A dragonfly hangs suspended in the thick, warm air and a bright orange butterfly dances above a pink frangipani. Bunches of bananas hang from the rafters and empty green coconuts, cut into cups, cover the earthen floor. A refreshing breeze carries a choir of hammers, saws and drills and mingles with the laughter of teenagers and the mellow strum of a guitar.
This is Phnom Dombang, a village in the Palin Province of Western Cambodia. Located 40km from the Thai border, this area is occupied by displaced Cambodian families returning from work in Thailand with no land, temporary homes and little hope for the future. It is here that 33 year 10 students, five staff and six volunteers from Carmel Adventist College and Landsdale Christian School came to build a window to the stars.
This story began three years earlier when teachers Nick Thomson and Sepeti Fui were admiring dried fish on a busy Cambodian street when Bunseang Chea, a Cambodian architect, influential businessman and land owner in Phnom Dombang, invited them into his café for a cuppa. He told them of his passion to provide hope for a better future to the villages of Phnom Dombang, and they soon realised they shared a vision: to provide Cambodian families in need with hope for a better tomorrow. Many more chats, emails and prayers later, our mission trip to Cambodia was born.
Our flight landed in Phnom Penh and, after a few days of visiting inspirational aid organisations like She Rescue Home and learning of Cambodia’s tragic history, we travelled to Palin to begin our work constructing a much-needed additional building at the local school.
By the age of nine, the majority of village children stop going to school and begin work as farm labourers. They currently have no opportunities to break their cycle of poverty, so our vision is to help them gain a better education.
Working with a small team of local builders, we sawed, screwed and hammered together a traditional Cambodian-style building which is to serve as a multi-purpose educational space and a library. The Carmel and Landsdale students, staff and volunteers worked together to complete the frame, floor and two walls and the Year 12 students will make their way here in late November to complete the project.
Perhaps one of the highlights was hearing how the trip impacted our year 10 students. After a worship service Sabbath morning, which included receiving letters from family members, the students shared what they would take from Cambodia and the emotional responses were heart-warming. They expressed gratitude for what they had previously taken for granted and a greater appreciation for their families, their education and the opportunities that are readily available to them.
It is incredibly exciting to be a part of such a vision of hope and with God’s blessing. Not only can we help the children of Phnom Dombang to see the stars but to reach them.