It’s 7 pm. Still in Manila, waiting at NAIA airport to catch my flight to Cambodia. A mix of emotions inside. Leaving these 7107 islands archipelagos and its amazing people gives me a knot in the chest. I am living in a transition from travelling with my mom, with almost everything is booked and organised, to what is the beginning of my solo trip where I’ll start following my internal compass on a free ride. It feels great.
Back in UK, when I was still planning the trip, I found a free school run by a local where volunteers can teach English and Japanese in exchange of a bed and 3 meals per day. This is Sokhoms story, the founder of Angkor Tree School.”The school became a reality because a Cambodian teacher had a passion to help the children in his village. When he was a young boy,Sokhom’s family was separated during the genocide of the Khmer Rouge. His aunts and uncles, as well as his younger brother were killed, but fortunately Sokhom and his parents survived. Through the help of friends and tourists, Sokhom learned to speak both English and Japanese, and with these skills was able to become a public school teacher. Even with this success, Sokhom longed to do more to educate the children in his community.
Sokhom’s dream became reality when he built a school in a village where no school existed before. In order to support both his new school as well as his wife and newborn son, Sokhom took on weekend and night teaching jobs. With hard work he was able to rent a small space of land and purchase the building materials needed to build the first Angkor’s TREE school in Trang Village. Although only minutes away from the famous temples of Angkor Wat, as well as the touristy Pub street and Old Market areas, Trang village is located in one of the many slum areas in Siem Reap province. Like most villages, kids in Trang have low education, no vocational skills and are unable to speak English. Living conditions are appalling, job opportunities are limited and food is rationed. Many of the men have been killed while serving in the Army, and more adults, both men and women, have died from disease. Children often rely on elderly relatives and siblings for care or are left to fend for themselves.
(taken from http://angkorstreeschool.blogspot.com)
3 hours flight and I am in Siem Reap International Airport. It’s 9 pm on the 3rd of February 2015 and there are 25 degrees Celsius. it is humid, but breezy. We reach the visa desks, and I get a bit concerned when I realise I forgot to do passport pictures, and I have just read on my Rough Guide about visas being denied for this reason. I go straight to one of the officer and ask what my destiny is. He answers me in Cambodian, and points another desk where some cue has already built up. I am lucky enough they have a photocopier machine and they will scan my passport getting the picture out of it. $ 25 fee, and my stay in Cambodia is legal until the 3rd of March.
I collect my backpack, which is the last to come out, and with my surprise I find out my bamboo where I carry my fishing rod is open, and all the fishing gear inside like hooks, weights and 3 lures are gone lost except for my fishing rod. It’s ok, I will gets some new ones when I’ll get the chance. Out the airport I get a tuk tuk. which should get me all the way to Angkor Tree School for $ 15. A fair price considering it’s night, and the road conditions in the area I need to go are bad. We drive away from the airport along a long road. It is dusty even if there is no traffic. I look around like a new baby born in a pram as everything is new to my eyes.
I am buzzing inside. I am looking forward to meet Sokhom from the school and let this new chapter unfold. We arrive behind Preah Hen Kaosei Temple wher the school is. It’s a bad maintained country road full of bumps and holes, and the tuk tuk is being put at a real challenge here, feels like the link to the scooter can snap anytime. We make it to the school building, but is in the middle of nowhere, so I ask the driver to call a number. Sokhom replies and comes to meet us. We drive back for a couple of minutes and we finally arrive. Tired, sweaty, and with wide eyes open looking around, I enter my room. Hirouki is there a Japanese guy from Kobe, volunteering like me but teaching Japanese. We exchange a short chat. I jump in to the shower and lie down in my camp bed, as the double mattress is take by Hirouki, and it will be busy for the next 4 nights so the camp bed has my name till then.
Day one in Siem Reap, Cambodia, shall commence tomorrow with my first lesson of English at Angkor Tree School, and it will be an interesting two weeks.