This prize is in memory of the Merchistonian and former School Governor, Bill Wilson. Preference is given to applicants who are undertaking travel projects of a charitable nature.
One of last year’s winners, Tim, shares his experience with us.
During the summer I joined The Leap volunteer team in Cambodia with the help of the Bill Wilson Memorial Prize to help with various projects in Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. Our journey started in London Heathrow Airport where I and 15 other people between the ages of 17-20 were sent out with a total travel time of 23 hours to arrive in Siem Reap airport. Despite our apprehension and severe jet lag, we were greeted by the unending and honest cheer of our Project Leaders, Serakyuthe and Survan, who proved to be not only vital to our projects as translators and guides, but also great friends who took time out of their days and weekends to take us on various trips to waterfalls or the great Tonle Sap Lake, and were often unpaid to do this!
On our first day we were taken to a Cambodian restaurant where we tried our first Cambodian food; Fisk Amok and roast vegetables. In the afternoon we were given a short lesson in the Cambodian language of Khmer and were given a small tour of Siem Reap. Our first night was fitful with jetlag and the 40°C of Cambodian heat. We were really forced to acclimatise as the air conditioning caused power cuts and one of the fans went on fire during the first night! Our next four weeks followed a fairly standard routine. We would wake up at 7.00am for a meal of fresh fruit, followed by which we would be driven in a sweltering van to a local village, where we would work on the construction of a water pump in the first week, and a toilet on the three weeks after that. We would then have lunch which would be rice with a rotation of very thin chicken legs, fish or roast vegetables. We were given a chance to rest during the midday heat before being driven to our afternoon assignment of teaching English in the Spitler Secondary School. Our time in Siem Reap was incredible and we were sad to see the places that had been our home and to lose the friends we had made. However we were absolutely tested by the monotonous diet, illness, climate and disagreement within the organisation, which led to us losing one of our beloved project leaders, who resigned over a moral issue while he was working with us. We were all aware of the independence and team working skills that we would need to have in order to join this project, but I don't believe anyone left Siem Reap without far more maturity and responsibility than they arrived with.
Our final two weeks were spent on the southern coast of Cambodia in Sihanoukville, where our project was to help in another school for younger children this time, encouraging art and sport. We spent much of our days enjoying the beach and even going to the tropical island of Koh Rong Saloem on one weekend. Our project in Sihanoukville was far more relaxed as we were only spending half a day working, for which we were thankful for it. We were all very exhausted and in some cases caught tropical illnesses not worth mentioning. After six weeks we were truly reaching the end of our tolerance and were looking forward to returning home.
After our time in Sihanoukville we were driven to Phnom Penh for our last night with the ominous words a fellow tourist had told us: "Nobody leaves Phnom Penh happy." This proved more than true after we discovered the Killing Fields and saw the horrific past the Cambodian people have endured, and it put into perspective the cheeriness and honest friendship that almost all Cambodian people seem to exude. Our final meal and goodbye to our tour guide seemed absolutely surreal, and I'm still struggling fully to process what a life changing experience I had in Cambodia.