Here, Lisanne, volunteering with TravelAid, describes some of the art and craft activities that have been going on and how successful they were…
Growing up in a developing country often means a childhood without art and craftwork beyond that involving sticks and leaves, sand, and, if lucky, a set of donated crayons. Be it painting, origami, or any other type of handicrafts: tools and materials are expensive and difficult to obtain, there is neither space nor time, nor – perhaps most importantly – anyone to provide the kids with ideas and guide them in the process, channeling their creativity into the production of a piece of artwork of their own.
Journeys Within Our Community (JWOC) in Siem Reap, Cambodia provides young children from the nearby squatter villages with exactly this scarce opportunity. Not only are the library and integrated Kindergarden which are open to everyone full of pens and crayons of all colours and kinds but every Sunday afternoon a horde of children pours into JWOC’s patio to attend Art Class – a two hour session involving hygiene training, singing and dancing, and a weekly changing art project; the results of which are proudly taken home afterwards. Surprisingly complex structures are demonstrated, understood, and then reproduced (if not improved) in this short amount of time.
When we started planning the Summer Programme there was no question that arts and crafts were to play a big role in the daily activities. We tried to include at least two creative projects every day which were often related to our weekly themes and involved some useful vocab teaching. Even though I’m not great with artwork I got to take part in many of them because Srey Poch (my cheery Khmer partner and a lover of all arts-related activities) is talented, efficient, and patient enough for the two of us; and the kids found my occasional clumsiness more amusing than annoying. The summer camp began with simple activities like colouring in sheets, making balloon men, cutting out people’s shapes and drawing family portraits – all of which turned out to be really popular with the children, no matter how young or old. Where there were tools the kids were difficult to stop and even our two face painting sessions (causing an incredible level of excitement) ended in a sweet ‘chaos’ of kids with clown, tiger, butterfly and rainbow faces sitting in pairs all over the terrace, wildly drawing on each others’ arms and hands.
Seeing the kids’ initiative and concentration completely rid us of our initial doubts about the more challenging projects we had planned. And indeed, whether it was making medals for our big Sports Day, folding little origami boats and birds, knotting bracelets, making paper plate masks, or bending almost a hundred pipe cleaners into adorable (and definitely adored) little finger puppets – once they got the hang of it the children never seemed to get tired of screaming “Cha Cha Cha, look, Cha! One more, Cha, just one more please!”.
The kids loved being able to take home (or surprise a volunteer with) their own ‘masterpieces’ but I think what they enjoyed even more was working together on one big project: they enthusiastically embraced drawing a little boy’s body outline on a big piece of paper followed by colouring and labeling all its parts, watercolour painting a large jungle-inspired animal banner for the library, and – one of my personal favourites – creating a beautiful nature collage from bits of coloured carboard, felt, glitter, and glue.
Perhaps everyone’s highlight was painting our very own backgarden mural towards the end of the three weeks. What began as a simple underwater mural rapidly grew into a detailed cross-section of the Tonle Sap (a large lake connecting Siem Reap and Phnom Penh) with its typical life beneath the surface, and little fishing boats, kids on rafts, and the characteristic floating villages above the water, surrounded by the red sky of a beautiful Tonle Sap sunset. Completing this one big project that involved all children, interns, and volunteers alike was a perfect way of both ending and perpetuating a challenging and intense – sometimes more stressful than successful but ultimately very rewarding – four weeks at JWOC. A big thank you to all the staff and students!