In December last year, while most were gearing up for the summer break at the beach, nineteen intrepid St Paul’s students were boarding a plane to Phnom Penh, Cambodia on the service trip of a lifetime.
St Paul’s worked with Flame, a charitable organisation based in Cambodia who help slum children receive an education from primary through to university. This organisation inspires children to leave begging or rubbish collecting and start school or re-engage in education.
The purpose of the trip was to give St Paul’s students the opportunity to volunteer their services. Flame arranged for the students to be involved in a project to renovate the Children’s Club in Sen Sok, a hub for local children to learn and have fun in a welcoming environment.
For days the eager students went about preparing surfaces, sweeping out areas, rolling paint on walls or climbing ladders to paint the building yellow and white. They also formed friendships with locals along the way.
St Paul’s teacher and trip supervisor, Katie Lilley, was touched by the compassionate and enthusiastic exchanges between the students and Cambodian people.
Songs such as head, shoulders, knees and toes and simple English sentences were taught and sung “heartily with the desire of improving the local’s English,” said Lilley.
While in Sen Sok the group took the opportunity to explore the area to gain an insight into the children’s living conditions.
The students shock of the littered and filthy streets was contrasted by the wide smiles on the faces of the locals who greeted them.
“One of our girls started a game of soccer with a group of young boys while others played with some toddlers and their toys.”
Before leaving for Cambodia, the St Paul’s group fundraised so they could provide 250 backpacks filled with stationery and toys for the community’s children. These gifts were given to those young children who were making a commitment to come to the Children’s Club to learn.
Although common items for typical kiwi teenagers, these gifts were life changing for the Cambodian children who now have a chance at a better education.
The group’s fundraising efforts also allowed them to donate a medical tuk tuk which will help Flame take medical care and supplies to the slums where people are unable to access basic healthcare.
Lilley says the most impactful moments of the trip were hearing the life stories and struggles from the young adults who benefited from Flame’s work and are going back to the slums to help others.
“Their stories were heartbreaking – the worst situations you can imagine. It cemented a desire in us to use our fortunate positions to help others.”
After two weeks of back breaking and emotionally draining work, the group returned home determined to continue their relationship with Flame and the Cambodian people.
Katie is hoping to catch up on Flame’s progress, if there is interest, for her and another group of St Paul’s students return later this year.