The University of Science and Technology in Hong Kong has been organizing students for a trip to Cambodia and Wat Opot has been one of their stops on their bi-annual trip for many years. The children look forward to their arrival for weeks and because of the hands-on approach the university students have, an activity filled day is sure to please.
Some of the students have been here before, but for most it’s their first time at our home. It starts with a couple of the kids hanging around the main gate listening intently for the unmistakable sound of a large bus rambling down the small dirt road that leads to our community. A few shouts of “Lan Crome mou, Lan Crome mou” (bus come, bus come) send the populations screaming, shouting and running to the gate.
The first timers may be overwhelmed by the camaraderie, but there’s no stopping the kids! They get to hang on us and whatever volunteers we may have every day, but when a bus load of young adults show up, they are ripe for the picking! Especially when there were over 20 of them! That’s like 1.5 kids for every adult!
This time, instead of the HK group coming to Wat Opot, we met at Phnom Tamao (like a zoo, but it’s more of an animal sanctuary). We arrived first and as usual, while negotiating our supposed nonnegotiable ‘free’ NGO status, the first of the ‘un-caged’ wildlife appeared.
Some brought along the youngest members of their family; just as we did. Something else we share with our furry cousins…a real “No child, (er…monkey) left behind!”
Since the two rented large vans arrived at Wat Opot early, and the kids clamored aboard squealing with delight, we arrived at the Zoo earlier than planned. The zoo is huge, and unless you have a bicycle or motorbike, you cannot see everything in one visit. It’s overgrown and sometimes feels more like you are trekking through the jungle. To get to the bus parking, you have to drive by many of the animals and once you get off the bus one has the normal tendency to continue to move forward.
So that is what we did, walking directly to the play area, well, actually that’s not an accurate description…it should read, “the children RAN full force…”. The main focal point of the play are is a huge bear tongue slide!
Here’s an idea, let’s get a photo of the kids with their matching t-shirts hanging on the climbing bars! “Isabel help!” She was putting kids on the bars and then some would loose their grip before others were up, it was kind of like digging a hole while the sides are caving in. She tried her best, but the last photo says it all – Isabel’s smiling look of defeat as we gave up on it. (this time…but the idea’s not forgotten!)
Spiders are our friends! Or at least the large cement ones who produce rope webs are, as well as the friendly cement tiger cubs.
After playing for a while, it was realized that in the email correspondence with the HKUST coordinator, we never planned a specific place to meet. It was decided to walk back along the road towards the main entrance to meet up with their bus, thus experiencing many animals along the way, which we had never had the pleasure to view; crocodiles, deer, and an albino something getting groomed by a helpful friend.
All of a sudden the kids started yelling –YEP, the bus was coming! The students were given their usual greeting as the human attraction factor paired up kids with students. It was a school day, so only the primary school students were allowed to take a day off from school, so with 33 kids and 26 adults, everyone had a hand to hold!
There were even a lucky few who had two!
The zoo trip was the first time we had organized to meet outside our home and it was definitely a big success! After lunch, we boarded our respective vehicles both heading back to Wat Opot. The kids rested as Wayne gave our visitors the infamous tour and then the students organized their craft project.
One reason we love the students visit is that they don’t come with their perceived idea of what we need. There is a healthy email communication taking place before hand. Questions such as “What can we bring?”, “What do you need?”, are able to be answered; thus the items they gather at home and the items they purchase in Cambodia are exactly what we desire. School clothes, backpacks, shampoo, soap, hair accessories and an abundance of good quality used (and new) clothing are a welcome sight.
Another reason we look forward to their visit is their beforehand preparation. The students had put together ‘zoo books’ for each child to have. Under photo’s of animals on each page, there was a place for the child to write the Khmer word for that animal –a wonderful educational idea!
The craft project they had ready seemed a little creepy at first…
But then the paints were brought out and we breathed a sigh of relief.
And in the end our children’s individualism (which we so strongly encourage!) shined through.
Any guess as to who these masked avengers are??
Our thanks the to the University students and staff and also to you who have read this post.
We appreciate very much your interest in our community.