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Reflections from NTU OVE  

The Nanyang Technological University (NTU) OVE volunteering trip Open Team took place from 22 July-4 August 2019. Hear from the  2 volunteers – Annabel and Zhi Wei as they share their reflection about their recent Overseas Volunteering Expedition (OVE) trip to Prey Veng, Cambodia!

Question: What is your most memorable experience throughout your trip?

AnnabelMy most memorable experience, out of the many, would be the construction of the house that lasted for 5 consecutive days. Not only was it a novel experience building a home from scratch, there were just too many intangible takeaways from this experience itself. The word ‘construction’ itself sounded daunting to me, especially since I’m only standing at 154cm tall. Coupled with my slight fear of heights, and after seeing the local carpenters climbing up the wooden planks, it surely did make me more worried.  Physically, it was indeed tiring but extremely fulfilling. Over the span of 5 days, my team members and I received so much care and gratitude from the locals that really made construction much smoother, enjoyable, satisfying and meaningful. There is this particular scene that remained vivid in my mind till now. While we shaved and smoothen the pile of bamboos that will be used for the flooring of the house, we were sitting on the bare ground initially. Seeing how our pants were stained with the soil and mud, the homeowner – very generously – provided us with mats to sit on. Not just that – with her expertise and strength, she kindly helped us with the bamboo shaving as well (pictured below). During our breaks, we would also interact with the villagers and play with the children despite our language barrier. Overall, it was really a very heart-warming and fulfilling 5 days spent there. It just never fails to amaze me how with the help of the local carpenters, the homeowner and the energy provided by the neighbouring villagers, our team actually built a home for a family to live in. Not just that, the time spent there showed me how simple it is to be kind to one another through small but thoughtful acts.

This was day 2 of construction when the outline of the house was made. The lady in the middle is the home-owner, who lives with her daughter in this house

This was day 5 when we completed and handed the house over to the owner

The homeowner shaved the bamboos with the team

Zhi Wei: Throughout the 2 weeks in Prey Veng, every single day and activity has left precious memories for me. If I were to choose, the construction of the house would be the most memorable followed by the interaction with the adorable kids at Hope Village Prey Veng (HVPV).  During the first 5 days of the trip, we were told to complete the task of building a house with the help of the local carpenters. I have to say that these few days were the toughest out of the 14 days because it was physically and mentally draining. With the endless support from all of my friends, everyone persevered and completed the job nicely. We wanted to give the family a nice home to live in and the thought of it made us work harder.

Initial construction of the house

The kids at HVPV were very welcoming and friendly. I remember during the first visit, they were all very excited to see us and came forward to hug everyone. During the days at HVPV, we engaged them with a few activities. One of them would be the Cultural Night where they get to learn more about Singapore’s culture. The night ended off with a mass interaction of song and dance! It was really fun and the smile on their faces really warmed my heart. I’m glad that the children enjoyed themselves. We also set up a photo booth in one of their classrooms and we took a lot of great photos together!

A cultural night with the HVPV children

The NTU volunteers in their multi-cultural outfits 

Question: How has your perspective shifted after the trip? Share with us what are some initial ideas you have towards the trip!

AnnabelTo be very honest, I really did not know what to expect out from this trip. All I wanted was to leave at least the slightest positive impact on our beneficiaries, and the locals. I also was unsure how different children are like in Cambodia – their energy levels, their receptiveness towards us volunteers/foreigners and whether they would be open to meeting us. Initially, I also had doubts about our communication with the locals given our very limited Khmer language. Regarding the country – Cambodia, it was my first time there, and it was rather exciting since I would be heading there as a volunteer rather than a tourist there for a holiday. I must say that the entire time in Cambodia, I have never met someone who’s rude or unfriendly to me or the team. Everyone was full of smiles, and were all so kind towards us and always greeted us despite us being strangers. Our team coined it the “Cambodian Spirit” and we really want to bring this spirit over to Singapore. While building the UV water system, the students immediately came forward to help us transfer the bricks for the base when they saw us forming a human chain to pass the bricks. We were all so thankful and amazed at the level of awareness the children had despite their age.

The rural children helping out in passing the bricks for the UV water sy

stem’s base 

Zhi Wei: Before the trip, the thought of having to stay in a rural area of a less developed country for 14 days sounds daunting. But throughout the stay, time passed very fast and we were getting comfortable with everything there.

Zhi Wei having fun with HVPV children 

Question: Use one word or emoji to summarise the entire trip. 

Annabel🎢 It was really a great, great ride! Of course, we faced ups and downs in the span of the 2 weeks spent there. For example, our bus back to Phnom Penh from HTC got stuck in the mud for more than an hour till we had to get a replacement bus to fetch us to the city centre. However, all these moments have turned into fond memories that all of us will remember forever! “What?! 2 weeks is over?? We’re heading back to Singapore tomorrow already!!” was what most of us thought when we were doing our recreational activities on the last day, exactly like how we would react at the end of a rollercoaster ride – it’s over?! And I wouldn’t mind going for another ride anytime soon.

Zhi Wei: 😌 I chose this emoji because I’ll definitely miss the people and time spent in Prey Veng & HVPV. I’m really glad that I’ve decided to come on this trip. It’s one of the best decisions that I’ve made!

Question: Why did you choose to embark on this volunteering trip with us?

AnnabelHaving been on 2 overseas volunteer trips during my secondary school days to an orphanage in Batam to teach English and arts and craft, I really wanted another overseas volunteer experience, and to seek new challenges. My previous trips were rather ‘sheltered’, in a sense that because we were tied to the school, and to ensure us of our safety as students, we stayed in a hotel. It also lasted for a shorter duration of 3 days. This volunteering trip contained aspects which I’ve never tried before, and aspects that I loved. I love children, and knowing that this trip entails volunteering with the children at Hope Village Prey Veng, I was already drawn to it. Construction of a home and a UV water system were both new to me, and I really wanted to try something new and I am glad I did it!

HVPV children holding up the gifts they received from the NTU OVE team 

Zhi Wei: I have always wanted to do an Overseas Community Involvement Project at least once in my lifetime to experience volunteering overseas (at a totally different environment/culture). Also, what OHF has been doing is very meaningful and I’m happy to be part of it.  It’s saddening to know that the locals are facing several difficulties but, I’m glad that what we did have positively impacted some parts of their lives.  Besides, I took the chance to reflect and improve myself during the volunteering trip.

  1. What are some challenging moments for you?

AnnabelI would say the language barrier was quite a hinderance/challenge to me. Initially, I tried communicating with the children at the construction site with my very limited khmer language and only knowing how to say ‘Thank you’, ‘You look good’ and ‘good’, I obviously failed to sustain a good conversation with them. I had to use body language to kind of get my message across, but it would end up with both of us smiling to each other awkwardly. But nonetheless, it was a good memory and I’m glad over the course of 2 weeks, we did improve and the kids opened up more which made our interactions more meaningful and enjoyable! Another challenging moment would probably be hammering the higher parts of the house. Although my teammates completed most of it, I really wanted to overcome my fear of heights and I eventually stepped onto the scaffold to hammer the higher parts of the home. I remember feeling pretty afraid that I would fall, but after staying up there for quite a while, it was actually quite manageable. I never regret stepping out of my comfort zone!

Zhi Wei:  One of the challenges would be communicating with the people at Prey Veng. Since we are not proficient in their local Khmer language, there was a language barrier. There were several instances when we wanted to engage in a conversation with the locals and failed to do so because we could not understand each other. However, that did not stop us from communicating with them. We used hand gestures to convey simple messages.  It would be useful to learn some of the native languages beforehand!

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