Drama Outreach Project is a registered voluntary organisation (VO/0766) made up of professionals from the arts scene in Malta. Together we are determined to make a sustainable difference to underprivileged children in developing countries teaching drama and English through music and drama. The members of DO are Alan Montanaro, Chiara Hyzler, Paula Fleri-Soler, Matthew Gatt, Anika Gatt Seretny, Gaby Montanaro and Katherine Brown Our first project has brought us to Cambodia and this blog is a day-by-day account of our experiences there.
After months of planning and preparation, we convened at Malta International Airport on Thursday to catch our flights to Cambodia.
First task – to saran-wrap the 18 or so boxes full of clothes, toys, books, milk, toiletries and other items so generously donated for us to take. Much hilarity – not to mention a smidgen of hassle – ensued as we got the boxes ready, especially when Chiara’s large backpack inexplicably shrunk to the size of a shoebox on being wrapped.
We checked-in (thank you Emirates for letting us carry so much cargo) and found ourselves racing to the departure gate as boarding was about to close since the above two processes took a while longer than we imagined
To think - we laughed at Paula for insisting we meet at MIA three hours before departure time. I hate it when she’s right.
And so we took off for the journey 9,300km east that would take us to Dubai via Cyprus, from Dubai to Bangkok and from Bangkok to Phnom Penh. Twenty-six hours from door-to-door, with my legs wrapped around my neck for most of the trip. Long, exhausting, but comfortable – we experienced smooth flights, great catering and a vast choice of films and TV shows courtesy of the in-flight entertainment.
Some of the team slept and I hate them for it. Good thing we had the Sunday Times of Malta film critic on board – although most of us ignored her recommendations and watched Friends reruns instead (she’s not always right, after all).
We experienced some heart-in-mouth moments in Bangkok when on check-in the size of our substantial cargo was met with some bureaucracy and Pascal and Porn (yes, that is her real name – and to think back home we smirk at Shenticienne) at the check-in desk spent forever on the phone to their supervisor who clearly wasn’t happy to let us through.
Our collective Maltese charm (and a letter from our extremely well-organised host in Phnom Penh, Pel Sophorn) smoothed the way for all the boxes to accompany us on the final leg… cue great relieved applause from us – and from Pascal and Porn (haha -sorry) who clearly wanted us to experience their renowned Thai hospitality.
The good news was that all eighteen pieces of luggage landed with us safe and sound in Phnom Penh. Said news threatened to be short-lived as a customs official looked askance at us as we unloaded the stuff from the conveyor belt then beckoned us over. Again, Sophorn’s correspondence came in handy and he waved us all through without opening a single box. In the arrivals lounge we were greeted by the lovely Sophorn and her colleague Sreyneth.
As we exited the airport, the sights and smells and intense humidity were nothing short of overwhelming. Despite the myriad books we read and copious internet research what we experienced was something rather heady. The traffic makes the situation on the Kappara roundabout at rush hour seem like the epitome of discipline and organisation as cars, trucks, tuk-tuks and motor scooters bearing one, two, three and on occasion four people just whizz by oblivious to anything resembling traffic rules. The advice you are given is to just close your eyes, cross the road and hope for the best.
We are certainly looking forward to exploring the area in greater depth.
At the volunteer house were we are staying (belonging to the VCDO – Volunteer Cambodia Development Organisation) we had a lovely dinner before collapsing in bed feeling totally wiped out.
The accommodation is basic but clean and comfortable and we managed to get some well-deserved rest.
This morning we visited the two locations where we will be teaching Developmental Drama throughout our stay. We started with Les Restaurant des Enfants (LRDE), an organisation which provides food, bathing facilities, some clothing and playtime to the hundreds of children that run around and work in the streets in the capital.
At LRDE we were greeted with unabashed enthusiasm by the kids who soon took us under their wing! After lunch we visited the Sacrifice Families and Orphans Development Organisation (SFODA) orphanage, again to be greeted by beautiful children who are joyous, fun-loving, and ostensibly happy – yet who have some heart-wrenching stories to tell. (And we will share them as we get to know them)
Tomorrow we will be having a crash course in Khmer, which will undoubtedly be interesting and possibly very amusing with hopefully some time in the afternoon for some sightseeing before we roll up our sleeves and get cracking with our teaching. Our experiences here are going to be challenging, fascinating, and ultimately satisfying… and we are undoubtedly going to be learning lots ourselves.
Ciao for now
Alan and the team
Drama Outreach Project would like to thank the Helen O’Grady Academy without whose support this project would not have been possible and the myriad corporate and individual sponsors who donated so much to the cause. There are too many of you to thank individually, but you know who you are and we can tell you that your generosity has been greatly appreciated.