An Education In Cambodian Village

Koh Chen

KAMPONG CHHNANG, Cambodia — Taking a river cruise down the Mekong River means taking a trip to many places you never expect to see in your lifetime. Like the small village outside Kampong Chhnang, the first stop on the AmaDara’s trek south from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Most people who cruise to foreign countries, be it with AmaWaterways or any cruise line, want to learn about local life…not just from museums and tour buses, but from the people who live there.

Koh ChenYes, real people. Today.

In the little village of Koh Chen, there is a school that’s unlike any school we’ve ever seen. If this was a school room in North America, it would likely be condemned. The kids who attend it do so in shifts. It is free. The kids are poor. If their parents want them to get more education, it’s after-hours and they have to pay. Most parents can’t.

The kids knew we were coming. We knew we were coming. Some of us have a few school supplies from home, as a small gesture of helping, to be distributed by the teacher. We visit a grade five class, about 25 students who are 12 to 14 years old and who look much younger. They are little people with big smiles, and despite the poverty that seems to have them trapped, they are immaculately dressed in uniforms. 

They sing a song they’d been practising just for our group. We have no idea what the words mean but it sounds good and it comes from their hearts. It’s moving.

Outside the school room are more kids, some as young as two. There don’t appear to be many adults watching them. They are eager to be friends. They’re either looking for a handout or a hand to hold. One of them takes my hand and says “Grandpa” — he is either Koh Chenvery astute or he wants me to take him home, or both.

Koh Chen is a village that specializes in silver, and even the kids are trying to sell it to any tourist with a few dollars. When one young man politely approached Nancy as we started walking through the village, she told him “later.” When “later” comes she doesn’t see him, so she buys a bracelet from a little girl for $12. Lo and behold, minutes later he is there, looking for her to fulfill the promise. Eventually, she does. The silver’s probably a good deal but it doesn’t really matter, does it?

People in Koh Chen, like people in many Cambodian villages, were ravaged by the Khmer Rouge 40 years ago. The effects are still being felt a generation later, but not by these school kids. They’re learning, albeit in small steps, and they’re happy.

And so are we, for having a chance to visit with them.

In the news…

• Carnival flying stranded passengers home from St. Thomas
• Norwegian Epic, Gem headed for drydock this month and next
• Regent Seven Seas, Oceania, Silversea skip Greek island over refugee crisis

Today at Time for refurbishing at Norwegian

Norwegian Sky
4 nights
November 9, 2015
Miami (return): Grand Bahamas, Nassau, Great Stirrup Cay
Inside: $259
Cost per day: $64

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