The following is a journal entry from two students who are currently on our Mission:Cambodian Volunteer Trip from Ivanhoe Grammar School in Australia. Hopefully this will give an insight into the work involved on the trips and the experiences to be had.
Our second day in Cambodia: confronting, interesting and magnificent. We woke for an 8:30 breakfast of cereal and eggs and spreads on toast, we got ready played with the kids and headed out to see the Phnom Penh slums (The Block). Out most energetic Mishcam leader; Em, accompanied us to show us where he used to live and explain to us what had become of his past home.
On the way to the slums Donna (the Mission:Cambodia founder) told the people in my tuk tuk about the pain the demolition of the 1000s of homes, that were destroyed, had caused not only the people being thrown out but also those who could not intervene. She had not been able to do anything and a question that always upset her was; what was she doing when this all happened? Was she sitting at home watching tv and eating a home cooked meal? Could/would she have helped if she was there?It was really interesting to hear this questioning from someone who does so much for other people.
When we arrived at the slums Em walked us through the housing building, which was a four story concrete building, with unlit corridors and cramped looking apartments. We walked to the roof and there Em pointed out where his house used to be and explained to us what had and hadn’t happened. A company had purchased the land and declared that they were going to build a shopping complex and move all of the people to nice new homes. Neither of these things happened and thousands of people were left homeless and jobless after being kicked out of their houses by force. Em told us about his aspirations and the truly marvelous thing was how selfless his dreams were. He said that he didn’t want money although he accepted it’s necessity and he said that all he wanted was peace for himself and the next generation. It was beautiful hearing from someone with a troubled past and not a privileged present to want nothing for himself but everything for future generations.
We said goodbye to Em and Donna, who were staying in the Block to visit Em’s mum, and tuk tuked off to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Because of its part in the Ivanhoe Year 9 humanities course all of the students had an understanding of what happened in Cambodia but this didn’t make seeing the prison any easier. When Pol Pot took control of Cambodia the ‘Toul Svay Prey’ high school was converted into a prison to question and punish those thought to oppose the Khmer Rouge. This place once used for the education of children became S-21, the biggest prison in the Kampuchea Democratic. We saw the actual rooms that people were kept and tortured in, mass detention rooms and individual cells some even with blood stains still in them. It was incredibly difficult to look at these cells where an average sized person would just be able to stand straight and lie flat. We were told later that people were not allowed to clean up the buildings because this would be the same as covering up the truth but seeing the patches of blood on the cell floors was incredibly difficult to look at. In some of the rooms in the four buildings there were displays of who the leaders of the Khmer Rouge were and what has happened to them, who was killed and why and how peope were tortured and killed. The exhibit that I found the most interesting was the room that displayed former guards and other wokers at S-21 and what they thought of the Khmer Rouge and their own actions. The general theme that came across was that although these people thought the Khmer Rouge were bad and should be punished they can not be help accountable for their actions because they had no alternatives other than death. It was really fascinating that the majority of the people interviewed still didn’t accept fault for their actions.
After the Genocide museum we came back to CKF house for lunch and a rest. We all sat around or slept for about an hour then headed back out to the Choeung Ek Killing Fields.
At the killing fields we were all given an individual audio player that gave an audio tour. There were 17 stops on the tour plus extra stories and songs. The tour started by following the process taken by prisoners. We saw the sights where the truck stopped, the prisoners were kept and the officers worked. All these buildings had now been knocked down but seeing the spots and getting a description of what happened made it possible to picture what had happened to thousands of people. After these spots we saw the mass graves, now they are shallow ditches but originally they were up to 5 metres deep. When the Killing Fields were first found the graves were swelled up like blisters from all of the gas being released from the decaying corpses. We then walked around the lake,that was the far boundary of the compound, where we listened to survivors’ stories. The last stops on the tour were the most confronting. We saw 2 more mass graves- one that was for guards that had been suspected of turning against the Khmer Rouge and one for woman and children. We also saw what was known as the magic tree which was used by the guards to play loud music to cover up the screams of the dying and continue to keep people in a state of confusion. Last of all we saw the memorial stupa. The memorial stupa was a temple looking building that inside kept approximately 12000 skeletons of those killed at Choeung Ek. The most haunting bits of the tour were the magic tree and the killing tree. At the magic tree, on the audio tour, a guess of what it would be like played. The music mixed with the noise of a generator which was also used made a kind of noise that made you feel caged in. Standing in the open listening to this noise made me feel slightly claustrophobic so I cannot even imagine what it was like for the people forced to listen to it every night. The killing tree is a tree located next to the women and children mass grave. The is tree, and most likely others like it, was used to kill small children against. Kids would be held by their feet and bashed against the tree until they were dead then thrown into the hole. There is evidence that some of the women were raped.
We left Choeung Ek and headed back to CKF to regroup and prepare ourselves for dancing in the park. Every night groups of people,adults as well as kids, get together and dance in groups in a park in the city. We were only there for about two hours but while we were there everybody danced and we met some cool kids that played soccer with us. After dancing we had dinner in a CKF favourate Chinese restaurant which was delicious, then we came home.
It’s only day two of the trip and everyone is exhausted but craving more. As a group we have managed to break all but 3 of the toilets in the CKF house! We are looking forward to moving to the village for so many reasons including working toilets -can’t wait for tomorrow. Sorry for the essay!
If you are interested in coming and volunteering with us in 2013/14 please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information (: x also check out our facebook page - www.facebook.com/cambodiankidsfoundation