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Middle College Tour to Cambodia

August 02, 2018 at 2:15 PM

With thanks to Middle College Head of Wilson House, Mr Al Ronberg

Over the duration of the July school holidays, 28 Year 10 students and 4 staff, in two different teams, made a journey to the Kingdom of Cambodia, travelling with World Challenge, an organisation who operate a programme specialising in holistic travel opportunities for school groups.

The aim was to expose students to different cultures and experiences, whilst engaging with local communities through a service project and an expedition. Students were expected to take on different roles during the trip with responsibility for transportation, accommodation, food, passports, budget, leadership and overall group well-being. The personal growth in our students has been clearly evident in the way that they have developed confidence and learned from their frustrations and successes in these roles.

Cambodia is a fascinating destination that has engaging learning opportunities with every stop. A particular highlight was the World Heritage temple sites of Angkor Wat, rising majestically through the surrounding jungle. The scale of this space and the intricate detail in the architectural features was simply indescribable.

Both teams spent some time working near the Vietnamese Border with an NGO called the Elephant Valley Project. The local Banong tribe have spent millennia working the land around the project and have been slowly working towards gaining back land that has been stolen over the course of recent history. Elephants have formed a large part of their culture, and the jungle around is slowly being repopulated with elephants that have been largely mistreated or neglected. Deforestation is also a real threat to these elephants. Each group worked hard on tasks that enable the project to provide expert care to their animals and the local villages. It was hot and difficult work which our students handled admirably.

It is very hard to visit Cambodia without appreciating the comforts of home! Team members endured long distance travel on roads that are experiencing a bumper wet season. The lack of any discernable system of road-rules made travel more exciting than anything Rainbow’s End can conjure up! Tramping was in dense jungle and involved sleeping in hammocks, hoisted in hastily constructed shelters, or under people’s stilt-houses. These spaces also housed the family’s large collection of assorted farm animals.

In addition to all of this, each had to come to terms with the overwhelming presence of things creepy and crawly! Some of our students (and teachers) developed a pro-active approach to coping with the presence of ants, spiders, crickets, frogs and snakes. They decided that sending a message that Kiwis might not be able to fly but they are very good at eating small creatures, communicated our intent nicely! Yes, they tried the crickets and rather large spiders, nicely deep fried!

Cambodia is not just about temples, elephants and jungles. It is truly humbling to experience the sobering stories and places that have been left in the wake of the Khmer Rouge atrocities of the late 1970s. Our time in and around Phnom Penh took in the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre (The Killing Fields) and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21 Prison). Our students were confronted with the worst parts of Cambodia’s story and whilst this was an unsettling space to be in, the learning was deep and life-altering. We met a survivor of the prison who was only able to live because he could fix the regime’s typewriters. Students and teachers left grateful for the world that we occupy and determined to stand up for the injustices that surround us. We did not have to travel far to engage with people who had been affected by the presence of landmines and cluster bombs left over from times of intense conflict. The streets are filled with victims willing to share their stories. Tuk-tuk drivers, boat skippers and guesthouse operators, all with missing limbs, provide sobering reminders that this country still has a lot of work to do before it is safe for all. We visited an organisation in Siem Reap that trains dogs to detect the presence of TNT in the unexploded ordinance left in the soil. The work they do to clear Cambodia so that families and farmers can be safe is truly outstanding.

After three very exciting weeks, the real work of this World Challenge begins. How will these students live in light of what they have experienced? How do they seek to bring about change in their world? This journey provides the true benefit of a Middle College trip to Cambodia, three and half more years of globally-aware and motivated students contributing to the life of the College and their wider community.

The students would like to express their sincere thanks to the staff who made this trip possible. Mr Al Ronberg, Mrs Rhonda Raynes, Mr Chris Duncan and Miss Chloe Baillie, along with two World Challenge staff, took on the task of organising and leading this first international trip for our Middle College students. It was a challenging, yet ultimately incredibly rewarding opportunity for two groups of our younger students to extend their learning by exploring new horizons, experiencing a culture and way of life so vastly different from their own, gaining a greater understanding of international atrocities of the past and their place in history, and offering service in a remote environment with all the challenges that brings. They return, understanding the resilience needed for such a journey, the value of service to others and the reward of hard work, and with a greater sense of compassion, for both their fellow travelers and those they met along the way. A truly outstanding, learning journey.

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