This summer, 21 students from St Thomas More Roman Catholic Academy, in North Shields, went on an unforgettable month-long expedition to Cambodia. Here is an account of the eye-opening trip, written by Year 12 pupil Macy Russell.
“On our trip we helped local communities, worked on building and agriculture projects, planted trees and learnt about the fascinating history of Cambodia, a country still recovering from a tragic genocide.
“The first week of our trip was spent at a homestay camp, where we lived with villagers in a rural part of the country.
“Here, we worked alongside the community to build a new home for a family of six, whose current house was so badly damaged it was falling apart. It was a huge shock to all of us to see how different their lives were to ours and how little they had; it really unveiled to us how fortunate we are for what we have.
“Along with brick-laying, building and cement mixing, we also visited the local school and taught the children about our lives and families back at home, as well as some English.
“It was an amazing and extremely rewarding experience, especially since we were helping a community that we had become so close to and were giving them hope for the future.
“After leaving the village, we then set off on a four-day jungle trek across the Kulen National Park.
“This was one of the most memorable parts of the trip as we really bonded as a team and supported each other along the way, overcoming fears and setbacks.
“In the midst of our trekking, we witnessed breathtaking sights such as ancient monuments, golden temples, waterfalls and wildlife.
“We even learnt to meditate with Buddhist monks.
“However, the most memorable of all was watching the sunrise over the canopy of jungle from the top of Kulen mountain, it really put the whole trip into perspective and made us realise how lucky we were to be there.
“We were lucky enough to spend some time visiting Cambodia’s incredible temples, including the world-famous Angkor Wat – a World Heritage Site and the largest religious monument in the world – and learning about the country’s absorbing history.
“We then spent another week in Beng Pae Camp where we built a well and a toilet for a family.
“Finally, when our trip was coming to an end, we travelled to Phnom Penh and visited the S21 Prison Museum and the Killing Fields, both memorials to Cambodia’s 1970s genocide.
“It was an incredibly emotional and moving day and we gained so much respect, as well as admiration, for the people of Cambodia.
“Our expedition was everything we had hoped it would be and more. It truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“We have learnt so much about Cambodia and its people, and about ourselves too.
“Although at times it was hard, it was all definitely worth it to see, first hand, the invaluable difference we have made to the communities we helped.
“It has been a phenomenal journey and an adventure that we will never, ever forget.
“Thank you to everyone who helped with our fund-raising and to our teachers, Mr Ballard and Miss Camsell, who made the trip possible.”