MERCY Regional College students who attended an immersion trip to Cambodia have described the experience as “eye-opening”.
Fourteen students and two teachers visited the Asian country for 12 days as part of the school’s social justice service during the school holidays.
During their trip, the school contingent taught conversational English to young children up to people aged 25, helped with the landscaping at a place for displaced persons called ‘Sanctuary House’ and built wheelchairs for amputees.
Student Nathan Wyss said the trip was a much different experience to the school’s Central Australia trip.
“It was definitely a great trip, it was the best experience I’ve had in my life,” he said.
“The whole outlook of it all, it affects you more than you think when you get home.
“You just see things from a different perspective.”
Year 11 student Ebony Poole described Cambodia as “very bare” and said the cultural difference between Australia and Cambodia was obvious, but the Cambodian people made do with their surroundings.
“The way everyone is living (in Cambodia), they don’t let things stop them from doing what they want,” she said.
“They are motivated to do better and they want to help their country.”
Upon arriving, the group went on a cultural tour to a number of temples including Angkor Wat and Ta Phrom and the Landmine Museum.
Shortly after, they met Sister Denise Coghlan, an Australia Sister of Mercy, who has lived in Cambodia for 35 years at the Jesuit Reflection Centre in Siem Reap.
Sister Coghlan told the students about the needs of the Cambodian people and their struggles through many years of political upheaval and conflict.
She also spoke of the call for peace, forgiveness and support that transcends all religious beliefs and cultural divides in Cambodia.
From Siem Reap, the group travelled inland to Kampong Thom where they taught English and mathematics to students at AHHAA and witnessed the Caritas (a catholic international aid program) headquarters.
At Caritas the group learnt about programs such as biogas, solar panels, dam building and organic farming Caritas runs in the villages and farms before moving soil at ‘Sanctuary House’ in support of landmine amputees.
The group spent Easter in Siem Reap and attended the Saturday Vigil Mass at St John’s Catholic Church, before again spending time helping the local people.
The contingent visited more schools after Easter and presented reading books with both English and Khmer translations to primary students.
Students also helped 1997 Nobel Peace Prize winner Rhet, a member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, assemble wheelchairs for landmine victims before the end of their trip.