Heledd Jones - General Care Projects in Cambodia
Non spent three months working at the Jeannines Children's Association (JCA), an orphanage in Phnom Penh.
I was embarking on my second week of my time in Phnom Penh, getting to know how things worked - or more often, did not work! The children were making themselves known to me bit by bit. One afternoon the little 'uns were off to play football. I went along for the ride - crammed into the JCA van as per usual. Whereas I thought I was wide eyed in this new city, watching the children gawping through the window at the sprawling metropolis of Phnom Penh was unexpected.
I came to the conclusion that they probably didn't get much further than Street 592 - JCA's home - very often. They gradually all fell silent and took everything in as their little eyes flickered about taking in the signs, the motorbikes, the negotiations of life in Phnom Penh. Then we turned into an institution - 'the football field' (later visited on many an occasion).
My heart sunk when I saw the opposing team - the International School of Phnom Penh, all kitted out in their red shirts, mothers swanning around with cameras at the ready to take pictures of their sons. We piled out of the minibus, most without shoes, let alone a colour coordinated kit. The children looked lost. Then I realised how little the JCA children had. Our team had loosely kicked a ball around the afternoon before in preparation for this game.
The ISPP team had obviously been trained and watched the football on their TVs. As they noticed the JCA squad approaching, they made little effort to disguise their disgust at how 'they don't even have shoes on'. I felt so mad at these spoilt children, thankful that our children couldn't understand or be hurt by their comments. The game started, the JCA children with a very loose concept of the ins and outs of official football. Our goals starting piling up regardless. The ISPP team was starting to falter, sweating away, whilst our children were just getting started.
Conversation was struck up between the International school boys about which flavour Gatorade they preferred to drink at half-time. I watched the JCA children studying these boys, so similar yet so completely alien to them. It meant absolutely nothing, it all seemed so trivial, the juxtaposition of both teams startling. It broke my heart. The ISPP team was surrounded by their families, their comforts. We trundled onwards, JCA triumphing 5-0! It was a wonderful moment, the tears welling up in my eyes like a proud mother! These boys were pretty much a part of my family, I felt so happy that they had won. Winning against the rich kids was somehow symbolic; we had stood up against all expectations.
The boys took it in their stride, (inwardly proud, I imagine) I was more excited than them! (please note the ISPP have fundraised for JCA, for which we are grateful. This account is by no means supposed to be an attack on them.) I had such a great time and want every volunteer to know how great a place Cambodia can be if you get stuck in.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.