Cambodia journey leaves legacy

Bowral High School students in Cambodia

Bowral High School students were exposed to the extremes of life when they undertook a cultural exchange in Cambodia and Thailand.

From Cambodia's Killing Fields to helping support trainee teachers, the 32 students and six staff gained new perspectives on the world while providing financial, educational and personal support to targeted local communities and schools.

Contributing to local communities

Since the program started in 2005, Bowral High, its extended community of schools and the local community have raised more than $20,000 to buy school supplies, build and resource a library and classrooms, employ staff and sponsor study trips to Australia.

The program has also helped establish vital facilities such as wells for clean drinking water and toilet blocks.

Starting in Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh students were awakened to Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge era of genocide by visits to the Killing Fields and S21 prison. "How could people do this to other people?" was a common question asked.

Developing cultural and educational links

Most of the trip was spent in Siem Reap province as Bowral High has developed strong cultural, educational and social links in this region, especially at the small village of Peak Sneng, about 40 kilometres from the capital.

While visiting the village students observed evening classes, set up by Vathana Chey, a recipient of the sponsored cultural exchange to Australia. The classes involved local high school students giving up their evenings to teach the younger children English.

Many of the resources the Bowral students carried to Cambodia were for this initiative.

Funding a teacher training program

Tied to this program was another project to fund and establish a "teacher training" program for the volunteer teachers.

This program is expected to run for six months and would involve training the teachers who then train village volunteers to run the evening classes for young children of the village. 

Another long-term recipient of school resources and equipment was the Volunteer Development Children's School, also in Siem Reap. This school provides educational opportunities for orphans and/or displaced rural children and operates on donations.

Experiencing the lives of others

The experience left the group with emotions ranging from shock, sadness and horror at the number of families living there and the stench they have to endure.

In Thailand's Chang Mai the group visited Agape Children's Home, run by former Bowral High student Peter Worner and his wife, Kelly. This home caters for up to 75 orphan children living with HIV.

Teachers said they found it rewarding to watch the students come away from the trip with a strong determination to do something positive and make a difference in the future.

Photo: Bowral High School students during their travels in Cambodia. Photo supplied by BHS.

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