As part of our G10 mandated curriculum, I traveled with the grade to Cambodia to experience the country and it’s history and culture. We jumped around the country, hitting key locations such as Tuol Sleng, a school turned prison turned museum commemorating the genocide that the Khmer Rouge performed years ago. Walking through the museum was very eerie, with complete silence due to the audio tour. We learned much of the recent history of the country and the horrible events that had taken place. The part that shook me in particular the most, though, was the survivor telling his story of being a prisoner at that same place. It wasn’t his story that chilled me, but the fact that this man had been returning to the same site of his torture and horror for 30 years afterwards to sell his book and make money. Truly an experience that I won’t soon forget.
The next stop was Choeung Ek, or the killing fields. This was much worse than the prison. We walked through the ruins on a beautifully sunny day, in complete silence. Once again the audio tour cast a blanket of eerie silence over the field. We were able to see the actual grave pits of the victims, a temple filled with skulls, and were even able to locate bone fragments still undiscovered from the carnage. They played the twisted melody of the Khmer propaganda songs, combined with the harsh rumbling of the electric generators, the last things that the victims would’ve heard. It was pretty intense, to say the least.
Things lightened up from here, though. We went to various nonprofit local organizations, where we watched toddlers tear up the dance floor and even tried (with varying levels of success) to replicate this ourselves. This was but a stop on the way to our service project.
Our service project was Kampong Cham, where we were divided into three groups. My group went to work laying bricks and plastering the walls of two separate buildings in a local rec/art center. I found this pretty rewarding, as we were able to get a lot of work done in a limited time. We could actually see the effect that we had had on these people.
Collaboration was essential to our work on these sheds. We had to work together to create systems to speed along production and make things more fun for everyone else. I think that we did this very well, as even the counselors commended our progress and ability, an especially high compliment given that they had seen other groups attempt the same.
Even more important was the global understanding gained from the trip. We were able to investigate the causes, reasons, and impacts of the genocide and understand the perspective of not only the academics whose story is told throughout the schools, but also experience firsthand the plight that the lower class have endured.