OBs Toby Denton, Freddie Wise and Issy Michiels were recipients of last year’s Bedales Travel Awards given by the Parents Association to help Bedalians undertake travel which will be of value to them and/or others anywhere in the world. In the past, awards have been made for GAP placements, cycling or walking expeditions, work experience, exploration trips etc.
Toby, Freddie and Issy have been travelling together since mid-January and have covered Australia, Malaysia and Thailand extensively and are now currently in Cambodia. Below is their first blog about their experiences in this beautiful and culturally significant nation, with a history unknown to many:
On arrival in Phnom Penh we were instantly struck by how much less developed the country was in comparison to our previous destination of Thailand, soon we were to realize that this was due to the horrific recent history Cambodia had been subjected to. We all knew about Pol Pott’s tyrannical regime during the 1970’s, but the true extent of his influence only became apparent when visiting S-21 prison and the Killing Fields. Visiting S-21 was possibly the most shocking as the location of this prison/ torture institute was in a school. We walked through the classrooms that had been transformed into both prison cells for detention of people and prison cells for the torture of people. Possibly the most distressing thing we saw was how they transformed playground equipment into torture devices. We soon learnt that the regime was not fussy in who it targeted, although the predominant focus was on the educated class. Pol Pot attempted to re-structure Cambodia from a family orientated peaceful culture into the most severe communist state the world had known. The fact that only 7 people survived the S-21 Prison and 1/3 of the country was killed, demonstrates how much trauma this country has been through- incredibly recently. After visiting S-21, we visited the Killing Fields where people from all over the country were taken under the impression they were being re-housed. This was an incredibly emotional experience, as we saw mass graves where the bones were still visible; we even saw a tree which babies were thrown against as they did not want to waste bullets. It was incredibly eerie as the area itself was very peaceful with birdsong and nature thriving. There are over 20,000 mass graves in Cambodia from this time period.
Having spent 4 days in Phnom Penh we travelled to Siem Reap on a 6 hour bus. Overall we are spending 16 days in Siem Reap where we have a teaching placement at a local school which is run by monks in a Pagoda. This school is for students who have jobs or help their families during the day but wish to learn English in the evenings. We teach 4 hour classes a day to all different standards and all different ages ranging from 5-55. What really surprises us is how eager the children are to learn, even from the age of 5. We are the only volunteers other than a Mancurian called John whose teaching methods are a bit controversial to say the least, the monks don’t quite understand his obsession with Manchester City! We all teach separately which can be quite overwhelming seeing as the class sizes are over 30 and they can be quite naughty. To keep order we have banned Bank and given out gating slips! For us the biggest shock has been that the children have not heard of the Bedales Rock Show, but Toby making them sing Justin Bieber continuously makes us think that Bedales may have just found a new act!
We are very lucky to spend such a long period of time in Siem Reap as we get to explore the world heritage site of Angkor Wat. This Buddhist temple complex is the most incredible things all of us have seen; with hundreds of surrounding temples with the most intricate stone carvings, thousands of people visit this site a day but due to the vast nature of it you find yourself alone in a quiet spot. So far we have only been to this site for one full day but we have made plans to do 2 more days there. Angkor Wat was built during 1200 with over 1 million people working on it- it really puts Stonehenge to shame! Unlike Western heritage sites, you are free to walk where you like within the temples making the experience all the more special. Not only people worked to create this complex, over 50,000 elephants were used to carry the colossal amount of stone required. It is still used today as a site of prayer with people visiting from all over the Budhist community.
We look forward to keeping you further updated.
Toby, Freddie and Issy
Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.