Working with slum living children in Cambodia is an experience these St Paul’s students will never forget.
“I have seen poverty and struggle before but didn’t really take in the difficulties these people face in their daily lives. It broke my heart to see a young child begging on the streets or driving a tour boat trying to make a living for their family. As a child in New Zealand, that kind of life never crosses your mind,” says Mike Hunter (Year 13).
Mike, along with 23 other students, four staff and one parent, travelled to Cambodia in December where they spent a fortnight working among the slums of Phnom Penh.
The trip is part of the school’s three-tiered service programme that was introduced in 2016. The travelling group work alongside charitable organisation Flame who operate a number of activity centres in Phnom Penh that allow children to attend classes if they missed out on government-provided schooling.
“It was inspiring seeing the children and teens who Flame are helping. It is obvious that these kids come from nothing and have nothing. However, this certainly doesn’t stop them. Each and every one of them was eager to learn, to grow, to change the way they lived and change their nation. I taught one particular boy, he was incredibly smart and was learning English faster than I had ever seen anyone learn anything,” says Elliot Leighton-Slater (Year 12).
When the St Paul’s partnership with Flame was established in 2016, key projects the students would undertake on these service trips involved helping to renovate one of the activity centres, along with fundraising to establish a book tuktuk service to the slums. The group continued the work that was started the previous year along with teaching English, art and music to Cambodian children, as well as handing out 250 fundraised backpacks, filled with stationery and toys.
During their time abroad, the students were also given an in-depth education of Cambodia’s dark history, which included a visit to the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide (formerly the infamous S-21 Prison) and the killing fields. “We listened to one of the survivors and every word cut into each of our hearts like knives. It left me angry, frustrated and filled with horror, that people could put anyone, let alone a child, through that,” says Elliot.
To round off the trip there was an opportunity for some touristy experiences, including visits to Silk Island and Angkor Wat, but by far the highlight for all was the service aspect in Cambodia’s slums.
“I now understand that this kind of poverty exists across the world and it breaks my heart. It makes me so incredibly grateful for the opportunities I have been given in what I now realise to be an incredibly privileged life. I wish desperately I could give those opportunities to every amazing kid I was privileged to meet in Phnom Penh,” says Alice Emeny (Year 13).
“I want to thank the school and members of the board for granting this opportunity to St. Paul’s and giving us students the chance to see the reality of poverty first hand. It has truly influenced me and will continue to do so in the decisions I make in my life,” says Mike.