This past July, 23 participants, made up of 5 adults, 2 college students and 16 high school students from all over the Northwest (Portland/Vancouver/Seattle); embarked on a remarkable adventure to build the first Courts for Kids court in Cambodia! We worked alongside the eager locals, and Peace Corps volunteer Neysa Peterson, in the community of Kralanh in the Siem Reap Providence in Cambodia. When we arrived we were warmly greeted by a line of students who had made banners and posters to welcome our arrival. Right from the start we knew how excited this community was! In fact, this is a school into which five rice farming villages feed. The average rice farming family makes $1.50 a day. Most kids are not able to go to school because they can’t afford the cost of a school uniform (which is a requirement) and they need to work in the rice fields or around the house to help provide for the family. In spite of these hard circumstances, in order to build a court, the families and students prepped and leveled the land volunteering their time because
they were so excited for a safe place for their children to play! Taking time away from the rice fields, or working on their only day off, showed how much ownership and eagerness this community had.
Our CFK team and the locals worked four long and grueling days to complete the court. We lacked wheelbarrows making this project extra challenging but all of us really persevered through the humidity and lack of materials to make this dream become a reality! Kids of all ages- young and old, men and women came out to work on their court!
Not only did we work alongside the locals, getting to know them and even giving some of them affectionate nick-names (which they loved), but we also got to hear their stories. Our group sat down and listened to the students talk about the school system and how important an education is for them. Only a very select few are lucky enough to go to college- which was very eye opening for our group. We also got to hear from Khmer Rouge genocide survivors and visit a killing field where so far 300+ bodies have been found. Hearing the sobering stories of these survivors was eye opening to say the least for our group members. Many students from our group commented on how they had no idea about the atrocities Cambodia had faced and had a desire to stay up with global events when they returned home.
In addition to listening to their stories we also had fun with them! We played card games, soccer games, and just played with the children in general. A highlight for the group was a cultural exchange night where we made spaghetti and they made their delicious curry and we exchanged dishes. In addition, we learned Khmer dances and we in turn taught the locals the Cha Cha slide and the Electric Slide. Dancing the night away was truly a highlight for both groups (I’ve been told the locals are still talking about it!).
At the end of our stay in Kralanh there was a very gracious ribbon cutting inauguration ceremony. Afterwards we hosted a basketball clinic for the students. Because the students had never had access to a court and sports equipment before we had to start our lessons with the very basics, which meant explaining what a basketball was and how you are never to kick it, and then explaining what a soccer ball is and how you aren’t supposed to dribble with it, etc. The students couldn’t
believe that the court could be used for 3 sports- basketball, volleyball and soccer! You should have seen how excited they were!
So after a very successful clinic we said our goodbyes and left our new friends in Kralanh. We ended our trip with a one day tour of the famous Angkor Wat temples and a tour of a water village. Although both were amazing experiences our group couldn’t help but feel that the experience of living in a village with the locals- eating their food, working and dancing alongside them, and shopping in their small market was the true highlight! We were more than mere tourists snapping photos, but instead we became like family- knowing each other’s names, eating each other’s food, and dancing each other’s dances- and probably most importantly working alongside each other to share the love of sports with one another. We all went away feeling an immense sense of gratitude for such an amazing experience in such an amazing country.
I learned on this trip that happiness is present even in a difficult place like Cambodia. All of the kids were so happy to see their own court despite their difficult circumstances. Each day, their passion for life was present and visible which is something I know I will take back to America. – David, high school student
A major way this trip impacted me was the fact that it was volunteer and donation driven. I never realized how great a feeling to was to do something such as this. Building a basketball court for a developing nation/community was never a thought I had as being a big deal or really even important, but after seeing how accepting and gracious all of these people have been, I have begun to realize it’s a huge deal. I’ve volunteered before but never have I had the satisfaction of seeing a final product, nor have I seen exactly how I’ve impacted a community. I’ve learned how great it can be to volunteer just a short amount of time. – Jordan, College student
On this trip I realized how lucky we are to have education. It is embarrassing to think I had complained about school in the past . . .
I hope that in the future I will not forget my experiences in Cambodia, or have these feelings of gratitude be numbed out by my American life. But I am certain that they will stay with me. I know that I have very little to complain about, for unlike most Cambodians I have clean water, food 3 x’s a day, and healthy living conditions. –
Andrew, College student
Something that will change me when I get back is knowing that there is serious atrocities that happen in countries a lot that we never hear about. Knowing the story of the Khmer Rouge has opened my eyes more and it makes me feel like I should be more aware of current events that happen in small 3rd world countries. I’m going to start trying to pay more attention to those issues.
– Casey, High school student
This trip has impacted me in so many different ways. I think the most important way is to not only be thankful for what I have but to go home and use what I have learned in my everyday life. The people of Kralahn are so gracious and kind, and to see and experience something like that changes a person and makes me want to give that love to everyone I see and meet, hoping it will make them feel as loved as I did. . . . The most important thing I have learned is not to judge anyone or anything. A lot of us tend to put up a front when we see something different. But just because it is different doesn’t mean it is good or bad- it’s just different. This is what makes the world so unique and interesting to me. Another thing I have learned is to give whenever you can. Not only does it benefit the receiving end, but it will benefit yourself in more ways then you would ever think.– Abigail, High school student
This trip changed my life by making me want to help others more in the future and rethink what I want to do with my life and what kind of person I want to be. – Eric, high school student
This trip changed my tolerance level for people, cultures, and my own ability. I can take a lot more than I realized, and many have it worse. – Jack, high school student
The biggest impact that I’ve come across on this trip is seeing the kids being so excited over just a simple court and new game. Basketball has always been a part of my life that I have taken for granted, but these kids showed me how much it can mean for someone. Throughout my life I have always had a court near me and a ball I can use. I’ve never thought about how there might be a whole group of people that hasn’t heard of or explored something that I love- such as basketball. – Owen, High school student
I have found over the past four days that one of the best parts about Cambodia are the people. Every person I have encountered on this trip has welcomed our group with open arms and graciously gave us food, shelter, and love. – Morgan, High school student