Tuk Tuks, Ultimate, and Golden Children

First week in Cambodia and first week at Sovann Komar Children’s Village: complete. You would never guess by watching me get lost walking two blocks away from my apartment, but I’m settling in nicely. My second day here I had to really pump myself up to buy some cereal. This morning I walked to Angkor Mart and got a bunch of things without thinking twice. I’m feeling more comfortable, and that’s really cool.

In an effort to fight my jet lag and not waste any time, I decided to walk to the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum during my third day in Phnom Penh. Toul Sleng, also known as S-21, was a high school turned prison/interrogation center during the Khmer Rouge Regime’s rise to power. 20,000 people held there were later killed. Prisoners were required to write an autobiography detailing their lives from when and where they were born to their arrest. A photo was taken of each prisoner and they were given a number. The photos were on display at the museum and made everything that much more real. The whole place was solemn and heavy with the weight of not only what had happened there, but how recently it had occurred. Reading the pamphlet guide that corresponded with each cell or torture device was horrific and nausea-inducing. The oppression was palpable and while it was somewhat numbing, I was kept uncomfortably alert with the shocking reality of it all. It was an abrupt experience upon my arrival in Cambodia, but one that I felt was important to understanding the country’s history.

I was beyond nervous to begin my internship on Monday. I had no idea what to expect. What little expectations I had were immediately shattered as my ride rolled up. For some reason I assumed it would be all teachers, or weirdly just myself and the driver, but the van was full of children. They motioned for me to jump in the front seat but there was a little girl already sitting there. She opened the door and stood up. I waited for her to jump out, and when an awkward length of time had passed it dawned on me that she would be sitting on my lap for the ride. Whatever nerves I had been feeling about interacting with the kids were forced aside. Her name is Natia, and we read from her English textbook for most of the ride. I was very comforted by this first interaction, and it restored some much needed confidence in what I was doing here in Phnom Penh.

The children at Sovann Komar are the sweetest, cutest, most excited little kids you’ll ever meet. Happy enough simply saying “hello” to me, their enthusiasm was contagious and I immediately felt welcomed. The staff is fantastic as well, and were happy to answer my endless questions.
“Hello Teacher Joh!”
“I am great! How are you?”
This is a daily exchange. They don’t fully understand that “And you?” isn’t a part of the actual greeting. I try to correct it but there is this issue with it being very, very cute. It’s an internal conflict. Every day on the ride home a couple of teachers from the school try to teach me simple words so that I can communicate a little better with the kids. Khmer has proven to be a very difficult language for me, but I appreciate them trying to help, and they appreciate my effort.

I will be teaching pre-school 3 days a week, kindergarten 2 days a week, “sport” or physical education on Fridays, and assisting with older students’ English classes every morning. I only observed classes this past week, so I’ll write about teaching when I get there.

On Thursday I was given the opportunity to travel to Arun’s (co-founder of Sovann Komar) home village and volunteer with KIDS International Dental Service, an organization that recruits people from the dental industry to volunteer their time and service to children in rural communities all over the world. It was amazing. They gave around 250 children check-ups, educated them on proper brushing techniques, and did free dental work when it was needed. My job was to direct children from one line to another, which was as unhelpful as it sounds- still a very cool thing to be a part of. The dentists performing extractions, fillings, etc. let me observe and explained what they were doing and why. Ironically, there happened to be a South Korean Christian group at the village the same day, and they were handing out candy. I think the children were more excited to get their free toothbrush and teeth cleaning. It was a wonderful experience with a wonderful organization, and seeing Arun’s home felt special as well. He does a lot of charity work for children having been orphaned at the age of 5 himself. He is a very wonderful, kind, and inspiring man to work for.

Friday was a great day. As I mentioned earlier, I get to teach sport on Fridays. I chose to attempt a frisbee lesson. I had no idea how many students I was teaching, how many frisbees we had to use, and how tough it was going to be to explain drills with the language barrier. All three of these concerns ended up being very real, but everything worked out. There were around 50 students, 3 discs, and they did not understand much. I kept it very simple.
“This is a frisbee.”
“Do you like frisbee?”
“Do you want to see Teacher Kosal catch a frisbee?”
I kind of threw Kosal under the bus, but I thought it would be funny. He did not catch the frisbee, and it WAS funny. The kids loved it, so I threw to other teachers as well. They cheered when it was caught; they cheered when it was dropped. I gave a basic lesson on throwing and catching (“This side of frisbee UP. Catch like alligator.”), then decided that the best thing to do with 50 kids and 3 discs would be to split them into three groups and let them throw.
Somehow, this worked perfectly. As long as all of the kids had a turn, it was great. It was easier to help kids throw when I was dealing with a smaller group, and they LOVED it. I only planned on the group throwing taking up 10 minutes or so, but it ended up lasting the entire 40 minute class. My first time teaching “sport” could not have gone better.

Next up, I’m off to play some pick up ultimate. I’m actually literally waiting for my tuk tuk now.
Speaking of, this week I successfully hailed a tuk tuk, and bargained with the driver- all by myself. Little things, little things.

– Johannah Kohorst

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