After graduating from High School Jennifer Zettel decided to take a 6 months before starting university in order to volunteer in Cambodia. Hearing about VIDES through her brother’s friend she decided to come to Toronto with her mother to meet Sr Jeannine Landry. And the rest is history… Jennifer participated to the International VIDES congress in Italy, then left for Cambodia. Here is part of her experience as she recounted it.
From Jennifer’s journal
My plane ride was nice and loooong (no problem with suitcases). The heat and poverty both hit you on arrival here in Cambodia. very dry and dusty, It’s beautiful though…out my window I see palm trees, banana tree, smelly fruit tree… I slept a lot last night! and was nicely jolted out of bed by a spider landing on my head 🙂
I have already played piano for the sisters and they sang along. They are very fun and caring. They explained how the area where their houses is used to be slums and flooded often and how things are really progressing. Everything is sooo sooo different
I’m staying at Tuol Kork, a secretarial school for girls around my age or older run by the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco. The girls learn a lot more than just becoming a secretary here. They learn to be confident, honest workers with good values. Don Bosco has become very popular here in Cambodia.
There’s about 70 boarders here and I help them practice their English. Everyone has a story..they’re all really trusting..all very poor, lots of sickness. They are so welcoming, fun and “very simple”. They’re teaching me Khmer dance..harder than it looks!
Most of the girls come from the provinces, from very poor homes. If they were not given this opportunity to be educated, many would probably just get married very young, and continue to live in poverty in many ways. Materially they are all so poor. They talk about their family selling their only cow so that they can get an operation. Many have also been abused and have suffered a lot. Cambodia really lacks basic morals, quite corrupt. The sisters focus on teaching values and formation of the girls.There is also another group of around 20 girls who board here at Tuol Kork. They go to high school outside but live here. They were all pretty much rescued by the sisters from very broken homes. Most were abandoned by their parents, abused, at risk of prostitution. One girl was found by the sisters living alone in a hut. When she first came to the school, a sister was making some photocopies and she started hugging the photocopied papers saying how she loved the warmth and she’d never felt warmth before. She’s always grabbing your hand, longing for human touch. They do some surprising things sometimes because they just don’t know how to act, they were never given any attention as children. Another girl was found walking alone along the road when she was around 8 years old, she remembers being sold by her father many times.
There’s a special group of girls who board here but go to school outside. They come from very broken families, no mom, no dad, abused, abandoned as children, at risk of prostitution. One girl from this group ran away a couple days ago with some man (probably promised many things). The sisters tracked her down though so she’s back.
Monday to Thursday I go to another school,TachTala (by motorcycle!!..wearing a skirt!). I teach English to the girls there in the hotel management course. Some of my students are older than me, they’re all great. They need to know English because it is a requirement when applying for many jobs
here. Many of the girls have only completed grade 9 and after that they went immediately to work in factories or elsewhere and now they are returning to school to study cooking and sewing. A lot of my students are orphans or just abandoned by their parents. The girls are great, most older than me! But so welcoming and simple. They’re eager to learn. There’s really never a dull moment with them.
On Fridays I also go to Pumcherray(i can’t spell!), a very poor village, where Sr. Ophriini, a Salesian sister, works. It’s a kindergarten and elementary school with some 400 adorable kids. The kids still drink out of a pond there, many have no shoes..nothing. At school they’re fed and clothed. Sr. Ophriini is like their mother, doctor, dentist, marriage consellor for their parents..everything. She took me around the village to see their homes, if you can call them that. I teach music there, singing and playing their minikeyboards…
And on Sundays, we have oratory in the poor villages in other provinces. I go with a group of girls from Tuol Kork and we teach, sing, play games with the kids in the village and bring medicine or clothes for them.
On Sundays I go to a village in Kandal Province with some of the secretarial students. It’s a youth centre, hundreds of children come out and we teach, sing, play games and also give out medicine, clothes or food sent from organizations or benefactors. The children in that village are so so shy but we get them up singing and dancing. i think I’ve discovered the next backstreet boys.
We found out on Sunday that one girl had gone missing a couple nights ago from the village..probably raped..she was 9 years old…so difficult to hear.
The sisters here have done so much. “Everything”, they say, is “the work of our Lady”. The sisters really focus on teaching values and morals…
A few weeks ago I got to visit a hospital here (which you would not believe until you saw it!). One of my students was at a dance during a holiday and was hit by a small bomb… yes..rice with every meal..and seems like I’m trying a new fruit every day. lots of sitting on the floor..no chairs in the churches.
today I went to Kandal province at the youth centre.
It’s a nice dusty village. we’ve got chickens squacking and cows mooing all the time and the baby chickens and ants running over our books as we teach
One student here at Tuol Kork really needs tonsils removed now. The operation costs around $120. She can’t pay, she comes from a very poor family. Her mother buys fish and pounds it with salt and sells that. There are no father. Her brother is a teacher but lives far away… teachers only make $25/month..so no help there.
The Cambodian people have been through so much suffering in the past and now they’re just happy to live. Things here go at a much slower pace, people still have lots of time to just sit around and chat. When I have some extra time I also help with paper work and organizing things for the adoption program that the sisters coordinate. Many children at Don Bosco schools and at the youth centres here have ‘godparents’ in other countries helping them
I’ve lived a lot of experiences I never imagined myself ever experiencing!! It will definitely be very difficult to leave.