Community impact program in Cambodia

Learning Programs with Lifelong Impacts: DET in Cambodia

April 20, 2022

Our DET Team – that’s Discova Educational Travel – continues to impress us with the inspiring products they develop in our destinations. As such, we wanted to highlight five stand-out programs in five different destinations in a blog series entitled “Learning Programs with Life-long Impacts: DET in…”, starting with Cambodia

A very specific educational itinerary has been designed here, as well as in Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan and Singapore. The itineraries typically run from anywhere between six to 10 days, and are especially suited to high school and university students. Each has their very own unique learning objectives, whether community-based, historical, environmental, sports-orientated, or focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).   

We spoke to Hanh Nguyen, one of our amazing Travel Designers, to find out more about what makes the program in Cambodia so unique. In the small community of Knapor near Siem Reap, we provide students with the opportunity to immerse themselves in a countryside village, where they not only help the community with much-welcomed construction and day-to-day farming, but also enjoy meaningful interactions with the local villagers.  

For a closer look at the community’s daily activities and challenges, watch the video below!

What does the program entail? 

The program takes places over the course of six days and seven nights, where students are accompanied by a trained guide (who is well-versed in Health & Safety and ChildSafe training, and has undergone a background check) and are immersed into the local village life of Knapor.  

After a night spent in Siem Reap upon arrival, students are transferred to their village stay in Knapor, 35 kilometres northeast of the city. Here they will support construction projects, and delve right into helping local builders with the tasks at hand. Over the course of the next four days, their mornings will continue to involve helping with the construction work. 

Beyond the work on designated project sites, groups will support local families on vegetable farms and partake in a craft weaving workshop. But what makes this program particularly special is the interaction students have with local villagers outside of “working hours”. At the end of every day, students have dinner in the community centre and partake in an activity that brings them closer to the local culture.  

The final day is spent exploring mesmerising Angkor Wat and the Bayon Temple complex, and watching the riveting Phare Circus Show 

This program is applicable to senior high school groups whose curriculum entails a “community service” element and is intended to be global, so whether a student group comes from London or Siem Reap itself, it’s designed to meet the needs and wants of diverse source markets.  It is, of course, also simply great for any school group or university who wants to develop bonding amongst students and help a community in need.  

What are the unique learning outcomes for students? 

1. A chance to get out of their comfort zone. 

Student groups who take part in this program typically come from more well-developed backgrounds where most conveniences are easily accessible and taken for granted – when they come to Knapor, they’ll be challenged with a much simpler village life. Eventually, the program teaches them to “forget about the cultural barriers and to become comfortable with a new environment”, Huyen explains.  

2. Developing empathy for others. 

By immersing themselves in a community context that involves challenges and hardships, students develop a more personal understanding of what it means to provide help to those less privileged than themselves. What students learn about community engagement and support abroad, they will ideally implement at home.  

3. Acquiring practical skills. 

Do you know how to lay the foundation for a building? How to plant and harvest specific crops? Or the intricacies of weaving a thatch roof? Most of us can’t answer with a yes, but the student groups who will venture on this program will. There’s something humbling about getting back to basics and obtaining functional skills. 

Why here? And how does this program benefit the community? 

Quite simply, Knapor needed it. Discova singles out communities who genuinely need infrastructural and/or educational support, which they may not be receiving from the local government. 

In Knapor, we saw potential to improve the quality of life for the people of the community by providing tangible help during infrastructural projects and generating funds via educational travel. We also realised that an educational program here would ignite significant language exchanges and learning opportunities for local school-goers. In the community’s school setting, exposure to English is limited, and a class of over 50 only has access to about eight laptops.  

The students who partake in the program therefore not only help to build up the community in a physical sense, but in an educational manner by communicating with local Knapor students who have a desire (and perhaps a need) to develop their English skills and broaden their world view.  

A bonus is that we can guide the community in project and development management. A village fund is generated with the remuneration villagers receive from providing their services (accommodation, cooking, workshops, and the like) during the educational program.  

Every year, Discova meets with local villagers and determines how best to implement the village fund, as well as the optional donations made by the student groups. During the meeting, villagers will present various project development ideas they have for Knapor. Together, we determine which has the greatest urgency and priority, and Discova then evaluates the costs and sets a budget and procedure system for each project. In this way, the community directly chooses what they need, with us to support and manage financial allocation along the way. 

Plans for the future 

We don’t want communities to be reliant on us or student groups indefinitely, so our ultimate goal is for villages like Knapor to reach financial and developmental independence. Therefore, we plan to work with communities like Knapor for five to 10 years, until we’re confident that they have the ability to earn their own income and maintain existing infrastructure.  

The next step then, is to find more communities in need. Near Knapor, there are other villages who equally struggle with lack of infrastructure development and poverty, who could benefit from our support and that of visiting student groups. Our commitment and that of the student groups who come here is meant to act as a sort of ripple effect: once one community has grown to its full potential, we continue to support the next, and the next… 

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