The plan for today was to work in the schools built by UWCSEA. We got into the minibuses and headed straight to this school in Svay Rieng.
The School in Svay Rieng built by UWC We carried the boxes with things we need to use for the activities to the corridor of the classrooms. There were kids inside the classroom, reading their textbooks. Some of them started to look our way, and soon, all of them in this classroom gathered at the window (We waved at them and they smiled back. But when we tried to say “hi” in Khmer, they didn’t seem to get us) .
We got into the classrooms with the boxes. I found out that, actually, this school in the poor place in Svay Rieng teaches a lot of things to the kids. There were mathematics posters stuck on the walls with Khmer around the pictures.
We started to do some activities. Our first activity was to sing the song “Head, shoulders knees and toes”. Now we faced a problem. People in our team, Ella and me, could say nothing more than “hi” and “thank you” in Khmer. There were two translators coming with us to Cambodia, but they were all not in this classroom. The kids were all looking at us now, some started to get a bit impatient. We had to do something.
But all that we could do was to start singing the song. We sang the whole song through in front of the whole class. No one follows us, but some kids at the back started laughing. In fact, they were as worried as us. They did not understand anything we said in English at all and we suddenly started to sing and dance. It was very awkward, and I knew that it wouldn’t work. I ran outside the classroom, and grabbed one of the translators into our classroom. When I got back, the classroom got very noisy, with lots of kids chatting, and Ella was still dancing alone at the front. The translator saiid something to the teacher and the kids, and they answered together in a one syllabus word in Khmer. Some of them realized what we were just doing and burst into laughter. The kids came to the front and started to dance together.Although everyone was following, they did not seem to enjoy this activity. This was probably because they had never heard of the song before and did not understand the lyrics. Therefore we stopped and started the second activity.
We pushed four tables together and laid a big, long sheet of coloring paper on the tables. Then we brought three boxes of markers and showed the kids how to remove the lids and color. Most of the girls immediately came, and nervously, took the markers from our hands and tried the markers. Some of them might have wanted to draw on their own before but had no coloring markers. We invited the boys to come too, but on the contrary, the boys seemed to have no interest towards drawing. I asked several boys (with body languages) if they want to draw, and all of them shook their heads. I asked some of them again, and this time they shook their heads for a really long time. It was impossible to stop the activity now, as all the girls enjoyed so much in it. So we started the string games with the boys. The string game was called “cat’s cradle”. The only things you need to play the game is a 1m long string that is tied into a ring shape. In the game, you put the string on your finger, your partner creates a pattern on your finger and holds the string on her fingers. You creates another pattern on her fingers and hold it on your finger, and so on. The game was originated from China. Almost all kids know how to play it in the ancient times. My grandma was no exception. When I was in primary school, she used to play the string game with me before I went to bed so I know every pattern of the game by heart. Our classmates had learnt hard to get the game so we could play it with the Cambodian kids.
The kids gathered up and tried to learn the game. However, the kids were probably in Grade 1, and their hands were too small and weren’t strong enough to do the patterns. We tried for several times, and they all failed. When the kids were feeling a bit frustrated, I suddenly thought of a magic trick my grandma taught me. The trick needs one person to twine the string in a specific way, that is very complicated, on his finger, so that when the other person pull hard on one side of the string, the string would get off the first person’s fingers. The kids might not be able to do “cat’s cradle”, but they surely could pull! I quickly did the trick on my finger, and asked a kid to come and pull it. The string came off. The kid looked at me in amazement, and after seconds, all the boys came gathered at my side, yelling to me to pull the string. This was a simple string but it was like magic to the kids. This was the time when I felt closer to the kids. As they started to like me, the difference in our lives, languages and culture wasn’t important anymore. Looking at their smily faces, I began to feel a little sad that I would leave this place tomorrow and continue my life, which is completely different from here.
After all the activities, we gathered outside for lunch. To the kids, it was the end of school, and all of them went to find their parents and went home. Some of the male teachers (or maybe parents, I couldn’t tell) stayed here. They took out a loudspeaker box and started playing a local music. One of our teachers asked them if they have microphones, and they did. Two of our classmates sang, and when they finished, every one clapped, including the Cambodians. They seemed to appreciate it a lot. We finished our lunch and prepared to leave. We were going back to Phnom Penh to meet the other team.