Journey to Cambodia 2017: Siem Reap
Last month I got to spend time in several of the rural villages in Cambodia where LWB is making a long-term commitment to help orphaned and impoverished children. Since none of our projects here would be possible without your generous support, I’d love to take you along on my journey by sharing some of what I experienced.
We landed in Cambodia in the northwest city of Siem Reap. Siem Reap is probably the most famous tourist destination in the country as it’s home to the famous temples of Angkor. In fact, the largest religious monument in the world (Angkor Wat) is here, built in the hard-to-fully-comprehend 1100s. I am going to shamelessly copy some amazing details from the Wikipedia page:
“The monument was made out of 5 million to 10 million sandstone blocks with a maximum weight of 1.5 tons each. In fact, the entire city of Angkor used up far greater amounts of stone than all the Egyptian pyramids combined, and occupied an area significantly greater than modern-day Paris. Moreover, unlike the Egyptian pyramids which used limestone quarried barely 0.5 km away, the entire city of Angkor was built with sandstone quarried 40 km (25 mi) away. Virtually all of its surfaces, columns, lintels and even roofs are carved. There are miles of reliefs illustrating scenes from Indian literature including unicorns, griffins, winged dragons pulling chariots as well as warriors following an elephant-mounted leader and celestial dancing girls with elaborate hair styles.”
All Cambodian citizens dream of visiting these temples at least once in their lives. They are a source of enormous cultural pride and a true symbol of hope following the devastation of the Khmer Rouge. While the temples are free to enter for any Cambodian person, for those living in poverty, just making the journey to Angkor Wat can be well beyond their reach.
We decided to bring along all the 2nd-grade students in our Sokhem Village Believe in Me School so they could experience their very first school field trip. I have to admit I wondered if it was really a good idea for our team to be responsible for dozens of children after we just completed an overseas journey of 30 hours. Once I heard how excited all the kids were to meet up with us, however, we were full steam ahead!
Our plans naturally included a formal permission slip for parents to sign. Since many of the parents were not able to get an education or learn to read themselves, a red thumbprint versus a formal signature served just fine.
Our first stop of the day was the Ta Prohm temple, made famous by the movie “Tomb Raider” and all of the trees which have reclaimed control over hundreds of years. I can’t even begin to explain just how incredible it was to walk through this complex, so I’m just going to let the photos speak for themselves.
Next up was the Bayon temple, also known as the “Temple of Faces,” built in 1190. This incredible temple features what some call the “Mona Lisa of Southeast Asia,” with over 200 carved images of the same face, done in groups of four to face each direction.
Okay, I have to admit that this might have been where my heart stopped a wee bit. This temple is a maze of stairways, hidden passages, and steep descents, through which the children took off running at the speed of light. When it was time for us to gather together to head to the next temple, our first headcount showed that we were eight children short! There were definitely a few too many secret hiding places, but we finally managed to get all the children accounted for.
Insert giant sigh of relief here, and hooray for the bright blue shirts which made it easier to spot the kids (imagine every adult doing a panicked life-size game of “Where’s Waldo.”) We quickly came up with a much better “buddy system” before our next stop.
Our final temple of the day was the centerpiece of Angkor Wat, and there really aren’t words to describe its majesty. I can only suggest to everyone that you need to visit it yourself someday.
For the majority of the children with us that day, it was the very first time they had left their village. We definitely encountered a few small challenges we hadn’t anticipated. Many of the children got car sick as they had never been in a van before (definitely not helped by the candy we had given them), and when we walked into a restaurant to eat, the children couldn’t stay inside as they had never felt air conditioning and were absolutely FREEZING (quick table change to outside!)
But the fun we had together was something I will never forget. The kids tried their best to teach me how to count to ten in Khmer, but after learning Chinese for so many years there was just no way the new sounds were rolling off my tongue. My hopelessness seemed to make them laugh harder though, thankfully. (The only number I could consistently shout correctly was “Dop!” for ten).
I’m so glad these amazing young children could have such a memorable day. I believe that a real life education includes a lot more than just what is taught inside a classroom, and their excitement and curiosity in exploring such a historical city was a true joy to watch unfold.
Tomorrow I’ll share more about Sokhem Village and how our Believe in Me school there is impacting the entire community. Hope you’ll come along for the ride!
~Amy Eldridge, Chief Executive Officer