Fourteen Canadians visiting Cambodia on a social justice trip, who found themselves stranded after their passports were stolen, will be home in time for Christmas.
“Somebody came by on a motorcycle, snatched the bag and (they were) gone,” said Bruce Campbell, General Manager for Communications & Community Relations for the Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board in Ontario.
“It was like something out of Mission Impossible or a Jason Bourne movie.”
Ten Grade 11 and 12 students and four adult supervisors from St Edmund Campion Secondary School in Brampton, Ontario, were visiting the Kingdom to help construct community sanitation facilities in Sihanoukville.
The group was due to leave on Sunday when a bag containing their documents was stolen just one day before their flight.
They were trying to squeeze in some last-minute sightseeing in Phnom Penh, before going home to cram for end-of-semester exams.
Since the event occurred over the weekend, the school board had to wait an extended period of time before they were issued emergency travel documents by the Canadian Embassy in Phnom Penh.
Campbell added that the school board was “advised that emergency travel documents take a few days as the information needs to be verified and references need to be checked for each person”.
“My boy is there,” posted one child’s mother on Facebook while the students were still in limbo. “We are hoping that they get a flight out this week.”
“We have been in constant communication with the parents,” said Campbell, “I am sure that there were some feelings of anxiety, but I believe they had confidence in our ability to manage the issue.”
Before being stranded, Fatima Gomes, aka Julio, who accompanied the students to Cambodia, documented the trip on Twitter. Gomes posted that the group had collected over 1,000lb (454kg) of school supplies for Cambodian children in rural communities.
“Yesterday we learned about the struggles of life in Cambodia. A woman working in a bakery earns $2.40 a day. Two former Khmer Rouge survivors shared their life stories,” said Gomes.
Another post showed students at a fruit and vegetable market with a caption that said: “Learning the difficulty of feeding a family on a dollar a day.”
Campbell said that the students were in “good spirits” but “anxious to return home”.
This is the second year that students from the school have visited Cambodia on a well-intentioned trip to assist the local population. Schools usually submit a proposal to a staff committee who decide on the trip based on Canadian travel advisories and its nature.
After appealing to the Canadian Embassies in Phnom Penh and Bangkok for help, the group was issued emergency exit visas and is expected to land in Mississauga, Ontario by Saturday.
“There is nothing that would deter us from returning to Cambodia in the future. The theft of personal effects could occur anywhere,” said Campbell.
“Hopefully this is just a story that the kids will be able to tell through their life, this kind of crazy thing that happened on their trip to Cambodia.”