On the 30 June, 18 ambitious and eager teenage girls stepped foot on a plane set for arrival in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Mixed emotions of nerves, excitement, and adrenaline overwhelmed us as we left our comfort zones of the Woodford House school gates and embarked into the unknown. With the next three weeks to follow to be filled with endless amounts of sightseeing, challenge, and new cultures, it was fair to say that we were in for a treat.
Our journey began in the chaotic streets of Phonm Penh where we were overwhelmed with smells and sights. Such contrast to the beautiful, clean grounds of Woodford House. It really put in perspective how lucky we are in New Zealand. However, as Ella McCabe described “it is harmonious chaos”. There is a certain sense of beauty to the hectic life they live, where amongst all the crazy tuk-tuk driving, everything seems to just work.
Continuing our journey, we spent four incredible days at Kep Gardens, a school teaching English to Cambodian children to expand their opportunities later in life. These few days of service were transformative. For me, as soon as I stepped foot into this school an overwhelming sense of peace rushed through me. There is that well known saying that money can’t buy you happiness, and Kep Gardens was a true example of this. No power, no Wi-Fi, none of these materialistic items that swamp our households today, yet still pure happiness. It was refreshing to see how happy and active the Cambodian children were, always playing games and laughing. A contrast to the common sights we see in many schools today, of children lumped over technology not communicating with each other. It was a true expression of how important it is that we look up from our online lives and begin living our real lives.
Our World Challenge expedition wasn’t all just playing games and lapping up the sun. I would be lying if I said there weren’t days which were not quite so amazing as those spent at Kep Gardens. Such as our 12 hour bus journeys, where we were packed into minivans with our packs strategically slotted around us like a game a Tetris. Or the stressful times of trying to book accommodation for 21 people in a country where little English is spoken. All of these times however taught us valuable lessons and while they weren’t so entertaining, they were still hugely memorable and character building aspects of our trip.
With our journey also continuing through Thailand, we set out to do a four-day tramp through the luscious jungles of Chiang Mai. Hours of walking, buckets of sweat, and a few blisters in the mix, it was fair to say that this tramp was not for the faint hearted. It was physically and mentally a huge challenge for us all. With each of us all finding different aspects more difficult than others, our incredible team of Woodford House girls had to get stuck in and work together to assure it was an enjoyable few days for all. After four days of hiking up steep hills, and a night slept in wet hammocks, we were definitely relieved to see the truck waiting to pick us up. While this was possibly the most challenging aspect of our expedition, it was by far one of the most rewarding.
Along with our challenging days of tramping and eye opening week of service, we of course had to embrace the tourist sights of Cambodia and Thailand. Some incredible days were spent, feeding and bathing elephants, bartering our way through the markets, admiring the beautiful temples and learning about the fascinating history of these countries.
Through these activities we were able to immerse ourselves in the culture of Cambodia and Thailand. Many of these experiences were so different to anything we had ever done before, and the historical aspects really opened our eyes to the reality of these countries, which is such a contrast to little old New Zealand.
After three weeks of character building experiences, we ended our journey in the slightly more organised chaos of Bangkok. Exhausted, we at this time definitely felt ready to come home and enjoy a meal that didn’t contain rice. So many amazing memories and experiences were made over the expedition, and the opportunity to travel, and learn valuable life skills, was one that we were all very fortunate enough to receive.
As Woodford House girls we are lucky to have the opportunities we have, and we live very special and privileged lives. It is through this experience that we have been truly able to recognize this. The journey of World Challenge did not end when we arrived back in Napier, in fact, it will continue on throughout our entire lives. We hope that all we have learnt over our expedition will drive us to continue to help and make changes in the world, for we are so lucky to be in a position to do so. Kup Khun Kha.
Emily Crosse, Academic Prefect