In the early months of 2016, first year students from the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) at Taylor's College Sri Hartamas made their way to Cambodia on a community service programme to assist the impoverished village of Beng Mealea.
As much a rite of passage as it is a part of the course, the overseas community service field trip is part of the Creativity, Action, Service (CAS) aspect of the IBDP programme and one of the main requirements for graduation. While students must accrue a number of hours of community service, it is this overseas field trip that is the watershed moment of the programme as they will be placed in a new environment where they can put everything they've learnt academically and socially so far to the test.
“The IBDP programme is holistic in nature, in which it imparts both life and academic skills, and form a mindset that will hold the students in good stead for university life and beyond. The field trip to Beng Mealea forms part of this holistic learning, and endeavours to broaden their minds,” said Mr. Anandakumaresh Ratnasingam, the Campus Director of Taylor’s College Sri Hartamas.
“I was really excited,” said Rina Manjrekar, a second semester IBDP student from Mumbai who relocated to Malaysia for her father’s new job appointment. “I knew about Cambodia in a superficial way and read about it but didn't know how the people really lived. I wanted to know more and I was looking forward to helping them,” she added.
Rina and Andy recounting their experiences on their community service learning in Beng Mealea
After discussing with Camp International, the humanitarian organisation overseeing the wellbeing of Beng Mealea and its volunteers, students were tasked with three fundamental responsibilities that will challenge their service-learning to the limit - building a new water storage facility at a local school, assisting with building a new classroom facility at the camp, and teaching basic English lessons to the children of Beng Mealea.
The IBDP students immediately got into action. They divided themselves into teams, each tasked with fulfilling the challenges. They did ample research and sourced the supplies needed. While there were hurdles along the way, such as learning to mix and pour concrete and securing travel and visa arrangements for the trip, the students thrived.
“Despite our cultural differences, all of us got along well. Everyone contributed their share of work and ideas, and together as a team we endeavoured to make this trip a fruitful one,” said Rina.
To ensure that they had sufficient funds to actualise the challenges tasked upon them, the students organised a successful fundraising initiative, garnering more than RM3,000.
“We held fundraising competitions such as spicy noodle contest and pie-a-teacher auction. Our groups hold bazaars to sell kueh, popsicles and t-shirts at our campus grounds. I took the initiative further by drewing scrolls of Chinese calligraphy and sell them at a nearby shopping mall,” said Andy Tan, another IBDP student who participated in the field trip.
Mr. Shashidran Muthu Krishnan, one of the three IBDP lecturers who accompanied the students on the trip, was proud of his student’s determination, “The teachers are impressed that the students took charge of this trip, with minimal help from their lecturers. While we have a team of teacher advisors to set the direction and ensure the students are on the right track, but the students took full ownership of the project and saw it through from start to finish.”
The students were excited as some of them have never been to Cambodia, but they were anxious too at the thought of the challenges that lay ahead of them. The journey to Beng Mealea is three hours by bus from Phnom Penh, and as they travelled away from the bustling capital to the remote village, they were slowly transported back to the olden days, and one without phone signal or Internet connectivity.
The view of Camp International kitchen where firewood is essential for their daily cooking
For water conservation, the camp created composting toilets to recycle human waste and a small amount is converted into fertiliser soils.
“We thought we were going to be handicapped without our phones and technology, but it was actually a good break! We relied on the good old verbal communication, and in situations where we didn’t speak the same language, body language and a lot of hand signals worked,” Andy said enthusiastically.
In five days, the students accomplished what they were set out to do, and on top of that, also helped to clear jungle paths and put out a wild fire. On the last day of the trip, a fire broke out near the longhouses and nearly engulfed the village. As water was rationed for drinking, the students together with the villagers got hold of some branches and managed to put out the fire.
The trip ended on a high note, as the students celebrated the birthday of one of their course mates, Jun Long. They improvised and fashioned some Oreos biscuits into a birthday cake, and topped it with some candles, to the delight of the birthday boy.
Students conducted ice-breaking sessions to blend in with the local children
To assist the villagers in crop cultivation, student worked in groups to clear weeds and wild plants for a vegetable garden
Local children were taught basic English conversations in a bid to increase and encourage learning opportunities among the rural poor
To facilitate Camp International’s free education programme, students completed some parts of land filling and wall building of a new classroom.
Alas, it was time for the students and the villagers of Beng Mealea to part ways. It was an emotional moment as the students had grown close to the villagers, but they left with promises to keep in touch. The trip had broadened their horizons, and deepened their sense of community spirit.
“I realised how lucky I am to live in a city where I am surrounded by modern amenities. Seeing the way the villagers in Beng Mealea live – with limited resources and lack of the technology and amenities we take for granted – has made me more appreciative of what I have,” Rina observed.
When asked if they would do it again, the students gave a resounding “Yes”.
“It started out as one of the fulfillments of our course, but once you’re immersed in giving back to the community, you’re in for a lifetime. It is a very humbling experience, especially when the villagers show you how much they appreciate your help,” Andy elaborated.
“Despite our cultural differences, all of us got along well. Everyone contributed their share of work and ideas, and together as a team we endeavored to make this trip a fruitful one”, Rina Manjrekar, IBDP Student, Taylor's College Sri Hartamas.
Khmer children around the villages in Beng Mealea
A student teacher interacting with the local children in one of Camp International’s classroom
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