It has been 4 months since I landed in Cambodia and the time has flown by. Since my release from quarantine, it has been a whirlwind of discoveries and sometimes I feel like I only arrived yesterday….
I had been warned that Siem Reap was all over the place and that the passage of Covid had had a considerable impact on the town; add to all that the renovation of the roads and the first impression is – how can I say – dusty?
Furthermore, the closing of 80% of the hotels, restaurants and bars gave the city, at that time, the appearance of a ghost town. Even though the shock was a bit brutal, I had had the time to anticipate it and prepare myself for it, which surely made my arrival smoother than it could have been.
After these first impressions, I was able to meet the team of the Bayon School and discover what we – the school, the local team, all the hard work – are committed to achieving. And what a joy!
I was able to visit the agro-ecology school, the pastry school, where the offices are, and the primary school, such a special place being located within the temples and sheltered from the sun and the noise of the city. If all the schools were still closed, the discovery of these places allowed me to put real images on those I had imagined.
I also visited the farmers to discover their vegetable gardens and was impressed by the work of these women who work the land, often alone, and whose production allows us to feed our beneficiary families. There is so much to say about them and the few pictures I was able to take often speak for themselves.
I remember that, after this first visit, Sakoth, the agroecology program manager, took me back into town on his motorcycle and, having no idea which way we were going, I let myself be driven around. What a surprise when I realized that we were on the road to the temples as I saw rise before me these magnificent stones and the impressive Angkor Wat.
I was stunned by this spectacle and realized how very lucky I am to be here, in the middle of a pandemic.
Today, 4 months later, I have had time to find my feet and I know Siem Reap (almost) like the back of my hand. The sanitary situation has clearly improved since September and we no longer have any restrictions, which allows us to appreciate the town differently. The roads are almost finished, we can see some tourists coming back and this gives us hope that we are heading towards better times – even if the situation in Europe alarms many people.
My work has taken on its full dimension by being here. I know why and for whom I am involved, I see the results of our actions and I observe the progress we are making. I have exchanged with the team, I have listened to their life stories and their reflections and I am aware of the role we have as volunteers in the field.
I wonder about what we have and must bring to them, how to be a support, at their side, whilst letting them guide their projects because they, more than anyone, know the issues of their country, the consequences of their history and the situations in which the most vulnerable populations are. I think it is important, when we go into the field, to be aware of these different issues and to know how to take a step back when the reflection is too far from our reality and from what we think we know about the country we are visiting.
I feel that we need to be aware of the fact that, while most of us are just passing through, for those who live here and work at the Bayon School, this really is a lifelong commitment.
I see my role as a small hand in the shadows, helping to shine some light on the team’s work. I like to share my knowledge with them and give them the tools to do it for themselves, to exchange with them and to question myself on the way we articulate our work to make sure that it bears fruit.
I like the idea that we are here to sow what we know and direct the work towards fair and sustainable decisions. Socially, environmentally and economically sustainable. Not to reproduce the same patterns that we all know, but to offer our children a better future and to give them the keys to understand today’s world whilst designing their own world for the future.
During my time at the Bayon School, I hope to develop these ideas, to tell the story behind the hard work, to share the questions we ask and the answers we find. I hope to transcribe in my writing and the contents I share with you, this dynamic that we want to establish, to question myself and to question you in turn on the difficulties encountered here, which, although they are physically far from you, are very often the echo of what we encounter at home.
I hope to be able to show you the will and commitment of our members, of a local team that never loses sight of its objective: to offer children a quality education and to ensure them a better future.