by Kim Kriege, HOPE Group Supervisor & MYP/DP English and TOK Teacher
For over a decade, YIS has partnered with HOPE International Development Agency to support service work in Cambodia. This February, I was lucky to accompany a group of DP students on our annual trip. As Trevor Noah says in his memoir, Born A Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood, “People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing.” During our week in Cambodia, students had the amazing opportunity of learning about service firsthand and the various avenues of supporting communities in need. From fundraising to direct action we left feeling inspired and eager to share our experience with the YIS community.
It’s clear that HOPE takes a grassroots approach to service. They install freshwater wells in remote villages, provide training and materials for sustainable agriculture, offer education programs, and provide low-interest loans to guide communities towards self-reliance.
The YIS HOPE service group began fundraising at the start of this year and was more than excited to visit. We first met the Cambodian HOPE team in Phnom Penh; some of them are in their twenties, while Pheally Kim, the liaison of the Cambodian office, told stories of surviving the Khmer Rouge genocide and her desire to foster resilient communities.
We then spent three days at a village school in Pursat province laying bricks for a retaining wall. Both Cambodian and YIS students and teachers created a massive assembly line to transport dirt and cement material. Not only did we get to interact with each other, but it truly felt like a community effort. In our downtime, the students played games with each other such as volleyball, pick up sticks, singing, and even language lessons.
We also visited a family farm where HOPE installed a well in 2015. Now that same farm is overflowing with orange trees, durian trees, and mango trees while chickens and cows dot the landscape. It was amazing to see how providing the right equipment to a family in need can really make a difference.
On our final day of service, we drove two hours into the Cardamom Mountains to lay concrete for a new school. HOPE provided the raw materials to the community, which created a palpable momentum for change. One village elder, an amputee, even joined the work effort and later performed a traditional Khmer song of gratitude during the rest break.
As much as we provided service to Cambodian communities, it was a transformative experience for our YIS students as well. On the way to the remote village, students asked questions such as, “How do these people get medical care?” “Why is the school located here?” “Where does their food come from?” They began to probe deeper into the issues of the community and to grapple with the challenges and rewards of service work.
Our final day was spent in Siem Reap visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat. Students commented on the stark differences in ways of life between this tourist attraction and the Cambodians we met in the countryside. We learned the history of the Khmer Empire as we explored the iconic temples. Students also recalled our visit to the Cambodian genocide Choeung Ek Memorial, “the killing fields”, in Phnom Penh, and marveled at the unfathomable journey this country has been through.
Ultimately, YIS students left Cambodia with a new understanding of the emotional power of service work. During one debriefing session as the sun set over the rolling hills of Pursat, students shared their personal highlights. Enjoy their quotes below, and I hope they inspire you to learn more about HOPE. If you wish to learn more about the relationship between HOPE and YIS, feel free to contact me.
“The highlight of this was really to talk with the kids and build friendships.”
“Being able to travel the world and meet new cultures and new people, being able to go to a small village and help hands on... you don’t get that opportunity everywhere.”
“People from around the world want this country to improve, if the kids know that there are people out there who want the world to change, it will impassion them.”
“Looking up, there was always someone smiling at you, and you smiled back.”
Have a look at a video of the experience in Cambodia created by the YIS students on the trip.