Community contributes to orphanage upgrades

ARARAT - Abby Main and Ellie Price have returned from a five week journey to Cambodia where they lived and worked in an Cambodian orphanage.

Through a generous Ararat and district community, the women were able to raise much needed funds which have significantly changed the lives of the young orphans.

Here in part two of their story, as told by Abby Main, the women outline just how much those funds raised have helped the orphans:

The following are the projects we implemented:

Painting the schools:

Children in Cambodia study from 6am to 7pm, six days a week. Every day they would put on their best clothes, comb their hair and set off for school. They cherish learning because they know it is a privilege to be able to afford such luxuries.

On one of our first nights at the orphanage we went to the local English class (run by the founders of CRO) called CEO.

Here we met Sambo, an over-enthusiastic teacher with an amazing character. Yet, even his bright personality could not light up the dim state of the class room. The walls were a dull colour of white splashed with cob-webs and painted with dust. The tables were rickety and the chairs were broken. We wondered how anybody could learn in such an environment, let alone Sambo living in the back room.

This is when we decided that this was a much needed project! With a brush and shovel in hand and our gloves securely on we began carting out spider ridden rubble, sweeping the layers of dirt off the floor and dusting down the cob-webs.

We spray-painted the desks bright shades of blue, red, yellow and green and in a similar fashion painted a large quote on the front of the building.

The words, 'Learn as if you will live forever', were highlighted at the front of the building in every colour of the rainbow. The inside of the building was splashed with sky blue, white window frames and a new, large white board.

The building was complete after the children slapped their colourful handprints over the outside of the building. Not only was the learning environment brightened but the involvement of the community into this project was outstanding.

Our artistic skills were further improved when we painted a huge mural at the local primary school. To represent Australia we painted a beach scene, with waves, sand, sun and surfers. The children and teachers alike were fascinated by our work and would gather around us as we painted. We painted another quote on the wall, to reinforce the importance of education. It read, 'Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world'.

Bikes:

Cambodia, similar to many Asian countries, has very few road rules. Cars, motos, overcrowded tuk tuks, tractors, bikes, cows and people bombard the streets and turn at every direction. Horns are tooting, lights are flashing yet somehow the lack of any structure actually works!

In our village the prominent transportation is via bike or 'cow machine'. Cow machines are slates of wooden planks bound together to form some kind of platform, which is then tied to a lawn mower-type machine.

In order to travel to school children needed bikes as the primary school was located too far away for walking. The luxury of a school bus or any other motorised transport was never heard of in this village.

When we arrived at the orphanage there were a few rusted, broken bikes scattered around the yard and it was obvious they were in dire need of new bikes. So we all piled into a truck and headed into the next town where we would purchase new bikes for all the children. Their eyes lit up at the sight of the bikes and from that day onwards an afternoon bike ride with all of the children was a daily ritual. Every morning and every afternoon the bikes would set off for school which made the journey a whole lot more enjoyable.

Beds:

Our first glance into the children's bedrooms was quite a shock. The wooden bunk beds were old, unstable and unfit for people to sleep on. Their mattresses weren't of any standard either - they were torn, thinned from overuse and were in need of a good scrub. From our discussion with the CRO staff we were aware the beds were on the priority list, however after seeing their initial state we knew they were of immediate importance.

Alongside our local IVHQ representative we were able to arrange new, steel bunk beds for all the children living in the centre. The new beds were accompanied by new, thicker mattresses, pillows and colourful linen.

The children were thrilled with their pink or blue beds.

In true Cambodian style, the remains of the old wooden beds were transformed into kitchen tables and outside sitting areas.

After the beds were constructed most of the children collected the photos of their families and carefully placed them above their bedheads. It was overwhelming to see the acceptance these children had for their parents' passing and yet the excitement they had in showing us their family was incredible.

The children between the ages of five and nine still stayed in the room with the house mother. Although we offered to buy them all beds the staff insisted these children preferred to sleep next to each other for comfort. Around eight children would snuggle up on two single mattresses to take their afternoon and nightly sleep.

Clothes:

When we arrived at the orphanage we recognised the children's clothing was quite dirty, stained and shabby. We assumed this was just a reflection of the current day's activities.

We soon realised that the children wore their clothes, day and night, for several days in a row. Some clothes were too tight while others draped off the children. They also shared clothing which added more to the accumulated stains and dirt. We realised that at this age the younger boys would end an adventurous day covered in muck.

However sleeping in these clothes could not continue. So we gathered every child from the centre and travelled via cow machine to the market an hour away. Here we split into three groups- the girls, the younger boys and the older boys.

After hours of endless bartering and negotiating we finally walked out of the marketplace with every child clinging onto their bag of new clothes. Each child received two pairs of pants, two shirts and a pair of shoes. When we arrived home the children eagerly modelled their new clothes. We could have watched the excitement, appreciation and smiles on their faces over and over again.

Doctors' trip:

On one of the nights at the orphanage we found one of the younger girls crying because of a headache. After comforting her and getting assistance from the house father we found ourselves riding our bikes towards the so-called medical centre in the town.

Upon arrival we realised it was barely a medical centre, it was simply a bed and a cupboard full of medicines. The girl received two large injections which we soon found out were antibiotics - the medicine used to treat bacterial infections. Antibiotics were also the medication used to treat a few spider bites the children encountered later in our stay.

A lack of proper education, facilities and medicines prevents the medical staff from administering correct drugs. We were soon alerted to the fact that three children were in serious need of medical or dental assistance. One boy could barely talk or eat due to tooth discomfort. Another boy had similar teeth problems which accompanied an ear infection. The third boy had trouble with his eye sight. We took the boys to Phnom Penh where they received medical and dental assistance to ease their pain.

Although the centres were not to Australian standards they trumped the local medical centre from our village.

We only visited one other hospital during our stay and this was located in a local village half an hour from the CRO. Here we stuck up colourful window stickers in an attempt to brighten up the dull corridors. The little children were delighted and fascinated by the shapes and colours.

On the last few days at the orphanage we decided to visit the local villages to see if there were any other families in need. We were taken to what we would call the most underprivileged family we have come across.

The single mother and her three children lived in a small shack no bigger than 2 x 2 metres. The shack was merely protected by the roof made of bamboo and the raised floor consisted of a few planks of wood. Their almost unwearable clothing was all they owned. They barely scraped together a few meals a day, with some meals consisting of only the old fruit they found on the ground.

It was beyond heartbreaking to see anybody having to live in such conditions. In an attempt to slightly improve their livelihoods we gave the woman and her children new clothes and a water filter which they took with much appreciation.

We also rode through the local villages where, over the past few weeks, we had become the regular afternoon bike riders. Every time we rode past, the children would excitedly yell out hello and soon enough their faces became familiar to us too. On the last few days we handed out large amounts of lollies to these children which resulted in gigantic smiles and energetic excitement.

It was during our lolly giveaway that we came across a little boy who melted both of our hearts. This boy has Cerebral Palsy which resulted in him only being able to sit in his wheelchair all day, every day. His restricted movement isn't a result of a lack of ability; rather it was a lack of funding to get him a proper wheelchair. Before we left we organised with the remaining volunteers and CRO staff members to buy this boy a new, self-transportable wheelchair which would give him the freedom of movement which everybody deserves.

There is a famous quote that states, 'You have not lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you'. These words are so truthful and this was the underlying reason we decided to complete this volunteer placement.

However we have walked away feeling like the children had given us so much more than we could have ever imagined.

We feel indebted to them for touching our lives and having such a huge impact on us. We live in a world where the place of your birth can dictate your future, and while it saddens us that they will not have the same opportunities we have received throughout our lives, we feel they are so rich in so many other ways.

As we left the centre we were amazed at how much these children had enriched our lives. We thought we were going to Cambodia solely to help change and improve the lives of these children, yet we walked away with our hearts warmed knowing that they changed ours.

We realised that we will forever have a family in Cambodia. This family is each and every individual at the Child Rescue Centre.

Thank-you to the kind hearts and generosity of Skinco Ararat, Ararat Rotary Club, Ararat Subway, Ararat YMCA and each and every person who donated their money, time or supplies.

We are overwhelmed by the support and feel so proud to come from such a compassionate and caring community. All together we have all helped improve these children's lives.

We are not telling our story for praise but to make people aware of how accessible and enriching volunteering can be. If you are interested in volunteering either nationally or globally please feel free to contact us.

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