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In this new installment of the YRC, we follow the sojourns of a Singaporean teacher and her team of social architects as they travel to Cambodia, in the hope of helping a remote community build itself through education, for the next three years. Meet Jieyun.

This journey started even before my teaching years. In June 2002, I was preparing myself for the coming years in NIE and teaching in school. I had always hoped I could make an impact on my students. And with the experience and learning as a teacher, I wanted to go beyond Singapore – to developing nations, and render help where education was lacking. It sounded idealistic, maybe even a little far-fetched that time, but it did come in its own time.

It was in October 2008 when I first visited Cambodia with my CCA group, the Girls’ Brigade (GB). Every year, a group of girls from my CCA group visited Cambodia and helped out with the missions work the group started out over there. That year, we visited the children in the slums and dumpsite, organized programmes on hygiene, English, art and craft, as well as did interactive games, skits and songs for them.

For some of the people who went, especially the teachers who have been on such trips before, this was probably nothing new. But for me, experiencing what I saw first-hand was such an eye-opener, compared to just seeing it on TV. Mingling with the kids, especially those at the dumpsite, whose livelihood was totally dependent on what they picked from the dumps was a lesson of a lifetime.

They were overjoyed to see us, and even happier to have received the simple lessons that we prepared for them. They were so eager to learn.

Imagine a small house squeezing in over 80 kids, with them scribbling and coloring away on the worksheets we gave. This was the scenario. They had so little yet they knew contentment. That simplicity of life was indescribable. Yet in my heart, I felt more could be and should be given to them. But who can and who would?

In Dec 2009, on my second trip to Cambodia, I actually looked forward to going back. This time around, I had the opportunity to be even more hands-on with the work that had to be done there. My friends and I went to an orphanage called Jirac. There, we helped out with replacing the roofs and the kitchen door. The roof was rusty and the house was flooded whenever it rained. We also helped in clearing the kitchen shed and cleaning up the dormitory.

The kitchen shed and dormitory were filled with cockroaches and every possible insect you could possibly imagine – which explained well the screams of the ladies in the process of chasing or rather, being chased by the insects!

At Jirac, we conducted lessons on simple English and hygiene for the kids. It was truly a difficult process getting the kids to keep clean, asking them to wash their hands before meals, put on their slippers in outdoor areas, and brush their teeth, among other things.
Such habits that were so natural to us were totally foreign to them. This was understandable. They had more pertinent issues to grapple with, such as fending for three meals a day. Hygiene was definitely the least of their concerns, regardless of the fact that lack of hygiene led to sickness.

The conditions there were so bad that I felt a duty to stay on for a few months to improve the living conditions and to provide the education that the kids were so deprived of. My heart resonated even more with that silent mantra “More can be and should be given to them. But who can and who would? “

Through these trips, my eyes were opened to the needs of the Cambodians even more and my compassion for the people in Cambodia grew stronger. In spite of this, deep in my heart, I knew that I’ve only seen glimpses of what needs to be done here.

There are more, even more unfortunate people than those that I’ve seen. I realised that in comparison with what they have, we Singaporeans are truly very blessed. And I know I was blessed to be a blessing.

Being an educator, I believe there’s more I can give than just being in Cambodia once or twice a year for a week or two. There is so little that you can do when the trip is so short. After much thought, I decided to stay longer, to invest in the education of the young and improve the lives of the people whose lives we would touch.

Alone, I may not be able to do much. But together with my team, I saw a glimmer of hope. My plane lifted off the ground. I closed my eyes and dozed off; by the time I open them again, it would be the start of my new journey. Welcome me back, dear Cambodia.

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