WRITTEN BY: Sarah Bensen
As the saying goes, 'all good things must come to an end'; however, in our instance this experience can't begin to be covered by the word 'good'. Our weekend was spent around Phnom Penh and as a group we ventured to the night markets on Saturday night. The lovely food arena, coupled with an abundance of shopping stalls, made it an ideal outing for us to share as a group. My favourite taste sensation (which was shared amongst the group) was the devilishly tasty fried ice cream. How can something that tastes so good, be so bad?!
"I could not have imagined a better way to start 2015 and am so grateful for this experience"
Our final week was punctuated with illness, resulting in the challenging task of some members of our team teaching alone at times. Everyone rose to the occasion to ensure that classes ran smoothly, and our group supported each other beautifully throughout these testing times. It became clear to us that this journey was just as much about our team as it was our students, and the compassion and support from our team went the longest way to help everyone get through.
By mid-week everyone was back at school and it dawned on us that this was the last week. We'd only just settled in and here it was ending. As a group, we decided we wanted to buy some sporting equipment for the school as the children had nothing to play with at break times. We got balls of all sizes, jumping ropes and Siobhan donated an insane number of tennis balls and balloons, while Emily donated 2 beautiful books to the box. We decided instead of having a last hour of class we would unveil our gifts to the whole school and I think I can say this was truly a highlight of the trip. While we quite literally had to place the items on our heads so they were out of the children's reach, their excitement was contagious. Some of them had never played jump rope before and the balloons, I think, were a real novelty for some and the books were read and thoroughly enjoyed. One little kindergartener was distraught after not getting his hands on a tennis ball. However that sought to make him even more elated when he finally got a balloon, which he guarded with his life.
It was particularly hard after the morning session as it was our first goodbye. The bus ride back to the hotel was just filled with tears as many of us said goodbye to some of our favourite students; the uncertainty of knowing where they will end up in life made it particularly difficult. We all want so much for these students, but we will probably never know if and how they succeed. Siobhan's famous last words to a group of students and we climbed in the bus 'go, to, university!' The second session we repeated the same unveiling with just as much excitement. Even the teachers got in on jump rope! We exchanged emails with a number of teachers, as many of us made strong relationships with them throughout our time. Again it was hard to finally say goodbye as gifts, notes and drawings were again given to us from students. It was again a bit eerie driving away for what was now the final time and we had a group of students waving at the bus as we left.
We all got to experience a final dinner together, along with what we think was an impromptu extra hour of site seeing thereafter (our driver seemed to not want to take us home) which essentially marked our last time together as a group. I think the hardest goodbye was between Siobhan (New Zealand) and Paige (Australia), who had been roomies for the trip. Everyone could see the instant connection that was made between them and tears were shed as Siobhan, Luke and I waved Paige goodbye at 6am.
The end of what is I'm sure one of our most treasured experiences, simultaneously marks the beginning of our next adventures of 2015. Five of us are now off to Thailand and beyond and while the other 3 are returning to Australia: a new year brings with it new experiences and conquests! I could not have imagined a better way to start 2015 and am so grateful for this experience, the people I've met and to Cambodia for showing us all it has to offer.