21 Day High School Service Program
June 29 – July 1: Arrive at Phnom Penh airport, where VISIONS leaders are waiting to meet each student. All teens make a quick call home before the group heads out. (Additional calls home happen about once a week during the rest of the trip.) We walk along Phnom Penh’s iconic riverside, and visit the Royal Palace and Wat Phnom. We meet as a group for orientation and icebreaker activities, before spending the night in a Phnom Penh hotel. We also visit the infamous Killing Fields and the historic Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, before taking a five-hour bus ride to Battambang. Arrive at night and settle into our homebase.
July 2 – 5: During these early days, we get into the swing of life in Battambang, learning about our immediate surroundings (helped along by a scavenger hunt), meeting our primary community contacts and enjoying a welcome dinner. Every other night, we come together for Circle meetings, during which we deepen our communication and listening skills, and our understanding of what it takes to be part of a productive group.
We also get to work. The first few days include rotating work groups so that everyone experiences each worksite from the get-go. After that, participants choose their worksite each day. Projects usually include hands-on construction on school infrastructure improvements, such as classroom expansions, bathrooms and hand-washing stations, as well as working with young children during an educational day camp. In addition, every day a few participants will stay back on “homebase crew” to help with cleaning, errands and meal preparation.
Work ends between 2 and 3 pm, leaving plenty of time to play games with local kids and get rooted in the community. (One of these afternoons we get to ride on a bamboo train.) In the evenings, we host guests for dinner (including a Fourth of July barbecue).
July 6 – 8: After all that good work, we take a day-long boat ride across Tonle Sap and through the waterways that link Battambang and the town of Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor Wat. Home to a lively night market, Siem Reap serves as our base for two days. We tour Angkor Wat, a sprawling temple complex dating back to the 12th century, spending the morning with a guide and returning to explore on our own via bicycles in the afternoon. During this excursion, we’ll also visit artisan markets and the Angkor National Museum, and enjoy a dinner featuring traditional Cambodian dancing.
July 9 – 12: Back home, we continue our focus on construction projects for a few days, helping at the day camp and taking homebase crew rotations. Afternoon and evening activities include Sangke River kayaking, visits to art galleries, bat caves, a talk with a Buddhist monk and other guest speakers, stopping in at local nonprofits to learn more about their work, a friendly soccer game with the SALT Academy Mighty Girls, and maybe even teaching swimming lessons to girls in SALT’s summer program.
July 13 – 14: During a couple days off from work, we visit the Phare Circus School, learning about this unique arts program that helps disadvantaged children, and watching an evening performance. We also spend a day touring the rural areas and rice paddies around Battambang. We visit families that make rice paper and dry bananas, as well as an alligator farm, the fish paste market, a monastery and the Battambang killing fields.
July 15: Homestay day! You and a friend visit a local family in the Battambang community and experience a day in their lives. You may help out on the farm, learn to cook a traditional Khmer dish, or play with their kids, all the while immersing yourself in the local culture. We also hike five kilometers to the beautiful multi-tiered Phnom Khieu (Blue Mountain) Waterfall.
July 16 – 18: We wrap up our work on community projects, and dig into cleaning and packing. We want to leave everything in ship-shape condition. We also take time to size up our accomplishments, take pictures and have a fun-filled community dinner before we leave Battambang. Back in Phnom Penh, our final Circle meeting takes place during a river cruise on the Mekong, followed by a farewell dinner along its banks and a visit to the night market for last minute souvenir shopping.
July 19: Participants depart from Phnom Penh, where leaders ensure everyone makes their flight.