Visiting a Cambodian Village and School

Posted by on Dec 19, 2012 in Blog, Cambodia | 2 comments

Dates of travel: 12/10/2012 – 12/12/2012

After Eric’s Dengue Fever and selling our bicycles in Bangkok, our only option to travel from place to place was by using public transportation. We realized quickly that this mode of travelling was very limiting. While on the bus we often found ourselves staring out the window with everything passing by in a quick blur. We were longing to be back on our bikes so that we could experience the mentality of the local people, wave to the children and take in the uniqueness of the scenery at each location. We still loved travelling and seeing new places, but now it felt like we were jumping from one top attraction to another with everyone’s behavior influenced by the heaps of tourists all around.

When we were on the bus to Cambodia we met Sajit, a traveller from India who now lives in Germany with his wife. When we mentioned to him how we miss cycling through the countryside, he told us about Sorya, a German non-profit relief organization that has established several projects in two small villages in Cambodia. Sajit told us that we could visit one of the villages and gave us the contact information.

I was excited that now we had a chance to visit the local people and countryside, and emailed the organization right away. I was referred to Sitha who gave us the dates and directions to her village Tropang Sdock. Little did we know at that time that Sitha was just as excited as we were. The objective of Sorya organization is to “Help(ing) people help themselves”. Sitha was previously a student and now a teach at Sorya school and was given the opportunity to study tourism at the university in Phnom Penh. To help sustain herself and the organization she has started a homestay program. It turns out that we were going to be her first customers.  :)

During our travels in the last eight months we had been rather selfish. We were always watching our budget seeing how we could make the most of our savings and experience as many fun adventures as possible. We had donated a few dollars here and there to the disabled or elderly but it was nothing compared to what we spent on ourselves and received from other people along the way. It was time to give something back and now we had a great opportunity to do so. I came up with the idea to donate two bicycles to the village. Our own bikes would not have been a good choice since they were made of heavy steel with parts that are expensive to repair. Plus, we had already sold them, so we headed to the local shop in Phnom Penh.

We were going to buy new bicycles but the owner quickly pointed out that all the new bikes were cheap because the quality was bad and they would break easily. We ended up purchasing two used high-quality Japanese bicycles which we thoroughly tested and ensured that all necessary parts such as lights, bells and baskets were installed.

Eric picking out the bikes at the shop and making sure everything is in working condition.

Eric picking out the bikes at the shops and making sure everything is in working condition.

Once the purchase price was negotiated and the bikes were ours we went on our way to Tropang Sdock, the local village. It was 50km south of Phnom Penh and of course we went by bicycle. We arrived after sunset which wasn’t a problem because the people in the surrounding villages were very friendly and showed us the way. For the last stretch a girl jumped on her scooter and led the way for us.

When we reached the village, we were greeted by Gabi, a volunteer from Germany who made us feel very welcome. We liked her immediately. She had been working with the organization for a few years already and we were amazed about her selfless devotion to the cause.

The next morning we met our host Sitha and handed over the bikes to her. She was very happy and told us that just a few days ago they had discussed how bicycles were very much necessary to make her homestay program work. We were glad they fulfilled such a great purpose.

With the bikes

With Gabi, Sitha, two of the school teachers and the bikes.

Sitha gave us a tour of the village. We went along the fields and learned a lot about the harvesting of rice. I never knew how hard the work was, especially since most of the villagers did not use any agricultural machinery.  Sitha’s tour then lead us to some amazingly beautiful lakes filled with water lilies and lotus blossoms.  It was fascinating to learn that the water lilies were picked from the lakes and used in foods such as soups.

Sitha showing us the countryside

Sitha showing us the countryside and explaining how water lilies and lotus flowers are harvested.

Sitha explaining to me the different elements of a rice plant

Sitha explaining to me the different parts of a rice plant.

Making new friends

Making new friends.

There are a few temples in the area, including Phnom Chiso with temples from the 11th century. Tej, one of Sitha’s students took the time to give us a tour and explain a lot about the history. It was very interesting and it’s saddening that a lot of the original architecture was destroyed during the Khmer Rouge period.

Sitha telling Eric about the history of the temple

Sitha telling Eric about the history of one of the local temples.

Eric learning about the temple

Mr Tej, one of Sitha’s students giving us a tour of the temple on Phnom Chiso.

Eric and Sitha riding back to the village

Eric and Sitha riding back to the village.

Later in the day we joined Sitha’s students in the class room at Sorya school. One of the projects of Sorya organization was the founding of this school in Sitha’s village. Classes are taught primarily in English and students are given skills beyond what public school provides. Sitha was one of the students in the past and is now a teacher of English and Conversational Communication.

It was fun to help the students practice their English and learn about each other’s lives. On the one hand, there are many similarities such as our favorite sports, being connected with friends through Facebook, or joking about Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber. On the other hand, the differences where quite apparent. None of the students had a computer at home nor had they ever traveled outside of their country. Farming was how their families survived year to year. So when the rice harvest was going on, many of them needed to help their parents on the fields and had to miss school. When they asked us about food in America we were glad to hear that they had never heard of McDonald’s.

The students were excited when they found out that Eric and I had cycled from Phnom Penh to their village. They thought the 50 km was quite a long distance to go by bike. So when we told them about the other 7500 km we had cycled our bikes they where all looking at us in disbelief.

Students learning English in the classroom at Sorya School

Students learning English in the classroom at Sorya School

Students of Sorya School

Students of Sitha’s Conversational Communication class.

Goose parade in the village every morning and afternnoon

Goose parade in the village every morning and afternoon

Monkey likes Fanta

Monkey wanna Fanta

We had a wonderful time at Tropang Sdock and wish we could have stayed longer than just two nights. The smiles on the people’s faces and the simple serenity of the village made our stay feel magical. Thank you, Sitha, Gabi and everyone at Sorya School for your hospitality and making us feel so welcome.

 


All photos from Tropang Sdock:

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2 Comments

  1. You guys are truly salt of the Earth. The experiences you’ve gone through already could fill a book. I can’t wait to hear the stories in real life! You guys look great, but it looks like you’ve lost some weight (not that you were ever OVERweight, mind you!)

  2. Bet you guys didn’t know how many lives you’d touch on your travels. I think your gifts and talents shine through in these blogs. People are attracted to you and your winning personalities. So, when does the book come out??