This is the account of one student from the St Louis School of Milan and their experience visiting and teaching in their UWS partner school, Swy in Northern Cambodia.
When my teachers first asked me if I wanted to participate in a trip to Cambodia I wasn’t totally convinced – this seemed a great opportunity but I had my doubts, especially when they told me about the need for vaccinations. Yet after this short period of indecision, it became clear that this experience was exactly what I needed as I wanted to understand what is meant by cultural difference and inequality.
We travelled from Phnom Penh to Ban Lung through unpolluted countryside, surrounded by green fields. The market in Ban Lung sold many different types of food, from fresh meat to deep fried insects. Amid this vibrancy, I could only see extremely poor people and this struck me – before experiencing the inequality of the world first-hand, I just did not know how large the gap between countries and incomes could be.
When we arrived at the Swy village the children were thrilled to see us and immediately wanted to play. The genuine kindness we saw characterizes everyone we met in Cambodia. For the four nights that we spent in our partner village we slept in hammocks underneath the school. We were joined by the Cambodian representative of United World Schools, Coco, who shared all sorts of local insights with us and his experience of Pol Pot. Coco became a true friend, going out of his way for us. He is a great man, always smiling through difficult times, brave beyond comparison to any stuntman, and I will never forget him or the example which he set.
In the village, I taught music and was thrilled to find the children seemed to enjoy it more than their other lessons. After lessons in the morning, the afternoon held ‘special activities’. My friend Tommaso and I ran sessions of dominoes but it soon became a time of simply having fun with the children. In the evening we put a play on for the students, choosing “The Three Little Pigs”. Together with the teachers, we revisited the plot trying to find a rural Cambodian equivalent for items in the story like a wolf and a brick house.
My experience in Cambodia has really made me think about Western society’s waste and use of resources. I don’t think anything we have is ‘deserved’ from birth, we are all the same. In a world full of hate and continuous competition, we should be inspired by the people in Cambodia. They seem to live with a smile on their face, with no material wealth but just with the hope of creating a better future for themselves and those whom they love.
This journey has made me reflect on the world, on poverty and exploitation. The ability to do this trip has been a privilege, I know few will ever get the chance to bond with people from an entirely different and remote culture. I must thank my parents and my school as well as United World Schools. Without them, this wonderful experience would not have been possible.