Katherine Wang

Katherine Wang '18

The summer of 2013 was a turning point of my life, with the overwhelming amount of children outside the gates of Angkor Wat hanging on to my skirt, and yelling at me: “one dollar, one dollar, please buy one, one dollar only.” I was shocked by how young and innocent they looked, yet how much responsibility they had to take for their family.

When I went back to the hotel, I saw a group of people wearing the same shirts getting off a tuk tuk which had “CCDO” printed on its side, I asked the reception who they were due to my curiosity, and found out that they were a group of volunteers that belonged to a NGO group called “Cambodian Community Dream Organization” (CCDO). Wanting to know more about the organization, I asked for contact information and got in touch with the sponsor of the organization: Miss. Jenni Lipa. Jenny is an American lady who through her visit to Cambodia, fell in love with the place and its people, decided to organize a foundation to help the poor families and children in areas around Siem Reap. Through the emails and from the information of its website, I learned that the organization had four main programs: Clean Water, Education, Health, and Wellbeing. The organization also had a program for donating latrines and water-wells, for many Cambodian families could not afford to purchase a latrine or a water-well on their own, so CCDO decided to help the families in the poorest conditions by building latrines and water-wells in order to improve their living qualities. I was so intrigued by the stories behind the families that I made my decision to donate my “red pocket money” to help build a latrine.

"The average Cambodian people sell food at night markets and drive tuk tuks to make a living for themselves and their families, which is about $2 everyday; only about 20% children are able to finish elementary, of those who graduated, half continued their academic pursuits, and the rest had to stay at home in order to help with farm works."My sister Rose was lucky to get grand from the Haneys in 2014, and we went to Cambodia for the second time with a group of my friends. We stayed at the Tapang Middle School and the Kiri Pre-school for two weeks and worked mainly on the program of education. We ordered and brought books to the schools from China since the local schools did not have abundant resources in order to fulfill the children with their desire of knowledge. Throughout my two weeks’ time at the school, I was able to comprehend more of what is an average day of ordinary people in the countryside of Siem Reap, and the also got an idea of some basic yet shocking and objective statistics: the average Cambodian people sell food at night markets and drive tuk tuks to make a living for themselves and their families, which is about $2 everyday; only about 20% children are able to finish elementary, of those who graduated, half continued their academic pursuits, and the rest had to stay at home in order to help with farm works.

Katherine Wang in a Cambodian classroom

This summer I continued to work with students and teachers from TaPang and Kiri School. Everyday Mr. Sai, the tuk tuk driver pick us up at the hotel at 6:30 to go to the countryside where the schools are. The ride is about an hour long and by the time we arrive at the school students are having their breakfast, the breakfast consists of rice and soup with a little meat, which are almost inviable to naked eyes. The students are allowed to bring their younger siblings to the school and have breakfast with them for they are not guaranteed to have food at home. Breakfast is always distributed by women from nearby villages. Each child gets one spoon of rice and one spoon of soup for the first round, and they ask to refill the food when finished. Each child is trying their best at stuffing themselves with a mouthful of food, and for most of them, it is also their only meal throughout the day.

Cambodian children brushing their teeth

The work officially starts after breakfast. For the first week, I focused on the Education part of the program, which consists mostly of English classes. Although children at these schools do not have enough resources for them to reference when learning, they all have an appetite for knowledge which all the volunteers’ respect. The pre-school children start their day with reciting the alphabets, they pronounce every letter so clearly and loudly with passion and I can hear it from any corner throughout the school. Morning went by pass, and soon all the children have to go back home and help with farm works at home in the afternoon. I cannot imagine how they can constrain their pressure inside their heart, and pull off with those sweet smiles everyday to class. I can’t help myself but thinking about the modern and huge classrooms I have at my school, comparing to these classrooms which have no desks, no lights, no projector, no blackboards… If the children can keep can with their desire of knowledge in an environment like this, what do I get to complain?

A family outside of a Latrine

During the second week, I performed basic teeth examination with my group. For the Cambodians living in the poor areas, they barely have any information about physical health, let alone the subsistence level of education. For the past years, I had done physical examinations like measuring heights and weights for the children, and I noticed that none of the children I met have a set of good teeth, that’s why I decided to understand the condition and try to lift them up from that condition. Families in the near village do not have the money to pay for toothbrush or toothpaste, brushing their teeth is seen as a wasteful and extravagant event. At school, the teachers prepare the children each with a cup and a toothbrush, after they get their snacks, everyone line up in front of the classroom and march to the water tank and brush their teeth. What I did was topical fluoridization which I thought was a helpful way. The pre-school children were only about 4 to 5 years old, yet they manage to cooperate with our work despite their young age and the barrier of language.

Katherine Wang '18 with fellow teachers

Every summer I visit the villages and schools, I see more changes than the previous year and those changes make the trips worthy. This year’s trip is considered as a milestone for me. My passion has realized more awareness of the public, which is also an encouragement of continuation.