At the end of June, I began my Cambodian immersion. In total I spent 10 days in Don Bosco Technical School (DBTS) in Phnom Penh and the other four days in Siem Reap. Our trip focused on the charism of the Salesians and St John Bosco, service of the young. We did not build a classroom, rather we spent time with the youth of DBTS to learn about them and their day-to-day life, their struggles and aspirations, and to have fun and dance with them a lot!
“How was it? What was the best part?” I have found answering these questions hard as its difficult to find just one thing to be the ‘best part’ of such an incredible experience. However, without fail, my answer is always the people of Cambodia. The people we met along the way on our trip were always kind, hospitable and happy. I could always feel the love and joy of the Khmer.
A testament to the hospitality of the Khmer is their way of greeting each other. The Khmer will bow slightly with their hands pushed together held up to their mouth with each greeting – or at least they did every time I would pass them. I could not walk past someone without being greeted with a ‘chomreab sour’ (Hello) or ‘suosdei’ (Hi).
On our first night in Cambodia, we experienced our first dance party. The boarder students and staff put together and presented small program with traditional Khmer song and dance. We quickly moved into a couple of rounds of musical chairs until someone grabbed the biggest pot plant they could find to sit in the middle of the ‘dance floor’. As everyone started to dance around the plant, I found myself surrounded by students who were trying to teach me how to follow along and instead found us all laughing at how terrible I was.
I was very nervous to go on homestay. My homestay mother, Vichika, informed me that we would be going to her house by motorbike. This was my first motorbike ride ever and the traffic on the roads of Phnom Penh was crazy – massively different to Australia. Vichika, her husband and two children were extremely hospitable, providing me with a real insight into their daily lives including their work, school and extra study, culture and traditions and even their grocery shopping. My host father had attended and taught at DBTS, and it was amazing to see the impact DBTS had on his life providing him with the skills he now uses at his workplace and with the aspiration for his children to receive the best education possible. To finish our homestay experience we invited our homestay families to join us on a beautiful river cruise, which as you guess resulted in dancing, however we made sure we taught everyone the Nutbush and Vichika made sure to download the song to dance to it again.
DBTS hosted over 90 Salesian youth from various Salesian schools all around Cambodia on one weekend, including the boarder students and us (the Aussies) in the school’s oratory. The weekend was designed around how to be good leaders in our Salesian communities and therefore focusing on some of the important teachings of Don Bosco. These being presence; youth empowerment and peer to peer leadership; Salesian family and lastly Salesian joy and optimism.
Our time in Phnom Penh went by in a flash and before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye and head off to Siem Reap for some more cultural immersion and relaxing. Over the immersion trip we experienced delicious food, beautiful scenery, interesting history and culture, and the most kind and joyful people. It is clear to see the people of Cambodia put the wonder into the ‘Kingdom of Wonder’.
I am extremely happy that through the combined efforts of Guilford Young College and Dominic, we were able to raise $4000 for the students of DBTS. I have been advised by Fr Arun, Rector of DBTS, and Fr Roel, Salesian Delegate for Cambodia, that the money will be used to sponsor new students who are unable to afford their school fees or living costs. For them to be able to attend DBTS will result in a great education and a job opportunity upon graduation, changing their lives very much for the better.
Ben Dowling, Class of 2017