Siem Reap felt like a whole new world and probably the most culture shock I have ever been in. The "city" itself was smaller, mainly consisting of Pub Street and back alleys (a tourist destination and very westernized section of town containing restaurants and bars). Nearby markets were filled with souvenirs and vendors desperately asking for your business. Beggars (both children and adults) lined stairways and roamed the streets searching for anything they could get. I saw more children than ever before...walking the streets, very rarely with an adult, and often with other children. I think I saw more children than adults during my two week stay. Cambodia is the poorest country I have been to and reality set in quickly. If it wasn't for Angkor Wat Siem Reap wouldn't exist.
We had the privilege of visiting a school a little way outside of town just a few days after we arrived. I am so thankful for the opportunity to witness such a positive, caring place for these kids. It was established by four Buddhist monks in 2011 and is free for all students. There was a total of five classrooms, each with its own Khmer teacher and group of students varying in age. They teach English, computers, hygiene and Buddhist morals. I was told they are still working on littering, teaching them the importance of not just throwing trash on the ground. Attendance varies throughout the year depending on harvest season when kids need to be home to tend the fields, but they always come back. Students are also allowed to bring their younger siblings (the oldest is usually the one to raise the rest of the kids) and as a result the younger siblings want to attend the school when old enough. While we were there one class was singing "One Call Away" by Charlie Puth as a way to practice their English, they did very well too! The kids were a little shy at first but we were lucky enough to be there during break so they were eager to practice their English with us. They played their games they invented and played as children should. It was an incredible experience that will stick with me forever.
More photos can be found under Projects!