In September 2010 I had the privilege to travel to Thailand to vist the Cambodian Christian School project that Steps with Hope have funded since the beginning of 2010. Our team of 7(including founding member Gloria) travelled independently to Bangkok and then Tat, our project manager in Thailand arranged a bus and driver to take the team on a 3 day visit to the Cambodian border, 3 ½ hours east of Bangkok.
Our first day we eagerly prepared for our visit to the school. We had taken many items with us for the children and the teachers and had planned with Tat to provide the children in the school with a uniform each. This holds high prestige in Thailand and Cambodia and the children were thrilled with their uniforms. We spent some time teaching the children (and the teachers who do not seem to be naturally creative!) how to make collages – posters made of pictures that friends in Australia had donated. By the time we left the school on day one, the walls were looking brighter, the children smart in their uniforms and wearing the biggest smiles.
On day 2 we arrived and wondered how many of the 70 children would be at school in their uniform. We secretly suspected that they might have sold them as they live in very poor conditions and need some money to feed their families. However, we were amazed and slightly overwhelmed to see not only all the children in their uniforms but an extra 15 children who seemed to have appeared overnight! Being a Christian school, the teachers never turn anyone away so fortunately we had some clothes with us that friends had sent so each child was given a new outfit which was the next best thing to a uniform. We spent the morning with the children, again teaching them craft, handing out backpacks with goodies in them and giving each child a beanie. We had previously thought that they would not be that interested in beanies due the heat but soon the classes were awash with colourful heads and excited faces!
We had been shopping the day before at a city 30 mins drive away where amazingly they had a cash and carry! We purchased lockable filing cabinets, washstands, rolls of lino, plastic tables and chairs and lots more. Having lockable cabinets meant that we could leave the teachers with an abundance of supplies without the concern that they might get stolen (as the school is just a shack and not able to be locked).
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After school that day we were told that we had been given permission to walk across the border with the children to visit their families and their village in Cambodia. We felt like the Pied Piper – children seemed to appear out of nowhere and soon we had 100’s of children surrounding us, all eager to show us their homes and their parents.
Luckily we had taken 100’s of beaded necklaces, made by a lady from Yass, and we were able to hand them out to all the children. Some were very wary of us and when I asked Tat why they didn’t show much emotion, she said that they were afraid we would take the gifts away again. It was a truly wonderful experience to see how the children lived and meeting their families was a moving experience for us all. On day 3, our final day at the school, we arrived with an activity that the children loved – making bugs out of lollies! With a team of 7 plus some teenager volunteers along with the teachers and cook, we managed to help the children make their lolly bugs (which were soon opened up and eaten!). We left to return to Bangkok and ultimately Australia with our hearts full of joy and a positive feeling that Steps with Hope is certainly connecting well with the children and teachers and that we need to keep raising money to enable the school to continue to function and give these children hope. Who knows, one day we could even expand the school to include all those children who seemed to turn up out of nowhere!