing in itself, it also ended with copious amounts of laughter as most of our days do. The day started with our usual language and Buddhist teachings, and then we all went back to our homes, cooked with our families and got ready for the blessing. Luckily we were given traditional clothing to wear to the ceremony. Unluckily, Cambodian sizes are tiny and our hips don’t lie. Of course it was S once again that got herself in a bit of trouble when she went to put the skirt on and it didn’t quite agree with her hips and before she knew it she had torn the most beautiful piece of clothing. Luckily for S, the family just laughed at this little incident and reached for a slightly larger skirt for her to put on. Still finding the outfit to be a super-tight fit, S continued the day trying not to breath too much, just so nothing pops open. All in all it was another memorable day filled with blessings, love, exploration, intrigue, and of course, laughter. H found endless laughter with her Ohm (respectful term for an elder), whom she refers to as the Happiest Man on the Island, because he’s only ever got the biggest smile across his face. K was overly excited at the thought of finally having a baby brother, and even though his cries kept her up at night it didn’t decrease the joy he brought her. S was beyond grateful when she found out she had a sister away from home, and formed an immediate connection with the beautiful Siah. We were all grateful for the opportunity to interview H’s grandpa (Om) who’s life was far from simple. His story took our breath away, and is something we will never forget. Just when the heat seemed to get unbearable our heroic tour guides, Claire and Yut, took us on a 10 minute boat ride to another island known as the “virgin island”. It got its name because during rain season it gets completely flooded and disappears, reappearing again with the sun in the dry season. White sand and clear water… we had found our oasis! The only downside was the strong current, which meant that H and K had to watch out for S because the current seemed to have the strongest force on her, and with her fitness levels she’d drift off never to be found again.
From this experience we were able to explore the theme of education throughout Cambodia, learning just how difficult it can be to access an adequate school in rural areas. With the knowledge of just how important education is in life, the three of us found passion brewing inside us to explore and learn even more about education in Cambodia.