Everyday volunteer life
Approximately 36 km north of Phnom Penh on the National Road 6 (direction Siem Reap) is the “Khemara Kidshelp School”. Until 2012 the school had 8 classrooms, of which 2 are located in the entrance and outside area. In 2012 an additional building with 2 additional classrooms was built, so that between 1 and 4 pm and in the early evening from 5 to 7 pm up to 400 children and young people can be taught by up to 10 teachers.
Support for the Cambodian teachers comes from currently 2 volunteers.
We, this is Laura, who graduated last year, then worked to earn enough money to visit several countries in Southeast Asia before she came to Cambodia on February 18th for 3 months to the “Khemara Kidshelp School” and myself.
Each of us has our own, simply furnished room on the second floor of the school, on the same floor as the family of the school principal Khemara. Laura and I share a small bathroom with toilet. Since the plumber of the village had never installed a western toilet bowl before, the toilet is so close to 2 walls that people usually use it sideways facing away from the wall instead of almost jamming their left leg between the bowl and the back wall.
There is no permanently installed toilet flush. What you use to rinse instead is water from a medium-sized water tank that you fetch with a ladle and a small “bottom shower head” that works like a real bidet (and is actually great).
The water pressure of the actual shower is so low that I prefer to use the ladle as a shower substitute.
This is also one of the many reasons why we usually go on trips on the weekends: especially to get to know the sights and everyday life on the streets and markets in Phnom Penh and the provinces, but also to take a real shower.
I shower in the evening and briefly in the morning to wake up. In the evening it is necessary because during the day it is always around 35 – 36° C, with quite high humidity, but also because the soles of my feet are regularly black. The reason: the whole house is walked barefoot and since the cleaning of the rooms, the staircase and the entrance hall leaves something to be desired and the dust blows in through the windows, dust and other dirt collects on the floor and thus on the soles of the feet.
In the morning we could sleep as long as we wanted, since all our students go to public school between 6.30 and 11 o’clock. But the heat and noise of the road, the neighbouring duck farm, the singing that comes from one of the numerous Buddhist temples as well as the noise of the doves that have their home above us on the roof and are supposed to bring good luck to everyone here, their scratching and skidding over the ground during take-off and landing, contribute to the fact that we mostly start the day between 8 and 8.30 o’clock. We then usually send a “good morning WhatsApp” to each other and figure out when we want to go for our breakfast shopping.
We could also eat with the family, but since the rice variant for breakfast is no different from lunch and dinner; we decided to take care of food ourselves in the morning. It is only a short walk or bicycle ride along National Road No. 6 to one of the many small street vendors offering fruit. Usually these fruits are only one of many items from the variety of goods each shop has to offer. They range from vegetables to gasoline or diesel fuel filled into 2 litre bottles. At the gas station they also sell an incredibly sugary version of cornflakes and the grocery store also offers pastries in addition to fruits and a huge variety of sweets, but many of these things are too creamy and sweet for my taste.
Nic´s Coffeeshop, which – according to their advertising – also has WLAN, offers delicious tea and/or coffee frappes. And while you wait for your order, you get a glass with many ice cubes and a hot pot of tea, which is immediately poured over the ice and then not only gets ready for drinking but instantly transforms into a much appreciated ice-tea.
Packed with our groceries we then proceed back to the school and the dining table in its entrance hall. By then except for the grandmother and the cook, who is also the cleaning lady, nobody is in the house anymore: the two children are at school and Khemara, the school principal is mostly out and about teaching at public school.
Laura and I have breakfast extensively, chat, plan the lessons, develop ideas – or decide to read, write, read emails etc. until lunch starts as early as 11.20 a.m. (which makes sense for all those who had to get up early!).
Already at 12 o’clock the first children arrive: some – or maybe the majority – to be together with their friends, or to not have to help in the household or on the field at home, or just because the way from their school home and then back to Kidshelp School would be too long and cumbersome.
But all of them are exhausted from the morning classes and the concentration span is relatively short, especially for the younger ones.
At 1 pm the doorbell rings and the children line up in the schoolyard, according to size and gender, and an older student conducts the songs, which are sung in English. And after about 10 – 15 minutes the children are sent to their individual classrooms and the lessons begin – interrupted at 2.30 pm by a 30-minute break.
At 5.15 pm the older and more advanced students arrive.
And from 7 pm the school building and the small courtyard, which served as a parking lot for bicycles and scooters, is beginning to empty.
At 19.15/19.30 the bell rings again, this time, however, for dinner, which is basically a repeat of the lunch, perhaps extended by a few ingredients. We, i.e. Laura and I, get a lot of vegetables and some meat; in addition there would be a bowl with a kind of fish soup and algae, sometimes also fried fish.
But since we see all kinds of fish dried outside, on dusty roads or in the yard and “visited” by mosquitoes and ants every day, we almost never grab this plate.
It would be exciting for all of our children to see that adults and children often put their legs casually on the chair while eating. A “no go” with us.
And then the evening ritual begins: shower, read, check emails, etc., and program the fan so that it stops automatically after 1 – 2 hours and then try to sleep.
Since Laura replaces the former volunteer Tom, who flew back in mid-February, she has taken over his classes: 2 relatively large groups. I am replacing Siglinde. Her previous classes are relatively small. We feel that this handover system might be a little unfair and we are thinking to raise this issue at the monthly teacher meeting, among many other ideas that came to our minds during the breakfast talks.
As far as our daily teaching routine is concerned, this will be a topic at a different time.