I had an amazing time in Siem Reap. It was my first mission trip and I was 100% clueless. I had no idea who was going. I didn't know they were all close friends already. I didn't know what I would go through on a mission trip. But I came out of it, a week later, having made an amazing group of friends within our missions team and within ICF Cambodia, having experienced the most amazing week completely immersed in serving God.
As our team leader, Diana said, the trip was such a short 7 days that really we would be the ones benefitting the most from a trip like this. Yes we were there to be the hands and feet of ICF Cambodia during their Ladies' Lounge, and yes we were there to help landscape ICF's NGO Elevate in building their 12 hectare large community centre/kids church. But we were the ones who were privileged enough to be given the opportunity to help them in all their endeavours. We met amazing families who had come from Switzerland, ICF's homebase, on a completely voluntary basis, to get the Cambodian campus up and running. They had uprooted their lives to work for God. It was seriously humbling. We were doing nothing compared to what they were doing. We were just so blessed to be able to help.
The Ladies' Lounge is a conference of talks for women. But in this one in Siem Reap, we had a whole host of other activities for them as well. We had a manicure-pedicure-nail art station, hair braiding and styling, hand massages, temporary tattoos to choose from, a pool lounge serving banana and papaya Cambodian milk shakes (basically fruits, ice, and CONDENSED MILK) and coffee, a face-to-face area where the ladies could speak to someone, and a second hand clothes store. The whole team of eleven of us were split up between these stations.
I was running the pool lounge with Cecile and Fiona. We were really lucky as Cecile brought us out in her epic truck to the local markets to buy the produce. I thought I wouldn't be surprised or culture shocked by anything I saw in those markets as we have tonnes of open air markets in KL too. But Psar Leu market was absolutely ridiculous - sprawling, massive, abundant with EVERYTHING. You could have lunch here, or buy jewellery here, or buy household cleaning products here, or buy entire pigs' heads here. Absolutely sprawling in size. We bought plastic cups and biscuits here but couldn't find any ripe mangoes to make our smoothies with. So we went to another market, couldn't find them there either so just bought some bananas and papayas instead. Funnily enough, we realised later after talking to the local Khmer people that the green mangoes could become yellow really quickly, far quicker than those in Malaysia. The same thing happened with our green bananas too - in a day the completely green bananas were ripe and ready for smoothie making. So bizarre.
Florrie, my cell group leader, and I would also swap in and out of giving the ladies' hand massages as she wasn't too keen on them. I'm really glad we did that though as I got to really talk to the ladies, instead of just handing them shakes hahaha. I guess that what struck most of us was that small tasks like these that seem insignificant really made the ladies happy. Their hands were mostly rough and callused, and you can tell that they weren't used to anyone doing things for them, especially ba rang (white foreigners), and even less so doing 'personal service' tasks like braiding hair/manicures.
Speakers from Switzerland came to host talks for the ladies. There was a crane that lifted the ladies' at least 15-20m into the air to give them the view of a NEW HORIZON, the theme of the conference. I tried going up there and it was truly insane. Really gave you a real sense of how knowing the story of Jesus can lift you into new horizons. We had vans as well on the vicinity, of karaoke, crepes and ice cream, and finally we rounded everything off with a massive pool party for the village kids.
This huge piece of land will soon boast a children's church, possibly wakeboarding, swimming and diving in their man made lake, and a dirt bike track. We dug irrigation trenches for trees on the land and fertilised existing ones. Sounds easy doesn't it? JOKES. We were digging holes into land that was not moist at all so that water can flow into those trenches and stay there come the dry season. Maybe I'm just physically weak but that was some seriously awesome back-breaking work right there hahaha. You can check them out here and there's a link for donations too here.
ICF runs a sponsorship program for village children. So for example, they would reach out to people in their home church in Switzerland asking them to pay, normally a monthly payment, to support a child. Fung, my best friend and I are already sponsoring a child in Ghana with Compassion UK otherwise I'd be so keen to sponsoring one of the Khmer kids. It's really cool and everyone should look into it. The cost of sponsoring a kid for a whole month is pretty much equivalent to the cost of only a few meals for us. Compassion UK charges about 25 pounds per month (roughly RM150), which is only 83p a day (RM5)! This covers education, medical care, nutritional support, vocational training. I can't find ICF Cambodia's page on sponsorship but I'm sure if you contact them on their Facebook page you can find out how to do it. This is Compassion UK's page, which might be more administratively convenient for those of you living in the UK.
So ICF's program includes picking up these children from their village on Sunday morning to come to the church to receive medical attention (one boy came in with a full fledged burn on his leg and they had to rush him to the hospital), lunch (we served them noodles that even I was dying to eat hahahah), and played football and other games with them. We all got into the back of a massive pickup truck, and drove about 20mins to their villages. It was awesome how the moment we arrive in a seemingly quiet village, tooting our horn, kids would spring out of various houses and run like mad towards the lorry whooping and yelling. They wouldn't even stop when they got to the lorry to slowly ease themselves up (the step itself was higher up than some of these kids) but would run and jump straight up to the lorry. And when they left the church some of them would look so miserable, and keep waving back towards us when they were walking away.
The town in itself is really quirky. It has an abundance of Korean and French restaurants (due to a lot of Korean investment, and France's previous influence). But it is so so poor that it breaks my heart. I really feel for this place and hope that I can do something to help it soon.
Elevate also organizes sponsorships for the children in Siem Reap. Every Sunday they would come to church and receive medical attention and nutritious meals. We were super lucky to be able to hop on the back of a lorry to go to their village and pick them up. It was an experience like no other: a 15 minute bumpy ride on the red clay roads culminating in a horn tooting arrival at what seemed like a ghost town of a village where the kids would each run out of their individual homes, yelling with glee, and climbing their way up onto the lorry. It really was something else.
Angkor Wat was also something else. I've been there twice before but only as a child so going there again with older, wiser (not really) eyes was great. Its rickety old steps, leading up to dried out baths, surrounded by people who still go there to worship, the musky smell of incense wafting into each enclosed area and corridor are not done justice by my description.
The food was very similar to Thai food but not as spicy (I solved that problem pretty easily by eating up all their chilli sauce). My favourite dish was lok lak, a stir fried beef dish typically served with an egg on rice. Man, the combination of runny yolk, garlicky chilli sauce and beef jus with Cambodian rice (which is surprisingly so much sweeter and better than the famous Thai rice) was RIDICULOUS. I also, crrrrrazily enough, dared to try the Khmer version of balut, which is essentially a duck egg. BUT the chick has already kinda half or fully formed inside. I know. I don't even know how I garnered the courage to eat it. But i did. It's alright if the chick is half formed. But fully formed I might as well just eat a duck? But apparently it's really healthy for you..... The others, Sam, Adeline, Vincent, Ju Chen tried, brace yourself, a tarantula and a water cricket (?? literally just looks like a cockroach ahhaha). But i was less daring then.
ALL IN ALL
Go to Siem Reap. Peace. (and sorry this post has been delayed - Flora refused to upload the pictures for like a month hahaha).
P.S. Most of these photos were taken either by me (@biancahoh), Flora See (@ninjahansee), Andrea Kee (@andreakee) and mostly Adeline Hong (@addyhong) as the trip's official photographer. I think I credited the right people so if I didn't just PM me/comment below thanks guys!