Project week was the first time that I have gone outside Singapore without any supervision whatsoever. Just us four friends. We decided to go to Phnom Penh where we worked with the GC I contribute to at school, Green Umbrella. We stayed at the school for 3 days where we worked on multiple projects: surveys regarding the plastic press, solar energy initiative, and the library, all of which we are working on at school. We also conducted a leadership workshop that the head of Green Umbrella, Sokrath, asked us to do.
Admittedly, when we first reached the boarding house and saw the rooms, we were all pretty uncomfortable by the situation because of numerous, creepy insects. Despite that, we kept our goals in mind and went to Karuna Kumar School and helped teach children English. It was truly inspiring to see all these students there who are less privileged than we are yet they work so much harder to learn, and they were only in the fifth grade! I realized that a lot of the things that we have we take for granted and it is easy to look over important day to day things that we never notice. For example, on the first day, I realized the value of water and how important it is to have a clean, reliable source of water. I also learned to be adaptable to situations and prioritize goals over accommodation.
On the second day, I went around houses and asked a few questions regarding their energy supply and their waste disposal. Over here I saw first hand how the lack of education can affect society because these people were unaware of the damages that burning plastic has on the atmosphere yet they still burn waste plastic because they don’t know how else to dispose of it. Before coming to project week we assumed that the village had little to no electricity but when we reached there we learned that they actually have an ample supply of electricity, with enough energy to basic appliances. It was nice to see that the people there are making the best of their situation and making the best of their situation by using what they have to their advantage. They use their resources wisely and try their best to have no wastage because they know the value of what they get. From this, I learned that maybe I should do the same, try not to take things for granted and use what I have efficiently so that I don’t waste any of my resources.
On that same day, we conducted the first session of our workshop for the high school students and I never realized how big a language barrier can be when teaching someone something new. There were many people who didn’t understand the first few times we explained something and later on we had to go individually to some people to help them. In the end, their inspiring drive to improve their community persevered and they played their role in the workshop to learn what we had to teach.
We were soon on our way to the hotel to stay in the city for the last two days. On our way there we went to historic sites where we saw the tragic history of wars that occurred in Cambodia. It was pretty gruesome but there was this uplifting shrine where visitors put bracelets on the wooden stumps around the graves of the victims of violence. This hopeful gesture was something that was something that lifted the hope of humanity within me, knowing that we have learned from those horrific events and now we know now that compassion is much better than violence.
All in all, it was an enjoyable trip with many stories and fun adventures that brought upon many lessons. I think this experience has shown me how it is like to be completely independent and has given me confidence as well that I will be able to survive, and I won’t lose anything either (I was terrified that I was going to lose something but I’m so glad I didn’t). Project week has shown me that I am ready to be more independent and I can’t wait to utilize these experiences and learnings when I go to university
On the last day of our therapy sessions with the patients, I entered and left Apex Harmony Lodge with a heavy heart, wondering what would happen to Vincent (my assigned patient) in the future. Will he be assigned another person to listen to music with? Will that person treat him well? Will his nephew visit him again? Throughout my experience I learned a lot about respecting the elderly and being cheerful, even when there isn’t any response or the environment may seem dull.
Furthermore, I knew music was something that I could connect to and the music was a very personal thing I liked to engage in. Seeing how music impacted these patients, who are struggling to even recollect memories, showed me just how powerful music is. Regardless of age, language or even disease, everyone can enjoy music. I hope to use these learnings in the future when it comes to helping my family and being aware of how to help.
When we left, we were surprised with a certificate of appreciation and thank you quotes from some of the patients that nearly brought me to tears, (although I didn’t because there were people around).
As this service went on and I kept developing ideas for our plastic press with my peers in Green Umbrella, I came to realise that I have started to enjoy not only working with my friends to work towards an effective and efficient solution, but also the feeling that I know these ideas will either directly be implemented in the school at Cambodia or at least help the future of the GC to further develop the ideas. I get inspired everyday to help those at Green Umbrella because as a part of the GC it is my duty to help them. I aim to work as hard as I can to aid them so they can get the education they deserve. I believe that the right to education is a basic human need and I want to try my best to help bring that right into the lives of those who may not get as many opportunities as I do. By helping the school out in the areas that they have requested us to, I believe that I am helping them in the ways that I can from so far away.
Since I will be going to the GC for project week, I have decided that I will step up and help more for the GC now. As I plan ahead with the teachers, other students in the GC and the Green Umbrella school as well, I aim to get a list of things, apart from the plastic press that I have been working on, that we can help with when we reach the school for project week. By getting a head start on what we need to do, we can make a plan accordingly and fully utilise our trip for helping the people at the GC.
Even tough our sessions are only once a week and we get just an hour with the people we help, I can see that we all are making a connection with the people diagnosed with dementia. They might not even remember us from the last time that we came, but I can sense that our presence, just entering the room brightens up their spirits and engages them. I am aware of the hardships that come with this service because we can’t expect them to be 100% engaged with us but I can observe a difference in their behaviour when we listen to music together. After just 2 seasons I have gotten adept to the environment and realised how we have to make an effort from our own side to be extra happy yet cautious at the same time because it is important that they see a happy environment. We have to remain respectful as well and always keep in mind that we must be patient with them. We had to learn the skills we need to interact with the people there which helped me understand how to be more kind to them by doing basic things such as giving them acknowledgement when they do anything, for instance if they tell me something I should react with enthusiasm and keep talking to them and applaud them for anything that they do. This helps them feel more welcome and creates a connection between us two. That bond is very important because it is very likely that they don’t remember us the next week so at we must be ready and familiar with he patients so that we don’t start from square one every time. Becoming very personal with them is really important and I look forward to helping them out in the future.
Here is a video we made as a group answering questions specific to our service: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1MO0owR8vdTsJ02Ckz3KeXifKxSgqa6JC/view?usp=sharing