Shima Langan

seisen international school, tokyo, japan

Shima with TASSEL students in Banan.

Shima with TASSEL students in Banan.

First visit to Cambodia - 2016

This summer, we had the opportunity to travel to Cambodia to fully immerse ourselves in the culture of the nation, as well as strengthen our understanding of what it means to be a TASSEL member.

We started off this 10 day trip visiting different sites in which we were able to absorb Cambodia’s rich culture and shocking history. The tragic history of Cambodia was unveiled when we went to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields. The Tuol Sleng museum was a prison for Cambodian intellectuals, captured by the Khmer Rouge during their brutal regime from 1975 to 1979. Everything within the museum was left untouched, and we were able to visualize first hand the ruthless killings that took place. Moreover, we were able to see the numerous cells that aligned the room, as well as the multiple blood splatterings on the wall. Additionally, the trip to the Killing Fields also painted a vivid picture of the suffering the Cambodian civilians experienced. The Killing Fields was used by the Khmer Rouge to execute civilians and dispose of them by burying them in mass graves.  With the aid of audio recordings, and the reality that the soles of our shoes were stepping on the same ground of those who were brutally killed left a lasting impact on us. We were also shocked to see the difference between the two genocidal sites we visited, in comparison to the Royal Palace. The Palace is the royal residence of the king of Cambodia. It was extravagantly built, with bright decorations and colors. Through the significant contrast between the sites we visited, we were able to come to the understanding of the values the Cambodian government have and how that affects the lives of the Cambodians. These visits forced us to attempt to conceptualize the inextricable silent suffering of the Cambodians. We no longer see TASSEL only as a means of teaching Cambodian children, but rather, to provide opportunities for children and families who have suffered so much individually and as a nation.  Through these experiences, we were exposed to the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime, but we were also deeply influenced to set about helping those in need.

The trip continued with us traveling to Battambang, where the significance of the trip came into effect: teaching. We arrived at the Samrang school showered with love and affection, and I was immediately moved to tears. Children and teachers surrounded us on both sides, and waved flags of our nationalities. There was a strong sense of love and unity that developed, which I knew would not be broken, despite the body of water that separated us once I left.

We taught in groups of threes for three days at the Samrang and Banan village. The children were so eager to learn and the teachers were so patient with us. Not for one day did I feel unmotivated or unwilling to teach 3 classes in a day.  Whilst we taught during those three days, my outlook on what it means to give and serve others was completely altered. Prior to this trip, my understanding of what it means to give was restricted to the simple acts of providing people with materialistic presents. However, teaching in Cambodia opened my eyes to the enormous amount of joy and fulfillment that comes along with giving someone a gift that is invaluable to their lives. In return, the Cambodians were teaching me the invaluable gift of gratitude and truly ignited this flame within me to want to help those in need. The teachers, who were all university students, taught at TASSEL on weekdays whilst studying for university at night, and then proceeding to go to university on the weekends. Despite the amount of stress that I imagine would result from their schedule, they were always so keen to help and I could see the amount of influence they had on these children. This not only made me want to become a better TASSEL teacher, but I also developed a strong sense of respect for them. Yes, we were helping these children by providing them with quality English education. However, the real heroes were the Cambodian teachers who showed up to teach everyday of the week. Not once did I ever hear them complain or show any sign of carelessness. Going into my third TASSEL year, I’ve developed a newfound admiration for these teachers, and as Joji says, they really are the foundation of TASSEL.

During those three days, we also went to visit families of those we taught. This may have had to be one of the harder things to experience, as the living conditions of these families were horrible. Being able to see the lives of these children outside of the TASSEL classroom was beyond words. These family visits made me understand that the suffering of Cambodians did not stop with the defeat of the Khmer Rouge; it was still ongoing. Some families were suffering from diseases/physical disabilities that could have been avoided if they had been treated properly. Other families had houses that could barely hold up 5 people. I can’t even begin to explain the suffering that I witnessed whether it be financially, emotionally, or physically. However, it was made clear to me that the presence of people who cared was something that moved them immensely. On top of that, the giving of rice and canned fish moved some to tears. Food, which I have the privilege of eating every day, consisting of three meals, is a prerequisite that they are being robbed of. And this is so evidently not fair. Despite the odds that were (and still are) put against them, they were full of so much life. This ingrained in me that the least I could do for these families and these children was to teach. I was so blissfully unaware of my privileges, and yet through TASSEL, I have been given the opportunity to teach these kids with hopes that they will overcome their poverty and provide Cambodia with a brighter future.