Written by: Corps SO(5) Carissa Tan, Zone 8, PSA2016 Team Leader

Images provided by St John Brigade Singapore, Zone 8

A vibrant mural appeared from the clean slate of white wall, a new school block rose from the piece of barren ground. With blood, sweat and tears left behind, the beautiful smiles of the villagers and children of Hope Village were etched in our minds as we made our way back to Singapore on 2nd January 2017.

The largest team thus far with 19 volunteers, Project Smiling Angels (PSA) embarked on its 7th consecutive trip to Cambodia on 24th December 2016. This marked our third year collaborating with Hemispheres Foundation to serve in Hope Village. Everyone were more than excited to be back there to continue what we have started, while the first timers wanted to experience first-hand what an overseas outreach programme is like. Our first day in the village coincided with Christmas Day. For the very first time, we invited the families to engage in a Christmas gift exchange together with us. The children took time to painstakingly make simple hand-made gifts, while the families came excited with their presents. The festive night ended with a movie screening under the stars where both the locals and volunteers could enjoy a moment together regardless of the language barrier. Each of them went home with their hands filled with gifts and hearts with warmth and smiles.

The week ahead was spent in the school. Through our core competencies of First Aid and Home Nursing, we continued our First Aid and Hygiene Program with the students. This year, we taught them how to perform roller bandaging. Playing outdoors has been the children’s pastime and often injuries were unavoidable. By teaching the teachers and students basic first aid and providing the school with an equipped first aid kit, we wanted them to learn simple ways to wash and dress their wounds to prevent further contamination. We also identified dental and basic hand hygiene as the key health problems in the school. Our volunteers continued to educate and build the habit of tooth brushing at least once a day and hand washing before meals.

The Art and Craft sessions allowed the students to open up their creative minds which helped to beautify their classrooms with their art works. A mobile clinic was set up in the school to provide free medical consultation to the villagers for acute and chronic diseases. Mural painting and building of a new school block proved to be the most tedious tasks, where our volunteers worked tirelessly under the hot sun. It was gruelling yet very satisfying as we witnessed the mural gradually unveiled before our very eyes, and the school block being constructed bit by bit. We left behind a vibrant and larger school to facilitate their studies.

Despite the language and cultural barriers we were challenged by in a foreign country, it was heart-warming how everyone was able to settle down quickly and let the kids grow on us. Throughout the six days in the village, we forgot the comfort of our homes, the hot sun bearing down on us, and that we only had basic equipment but still got the job done. 19 of us went with just one goal in mind – for the service of humanity! We went to Cambodia in the spirit of serving the locals, however, they in turn taught and gave us much more. Happiness could be very simple. The children were overjoyed running to us for a hand to hold onto, a warm hug, a piggyback, or merely a big brother or sister to depend on.

We concluded our days with a carnival of games. Next, saying goodbye to the children was by far the toughest. Tears of joy were shed with a hint of reluctance. Joy of how we enjoyed each other’s company and knowing we had done our best to improve their lives. The project may have ended, but memories of these smiling angels last a lifetime.