We had certainly saved the best for last. IBD Team #8 had a great first 2½ weeks in Cambodia. We started off in the capital of Phnom Penh, connecting with government officials, hotel owners, and starting our school visits. Then it was off to Siem Reap, with four more key school visits on the calendar (along with a weekend trip to the 8th Wonder of the World – Angkor Wat!) Week two saw a return trip to Phnom Penh with more school visits, a bit of sightseeing, and a memorable trip to the North Korean Restaurant – Pyongyang. However, it was our final stop in week three that really brought our project home.
Our final stop was in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, which was the proposed location for the school that we were developing an implementation plan for. It was truly rewarding to finally reach the geographical center of our efforts and get to know the community that this school would be serving. We saw the great need for this institution in some of the interactions we had with local hospitality and tourism staff – frustrating to say the least. While it is certainly understandable, given their recent history, the Cambodian individuals we interacted with often displayed an inability to take initiative and think outside the box. One of our team members referred to our hotel in Sihanoukville (a five-star establishment that is known as the best in the city) as “the worst best hotel ever,” which is an apt description. Certainly on the face of things, the hotel was magnificent, but the staff had difficulty delivering on the small things, which our team identified as a glaring need in the tourism sector for this city. On the other hand, Cambodians are truly a friendly and welcoming people, a fact which is made even more amazing when one considers the atrocities that they have suffered. Their smiles are legendary, and we always felt that they were doing their best to assist us.
The last two schools that we visited were the Don Bosco Technical and Hotel Schools in Sihanoukville. These are schools with a very similar mission to the one we were developing, and it was wonderful to see these institutions doing what we hope our school will do in the future. These schools serve a total of 600 students each year, and we had the opportunity to see the kids in action – fixing electronics and automobiles, and learning about life in the secretarial and hotel businesses. We had the opportunity to review the curriculum and lesson plans, and it was astounding to see the reality of where these students were coming from, in that the classes truly did have to start from square one. As an example, the first month of the hotel course of study is dedicated entirely to the idea of what a hotel is as well as the students’ personal hygiene. In our final moments, the principal of the hotel school, Brother Roberto, asked us to address the students. I wanted to say something along the lines of “stay in school; don’t do drugs,” but I was pretty sure it wouldn’t translate! Nevertheless I communicated how excited we were to be there, and how we hoped that our school would be able to contribute to the excellent work that their school was doing. As I said, clearly saved the best for last!