Interview with Mel and Cheryl on their experience in Cambodia

Two of our workplace experts, Mel and Cheryl recently went on a life-changing experience to Cambodia with our sister company, SHAPE, to support a local education programme organised by the charity, See Beyond Borders’.

We sat down with them both once they were back to find out about their experience, what they learned and what their favourite memories were.

Please give us an overview of the 11 days.

Day one and two were really about settling in as a group and meeting the SHAPE and See Beyond Boarders’ team in Phnom Penh. On day one we kicked off the day with a 20km cycle through the village in 35o heat and a boat trip along the Mekong River. On day two we visited a visited a local prison and the killing fields. Quite an emotional day but it really helped us understand the history of the country. The next day we embarked on a 6-hour drive to Battambang where we checked into our hotel and prepared ourselves for the next 5 days of project work.

The project work was definitely really challenging but incredibly rewarding. We cemented floors of classrooms and reading areas, broke down solid concrete flower beds, bricked up toilets and made tables and chairs. In-between the work we also helped host two sports carnivals were we did sack races and relays with the children and a health day were we taught them how to brush their teeth and wash their hands properly.

On the second-to-last day we drove to Siem Reap for a very different circus show and went on a very challenging bike ride through the jungle to visit the temples. We were also very fortunate to be invited to a See Beyond Boarders’ charity event at Tevys restaurant on the last evening which had been organised to encourage local businesses to donate to the charity.

Funny story, we left our hotel at 4.45am on the second to last day to watch the sun rise. We sat from 5.20am to 6.15am with our phones set to slow mode ready to capture the moment. Once 6.15am came, the guides advised that we weren’t going to see the sun rise, so we all turned around and started setting up our bikes. 5 minutes later, we were about to set off, turned back around and realised we had missed the sun rise. Thankfully, everyone saw the funny side.

Each day ended with a reflection session which the group started off a bit hesitant about but after the first session found them emotionally rewarding.

What weird and wonderful food did you try?

*Snake fish
*One of the daring SHAPE guys ate a tarantula burger
*Silk worms
*Chicken feet
*Giant mice

What were some of the things you learned on the trip?

*There’re no age restrictions for driving
*You can’t be a fussy eater or OCD about cleanliness
*Not all toilets are what you would expect
*The biggest learning was from the children. They are so happy all the time. We don’t realise how lucky we are and how much we have. It was life-changing.

How was it working with SHAPE?

Amazing. After the first day we felt like we had been working together for years. We built the team relationship really quickly and everyone was really good and helping each other out and doing what needed to be done to get the job done.

What’s your favourite memory?

Probably a moment in one of the sports carnivals. The children were crouching on the floor and I (Cheryl) sat down beside them. The floor was quite dusty so as I got up, I did the normal thing of brushing myself down. This one little boy found it hilarious and laughed solidly for 7 minutes straight. It was infectious. Everyone joined in and it was just the nicest moment. I think we would both say that is our favourite memory from the trip.

The boat trip was amazing as well. Two different memories.

What are your recommendations for others wanted to go in future?

*Having a basic level of fitness before you go would definitely help
*Keep an open mind
*Be prepared for the heat and 90% humidity
*Be ready to give 100% at all times

If you would like to find out more about the programme, speak to Cheryl or Mel about their experience, please get in touch.