AMID the rain in Krabie Riel, just south of Siem Reap, I watched the work still continuing as the children at Krabie Riel Lower Secondary School keenly watched a group of 15 volunteers from Australia chip away at wood to build them 50 new desks.
Most of the volunteers are from the Central Institute of Technology in Perth, Western Australia. They have teamed up with the NGO World Youth International which allows people over the age of 18 to volunteer overseas in a meaningful way.
The students in Siem Reap are studying in specific fields; either building and construction, teaching or nursing.
World Youth Organisation team leader in Cambodia Sarah Ghan, an Australian who lives in Beijing, said it was decided that desks would be built by the team from an assessment conducted by local NGO This Life Cambodia, which consulted with the community about what was needed most.
She said building the desks rather than buying them allowed them to know where the money was being spent and gave the team experience in a new culture.
“Being able to experience another culture gives the students a greater understanding of global issues,” she said.
Liam Gribbon from Perth is one of the building and construction students and had the job of teaching some of the others how to build. “They were difficult to teach,” he says. “It was a bit of a mission at the start, but we’ve got a bit of a system going now.”
Minutes later, calls came from around the corner. “We’ve got another injury.” The system clearly is not foolproof.
Once construction of the desks is completed in a couple of weeks, the team will then work on renovating parts of the school.
The students work about three days a week and use their spare time to venture into the community to volunteer and learn in their field of expertise, both in urban and rural areas.
The group has a lunch break at 11am, where they are partnered with a family in the village and treated to a meal. The program provides money to the families for this.
Liam enjoys this part of the day and says despite the obvious language barrier, he is amazed at the willingness and compassion of the families.“ I love the ginger pork. I’ve got no idea what’s in it though. The fruit is insane, too.”
Inside an empty classroom where planks of wood were being housed, I was offered a plank, a screwdriver and hammer. It was much hotter in there, and after I chipped out a small section for a cross hatching of a desk, I found myself dripping in sweat and with a massive blister on my finger.
This was after 10 minutes of labour, which ended my construction career and afternoon in Krabie Riel.