Coming into Siem Riep is a bit of a shocker as it feels like the biggest city in the country due to its many hotels, restaurants, and bars all present because of the rush of onlookers to visit Angkor Wat. As soon as we arrived into town, were propositioned by a tout for a free performace done by kids at a local school. We agreed because (a) it was free and (b) we like seeing performances. The name of the school where this was to happen is called Santepheap and in the Khmer language means peace. Fittingly, the place is run by an American who came here as a tourist and after seeing the need for educating kids found this school and is now its director. The school takes in kids from the ages of 10-18 and provides free education for them. Many Cambodians can't afford to send their kids off to get schooled due to financial constraints and the need for them to stay and work with the family on the farms. Santepheap instead provides free education in English, math, and science subjects with the the help of local tutors, volunteers, and staffed teachers.
Upon our arrival at the school we were greeted by the happy kids and asked to sit on plastic chairs under the stars where they served us tea and biscuits prior to the beginning of the show. We met some other travelers who had also been lured and made ourselves comfortable. The performances consisted of traditional Khmer dances and some Ramayana performances which were met with loud applauses from the audience. The kids were wonderful in their donated costumes and performed with confidence and were well practised. David, the director of the school made a plead for anyone interested to come and voulunteer and teach the kids some English, so we immediately agreed and signed on for the next day to spend a few hours at the school.
Next day, about 13 or so kids were ready for us and the day began with the senior tutor first giving us an introduction about the school and then a tour of the several small classrooms and dorms for the boys and girls. Our time was spent reading and conducting listening and writing exercises. Many of the kids were ahead of their age but many were still struggling and it was sad to see several 13 year olds reading at a kindergarten level but we still admired their determination and thirst for knowledge. On the plus side, a few kids have done so well that they have been admitted to a local private school for their education. To read more about the school, check out http://www.santepheap.org/
Now, about that big temple, yeah of course Angkor Wat was grand, we even got up way early to watch the sunrise, which was really amazing with the light of the flashlight and seeing the outlines of the buildings in the pitch darkness was both spooky and cool. We took the lazy approach and instead hired a tuk-tuk to take us around the sites and were satisfied with our one day pass. We took food with us so were able to pass the day sitting under shaded trees looking onto thousand year old ruins sometimes with hardly a soul in site. We packed Tamarind candy with us because we both really like it and it also serves a dual purpose for giving it to the local kids and seeing them smile.
There are a lot of mine victims in Cambodia and many have turned to imaginative ways to make money rather than begging so instead they make their living by playing in bands doing traditional music performaces on the street and around the temples selling CDs and also by selling books on the street.