Today began the volunteer work in Cambodia. It was an eye opening day and one that had me feeling many emotions. Here’s some background before I go any further….
Volunteer Placement: Joy Day Care, Phenom Penh, Cambodia
Children: Ages 2-7
Description: 30-40 Children from 2 dumps (landfills) just outside the city of Phenom Penh who are bused in each morning to Joy Day Care from 9-3:30.
Today I was thrown right in the mix from the get go. As the kids arrive, they immediately start taking off their clothes and before you know it there are kids running around naked. This is so that they can get cleaned and their clothes can get washed while they are there during the day. My job was to start washing the 2 year olds. We won’t go into the cleanliness of the bathroom in which I was doing this. This is where I had to let go of my Western expectations of what a sanitary school environment should be and had to come to terms with this is a much better situation then where these children were earlier this morning.
I was warned that when you step into this type of volunteer situation, you find yourself wondering what is my role here. I have learned that many Cambodians look at Westerners like we have all the answers and as if we are in charge. Thus, with no set structure and only a time frame you really have to be quick on your feet and create your role for the day very quickly; realizing that after you get the kids bathed and dressed this does not leave much time to educate. I am still in awe of the schedule:
9-10: Kids arrive and are bathed
11:15-2:00: Nap time
2-3:30: Bath. Clothes put back on. Class/playtime
3:30: Bus ride home
Today, I really struggled with the day care system and the lack of structure and education. Was I setting my own expectations too high? Why was I even judging so much in the first place? As I was playing with the children who barely knew how to talk, much less understand me in english, I looked around and noticed all the good in the room. The children were so loving and kind to one another. They took care of one another, helped each other, shared snacks, and barely caused a fuss. Of course there were a couple of tears but for the most part it was truly the simple things for these children and they were a family. By the end of the day after going through the thoughts of judging the system and myself, I fully understood that it could really be worse for these children. Rather than being at the dump and begging for money, they were getting bathed, food, clothes washed, and some education. Tomorrow I see just how these children live as I will help take them home from the center. Until then, I will contemplate the infamous word from the movie Stand And Deliver, “how can I reach these kids…..”