Global Service Scholar: Jonathan Lee
Waking up in in Siem Reap is always a journey. A sense of dread seeps in as I look to my alarm blinking 6:30 a.m., but the feeling is soon replaced by a groggy excitement to once again meet with passionate teachers and (sometimes) passionate students. After a quick routine of brushing my teeth, dressing for success, and choking on mosquito repellant, I head downstairs for a quick breakfast (lime and honey pancake and a mango shake) with my two roommates. Once finished with breakfast, we brave the cacophony of smells, noises, and bumps during the fifteen-minute tuk-tuk ride, four people to a tuk-tuk, to our worksite at Treak Community Center.
During my cohort’s first week at the Centre, we began the days with a few hours of manual labor from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Arranged in a circle with small, brightly colored chairs, we sit and cut unrecyclable plastic bags that will serve as a fiber for cement bricks created by Treak. Once enough plastic has been cut, we set aside the scraps and begin the arduous process of mixing cement with shovels and buckets. The mixing process requires only a few minutes of diligent mixing, but it feels like a lifetime to my underused forearms.
Once we had a sizable mountain of cement, it could be divided into separate buckets that would be used to fill individual brick molds. We created bricks for the first two mornings in Cambodia, and afterwards, we used them to help a family construct a bathroom. A few of us dug holes in the ground, which served as a septic tank, and the others cemented bricks to form the outside bathroom structure. Unfortunately, because of the copious rainfall, we were not able to finish building the toilet. For the rest of the first week, we spent our mornings forming bricks.
During weeks two and three, we spent our mornings working on our educational specializations at the community center. I was placed in the General Studies group where the teachers tasked me with creating lesson plans teaching Force (Push and Pull) and Light to primary aged students. For the two weeks, I spent the first three hours of each day itemizing supplies in the school relating to science, drawing from established lesson plans from other elementary school and home-schooling systems, and discussing with teachers the plausibility of various created lesson plans. After a plethora of discussion and revision, the teachers and I have agreed on two months of curriculum that will be implemented in their following year of instruction.
From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., it’s break time. After a hard morning of work, we have two hours to eat and rest before the afternoon session begins. Usually, a few of the cohort and I will walk about 20 minutes to the local market where we indulge in local street meats and delicious sugar cane juice. Generally, we eventually make our way to the same restaurant where the owners now greet us with smiles and gesturing hands to a well-situated table. After we finish our delicious meals, we pray that we have enough time to take a quick nap and rest as we walk or take a tuk-tuk back to the community center.
With the mental fortification of prayers and naps, we continue in the afternoons helping teachers in the classroom execute lessons from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. I was placed in the library where I worked with the librarian, whom the students call Sunflower. Each class at Treak Community Center comes into the library once a week for an hour-long session where the teacher will break the students into groups and assign them to the volunteers currently working there. When the assigned students join my group, I will, depending on their age and skill, read them books or allow them to work individually while offering occasional help. When there is no class in the library, I help Sunflower search and make models of crafts that teachers can use in their own class times.
After work, the cohort receives some much needed rest. After the tuk-tuk ride back to our guesthouse from Treak, I return to the room with my two roommates where we have individual time to unwind and maybe take a quick nap before heading out to dinner.
Walking around the city at night offers just a glimpse into the rich culture of the Khmer people, but I love every second of it. Being able to eat outside amidst the hustle and bustle of people working tuk-tuks or selling wears from their shops reminds me of the common humanity that exists even in such a different country. After dinner, perhaps we’ll stop by a shop if clothes or souvenirs catch our eyes. Finally, we return home, take a shower, and prepare for the next day’s adventure.