by Siraj Aziz

I had a great privilege to join MYCorps: Cambodia, Mission 2 back in October to December 2016. It had, as a whole, been a life-changing and insightful experience for me personally. Here are some selections of pictures that I personally chose as a throwback to those great moments as a volunteer in Cambodia! For more project details of Cambodia: Mission 2, please click “Past Missions” button on this website.

I wish not to say this out loud but may I share the story behind this particular photo, which I will do very briefly. When I first saw those old-looking, pale Cambodian flags I told myself that this had to be changed. Approaching our beloved “Lukru” Chen (translated as “teacher”) to offer some financial help to buy new flags was probably one of the many satisfying small decisions I have made in my life. When being told about that, he first smiled like nobody has ever smiled like that before and told me how happy and grateful he was. I helped to pay 4 out of 10 new Cambodian flags to be mounted at the school main gate. I firmly believe in the value of respect towards your national flag, a symbol of pride and sovereignty of your country. I know he loves his school so very much. And I know he is a very proud Cambodian. I know he wants the best education possible for his local communities. Having said that, new flags for his beloved school encompasses everything he needs – better-looking main gate and renewed sense of love to the country. Later I realised that almost all schools nearby and probably the whole of Cambodia have got national flags mounted at the school main gate – that sense of patriotism I am very amazed by. And at the end of the day, who else should be proud of Jalur Gemilang other than us, Malaysians? Pride!

I was shocked to witness an awful lot of malfunctioning study benches in this one classroom. I initially realised that it was locked very securely. But with a school of more than 500 students and only 5 functioning classrooms, I wondered why was it left like that? I took the initiative to get into the classroom and the scale of work to be dealt with was enormous.  That classroom looked like it was left for about 5 years and the amount of dust and dirt was way beyond imagination. I did ask Luk Ru about that and he said there had been lack of funding to repair them. Since then, I told myself that this classroom needs to become decent enough for the students. After much discussion, we came up with the idea to do fundraising amongst us ($10 each) to buy about more than $140 worth of plank to repair about 20 study benches. I thought we did it splendidly well.

Celebrating Deepavali right here in Cambodia brought us all together as one bif MyCorps family! Look at those happy faces of Kubie, Dyvvia, Jeyanthi, Kausalya and Subra!

Another occasion in which food united us all! Khmer noodle at its best!

We probably found one of the world’s best coffees, right here in Cambodia.

School session in Cambodia generally convenes on the first week of November. And that means the time for school staff, community leaders and students to meet up, discussing any relevant issues of concern. I was lucky to be invited personally by Lukru Chen to join the morning crowd. Apart from listening to the speeches, I got to enjoy listening to the beautiful voices of some students who volunteered singing Khmer songs in front of their other friends. They were later given about 2000 riels each as a gift. The photo above was captured right after the meet up session ended.

Right after the school community morning meet up session (see previous caption), I told Lukru Chen (teacher Chen) that there were many students not wearing their school uniform. They looked so demotivated. I also saw many others with adequately clean white shirt with neat dark-coloured pants and skirts. And these students looked obviously motivated. I thought that cannot happen. It was unfair. And on that very morning itself I asked if we could let 10 students (5 boys, 5 girls) to have their new suits on the soonest possible. It was an obvious yes and the next morning we went to buy them at the market.

This is “Pat”. He is probably about 5 to 6 years old. He, along with his other friends always came to the school compound to have some random fun moments together when we were working on the projects. His trademark move is the one with right hand shaking above his head with the palm facing upwards. Cute boy!

I was taken aback when I first observed the conditions of his family house – dull old-looking wooden planks all over the main structure with the kitchen (if not mistaken) at the back of the house seemed to need total makeover. I wonder how would they cook if it rains, and rains very heavily!

Having said that, his family really cannot afford to buy school uniform for him. He was one of those 10 students to get new school uniform. Seeing him wearing that brand new school uniform the next day was one of the life pleasures I will never ever forget for the rest of my life. That $5 spent from my personal allowance on that very school uniform is worthwhile for my lifetime! I am very grateful to God for this opportunity. Gratefulness!

This photo was taken few moments before we left the school for Siem Riep. No one could ever imagine the drastic change of his facial expression after this photo was captured – he actually cried!! He kept on waving his hands to us in the van and rubbing his eyes, like trying to fight over his emotions of seeing us for probably the last time ever! This shall not be the last time we have a photo together! And the good news is that he will be coming over to Siem Riep city to visit us this coming December before we fly off to Malaysia. I cannot wait for that occasion though. Anyways, it has been a privilege and a great pleasure to have served you, Sir! See you in Siem Riep later, Lukru!

As a group, we are stronger! There were 14 of us, hence the “14” in “Squad14”. No man or woman is left behind. And this journey that we had at Veal Spor Primary School – we went through together. Family.

That is me walking pass by the foundation of classroom. It has got five pairs of metallic T-pillars for the wooden upper structures to be mounted on and filled with many layers of big rocks, sand, gravels and later on, concrete cement.

Throwback to one of those truck trips back and forth from the base camp to the project site. Those bumpy and muddy roads that shook us all (and traumatised some of us with severe back pain due to leaning against the metallic pillars of the lorry), was nothing compared to the laughter and joy  of jokes and stories we shared along the journey in addition to the waving hands of the lovely children of the village. Happy (not so) faces everyone!

Let’s get the furnitures (benches and tables) done for this lovely classroom, ladies and gentlemen! I personally love this concept of open space for a classroom. This ample space the students have shall give them more freedom to express themselves in a great learning environment. Education!

I probably looked like the most Cambodian in this group with that maroon-white multi-purpose cloth on and bare footed whilst holding the blue plastic spade to get the classroom floor flat! It was not an easy process though. Melancholy!

We will fight on the ground with our blood, toil, tears and sweat!

As a Malaysian, witnessing your Jalur Gemilang up in the skies of Cambodia next to the Cambodian national flag was a proud moment. It symbolised Malaysia-Cambodia friendship. There had been various occasions where we stood firmly side by side to sing Negaraku during the school morning assembly. It felt like a mini diplomatic mission here.  Majulah Malaysia dan Kemboja!

Petanque was one of the many games we had with the local villagers throughout our stay at Veal Spor.

This photo was taken right after we were done with the first phase of the brick-laying of incinerator wall. The slab was very heavy and with the help of our fellow locals we managed to position it exactly to where we wanted it to be. My facial expression showed it all. I probably had burned 3 times more calories at one shot, way more than one week of laziness back at my comfort zone called home in Malaysia. Weight-lifting!

We first came to see the conditions of the latrines and were shocked by the muds and dirts on every single inch of the walls, floors and the toilet bowls! The heavy-duty tasks that came along with the cleaning up was something we all dealt with together. Patience!

Guess where do we get the pizzas baked on? Remember the incinerator project that we all finished off? This photo was taken about four days after the project ended. Our cooking team, led by Anwar on that day (baking Pizza in the brand new incinerator was his idea to which we whole-heartedly accepted!) together with Nad, Wong and Jasmine worked tremendously well together to make this happen! Lesson to learn? Sometimes you need to be a bit crazy to create this sort of fun things. Mouth-watering!

I have never imagined myself joining a great occasion of pizza-eating gathering with our fellow Cambodians in Cambodia. It was an enjoyable moment I will not forget. They probably have never tried this famous Italian cuisine before and to see them eating Pizza with joy and laughter that night was a surreal experience to us. Memorable!

This photo was taken right after our visit to Pik Sai’s (one of the many lovely kids we met) house to see her sister’s new born baby. Lisa (in front) is the daughter of Veal Spor school headmaster – she has got leadership quality in her I can see. Pik Sai by the way is really close to her and I can observe they both spending an awful lot of time together playing around the school compound almost every day. Chung Leng (on my back) on the other hand is pretty much reserved, but full of curiosity towards surroundings and is a hands-on kind of person. He is a generous boy too. I remember when Chung Leng offered me few lotus flower seeds to taste and few other natural snacks that I cannot recalled what they were. Lotus flowers can be found at almost every pond and river along the paddy fields in that very village. For some, lotus flowers is the source of income to their family. Oh, the lotus flower seeds tasted like coconut. Discovering the undiscovered!

 

We were lucky to have a few professional photographers in our group (Squad14). And with such privilege, we chose not to waste every chance of capturing eye-catching photos every time they had their DSLR cameras on hand. It seemed that they did splendidly well, as shown by the above photo. There were eight of us standing in one line, next to each other in complete darkness with every source of light we can possibly get – mobile phones, torchlights etc. Artistic!

 

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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