While we had been touring the Cambodian countryside visiting ancient temples and delving into the shocking history of the country we wanted to get a glimpse of what the future looked like. So we decided to visit several schools to meet Cambodia's future stars of tomorrow.
On our last day in Siem Reap we joined a tour of trekkers led by the NGO Room to Read, which builds libraries, computer and language labs while also providing scholarships to girls all over Asia. Room to Rad's motto is building a better future for children through education.The children we met at a local primary school and at a high school outside Siem Reap showed such enthusiasm, promise, and hope for a better future. Education in Cambodia is not paid for by the government and costs $10 per month per child however the average annual income is $300 so education is very expensive for most families.
Once we arrived at the primary school we were met with cheers and applause and were stunned by the welcoming from the several hundred uniformed school children. Our group of Westerners must have seemed like visitors from outer space to the wide-eyed, curious children lining their schoolyard. Once the greetings were over we were treated to a traditional Khmer dance performance by 6 young girls decked out in the brightest greens, red, pink silk dresses and tops. With their fingers elaborately stretched and guiding the dance we could tell these girls were very proud of their culture and soon a few nervous looks turned into true smiles soon disappeared from their powdered white makeup.
After the performance it was now time to meet and play with the children which was one of the highlights for me. I had brought my Marmot frisbee and within moments had gotten the attention of 30 young boys who had never seen a frisbee before. So we formed a circle and soon enough the disc was working its way around from boy to boy. All sorts of giggles and laughs erupted when the frisbee was thrown and then caught. Some of the older boys grabbed for it at the same time while the more timid younger boys waited patiently for the disc to land in their thin outstretched arms.
Before long we had a game going with 35 kids, even a few brave girls joined our ranks and with each successful throw and catch I would count out loud in English. The game caught on and the kids were counting along with me until we reached our record of 12 catches. I took a step back and simply watched these natural talents having so much fun with just one frisbee among the 35 of them.
I was moved by their curiosity and friendliness. The incredible opportunity to improve their own futures through education was not lost on the children we spoke to. One 12th grader I spoke with had hopes to graduate and go on to study medicine which really spoke to the universal truth that education is really the best medicine for a growing developing mind and body.