Let There Be Light

Twelve students and two staff embarked on an Overseas Community Project (OCP) to Aoral Province, Cambodia, from 24 March – 2 April 2014, installing solar lighting at Project Khmer Hope Centre and teaching basic English to the local children there.  While carrying out their noble tasks, they lived a week in the life of the villagers there – with the mosquitoes and cockroaches as their main companions.  One of the students, Zetty Nurlisda, shares her experience…

During the school holidays in Temasek Polytechnic, our Poly provides us with various activities to upgrade ourselves, help the community and even participate  in various camp and events which promote bonding among students.  There were so many activities to choose from.  For me, I decided to hop on and help the 3rd world community and head out to Cambodia!

Before the OCP trip, we attended several prep sessions which also allowed all participants to get to know one another better.  We also attended the “Up! Your Service” workshop, which helped to improve our services skills and knowledge, so that we could better perform our community work in Cambodia.  There were only 12 of us students on the trip, plus 2 staff supervisors!  You might be thinking, how could the 12 of us help a huge community in Cambodia?  Well, I was initially sceptical that we could actually do much, since the things which had to be done were overwhelming!  Thankfully, we had the staff to guide us!

The night before we flew off, I felt really nervous and excited.  It would be my first overseas trip with TP!  Also, we only had one another to rely on…  Hence, this trip would either bond us closer or split us apart.  Yet, I was more than excited to be with my OCP team for the next 9 days!

Once there, we got straight down to work.  Our first task was to install solar lighting at Project Khmer Hope Centre (PKH) Centre, which was also the place where we stayed at.   The solar lamps had to be mounted onto lampposts, and we also had to find the best position with adequate sunshine throughout as much of the day as possible, to install the solar cells so that they could tap energy from the sun.  It was laborious work, to say the least.  But at the end of the day, when we stepped back to look at all the lampposts with solar lamps which we had installed – all shining brightly – we all felt a great sense of fulfilment.

At the Centre where we stayed, we had only four hours of electricity each day, from 6pm to 10pm.  Water was limited too, so there isn’t the luxury of washing your face or hands anytime you want, let alone taking multiple baths! Each meal catered for us comprised a plate of rice with just one dish – which is what the children there eat everyday too.  I was honestly taken aback, as back in Singapore, we usually have multiple dishes in front of us during each meal.

Nights which are meant to be restful, were actually not quite so.  We were bombarded by mosquitoes and the heat.  Worse, the cockroaches come out in droves around the rooms where we slept.  Dead tired from fatigue, we just had to force ourselves to sleep even as we donate our blood to the thirsty mosquitoes.

When I compared the life there to the living conditions in Singapore, I realise that I had been taking what I have for granted.  The Cambodians appreciate what they have, rather than pine for what they do not have.  Even under the most spartan conditions, they are all happy and cheerful.  People in Singapore take the simplest thing for granted, like having warm water baths, food, clothing or even a smartphone!  The Cambodian villagers don’t even have a phone, let alone a smart one!  Being in Cambodia made all of us realise how lucky we are to be living in Singapore where everything is there for us without us even having to lift a finger. 

We had expected to encounter the most frugal living conditions there.  But what we did not anticipate was the extremely warm hospitality and friendliness of the staff and children there.  

We interacted with the children, and played games during our free time before our bedtime.  Besides that, my team and I also had the opportunity to teach the children (who were  between Grade 1 to Grade 9) simple English and we played some bonding games as well.  Within three days, most of us had forged special bonds with them and we were really sad knowing that it would all have to come to an end.  However, we were really grateful that we were able to share our knowledge.

Using fun methods to teach Basic English to the children

To be honest, we were kind of emotionally devastated when it was time to say goodbye.  Yet, we all gave our goodbyes and left for the airport.  The moment we reached Changi Airport, we all nearly shed a tear. We were so glad to be home, in Singapore.  I could have stooped to kiss the ground, literally!  Yes, the past few days of our stay in Cambodia were hectic, tiring and “torturous” physically, but the experience taught us a very meaningful lesson.

The experience in Aoral had forced me to step out of my comfort zone, to experience a new culture altogether.  Seriously, it was an eye-opener.  At the same time, I am grateful to have been given the chance to add some value to the lives of the children.  The solar lamps we had installed there will continue to shine brightly, lighting up their lives and reminding them that there are people who care for them.

Building the solar lights

The greatest “takeaway” which I got from this OCP trip, was how it has made me treasure what I have – not just the amenities and luxuries, but also my family and friends.  Just as the Cambodian culture emphasises respect and being contented with what one has, I have learnt to be contented with my life and I feel that I’m truly blessed to have my family and friends who are always supportive in everything I do.   Not forgetting, the most meaningful and enjoyable aspect of this trip was having a vivacious team comprising 14 unique individuals – whom I shall treasure as my newfound friends. 

This will certainly remain as one of my most memorable experiences in TP.

Being happy for what I have and what I am!

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