You may already be aware that this summer a team of 14 students & 2 staff travelled to Cambodia in Asia to embark on a life changing, exciting adventure. So, I am here to fill you in about our amazing experiences and the people we met which will touch our lives forever. – Oh, and to hopefully make you inspired to sign up to our next expedition! ;-)
The purpose of an expedition, is to challenge a person to embrace life outside of their comfort zone, to be self-sufficient, to grow up or face fears and to travel with the foresight to achieve something far greater than you would as a tourist. An expedition is a period of personal growth for all those that take part in it and they return home mature with their eyes open to the world.
Cambodia is an enchanting country brimming with culture. It may be small, but this little gem was stunningly beautiful and offered a huge variety of attractions and experiences that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. Its ancient and mystical temples attract thousands of visitors each year and we were lucky enough to visit three, including the infamous Angkor Wat.
Cambodia’s rich cultural history means that it’s one of the few places in the world where you can trek lush jungles and stumble upon lost temples and forgotten cities, which contrast with the main cities of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap with their bustling markets and buzzing bars and restaurants. We even stayed on the idyllic paradise island of Koh Rong Sanleom for two nights whilst we completed the rest of our PADI Open water qualification. Imagine waking up to the sound the waves crashing against the perfectly white sand on the beach – Incredible!
Undoubtedly our favourite aspect of Cambodia was the people. They are the friendliest, kindest and most genuine folks you are likely to meet and working alongside them in the communities was an absolute joy and privilege. Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in Asia, and being able to help people improve their standard of living in a sustainable way was something that will touch our lives forever. We fell in love with the country and its people and we didn’t want to leave.
On this expedition we achieved many things, we became PADI Scuba Qualified and can now dive in the open ocean to a depth of 12 meters. We taught English lessons in schools and took initiative on project work. But more importantly we built an entire house for a homeless family in Romchek – a rural village in north Cambodia.
We learnt to brick, mixed cement, rendered the walls, entertained the local children and pulled together as a team to get the job done. It was hard work in difficult conditions but our team were so self-driven it was heart-warming to see. The weather was hot & humid, we were sweaty and dusty but on the day we finished the project and handed over the house our hearts were the fullest they have ever been. The community turned up in force to thank us, and we listened to a speech from the chief of the village, an emotional time for us all. A family will now be safe and dry and will have a roof over their heads forever, something they will be always be thankful for – the house that JWS built.
Many people in Cambodia live well below the poverty line and this is largely down to poor education. Many Cambodians are still affected and fearful of what happened just over 30 years ago when the Khmer Rouge got into power. Anyone with an education was either murdered or stripped of their livelihoods and sent to work in the countryside to take the country back to ‘Year Zero’ where everyone is equal…. With no transport, food or water many people died before they even reached the countryside. In the four years that the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia, it was responsible for one of the worst mass killings of the 20th Century. Many of the people we spent time with during our trip had been directly affected or had lost family members to this brutal regime. The Khmer rouge were in power from 1975-1979 & claimed the lives of up to two million people. It is hard to believe that this ended just 9 years before I was born. We visited the killing fields and the S21 prison, although heart-breaking, this was an extremely important and necessary part of our expedition and allowed us to reflect on what we had achieved during our time there.
It was an incredible month with an incredible team of people who embraced everything we threw at them. It is hard to sum up everything we did in such a short article. We are so proud of everyone that went on this journey with us, the way they pushed themselves and the respect they showed everyone they met. I know they have made memories which will last a lifetime – so please ask them about it!
If you would like to see more of what we got up to, please have a look at the Cambodia updates on the school’s feed or follow ‘JWS Cambodia’ on Facebook. We also have a film in the making, so keep your eyes peeled for that too!
The next expedition will be launching soon and we would love for you to be part of it.
Miss H Wood-Thompson, Mr T Beech & The JWS Cambodia Team.