Returning after three years to Kai’s.
While on summer holiday from my studies in the UK, in 2010 I spent six weeks working with my sister, Charlie, at Kai’s towards the end of her gap year stay. I enjoyed it so much I returned the following summer on my own to do another six weeks. Those three months had a lasting impact on my life. For those of you who have been, you understand how hard it is to leave. The smiles, the laughter, the cheekiness of the children and the tantrums all create memories and an image of a place which is giving these children a second chance.
The experience had such an impact on me it shaped my future decisions regarding my career. I am a trained barrister and was Called to the Bar of England and Wales in 2013 and since then I have been focused on my legal career. In order to become a barrister I needed to gain more experience in law.
Where does Kai’s come in? There are various international tribunals dealing with major breaches of criminal law which accept interns for short periods of time. When looking at my next step I considered my options. There was no question for me on which tribunal to ultimately pick. The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) dealing with the crimes of Khmer Rouge. The decision was simple. I could go back to a country I had fallen in love with. I could be close to the children I had come to care about. It didn’t matter that it had been three years since I had last seen them. Many of the children I knew as babies were now toddlers. To be able to see these children grow up, and help them however I could was more than enough for me to choose Cambodia as my internship host country. Of course the work itself was going to be interesting. The Khmer Rouge was a terrible time in Cambodian history and to assist the country I cared about in bringing those most responsible for the crimes to justice was incentive enough.
My first trip back:
Two weeks into my internship in April, it was Khmer New Year and I was given a five day weekend. I could have chosen to go to the beach with my fellow interns and new found friends; however it was so important to me to go back to Kai’s as soon as I could. The moment I stepped off my bus and made my way down the dusty road to the gates, a familiar feeling hit me. It felt like home. It felt like no time had passed. I met the new manager and immediately went to see the volunteers and the children that were still awake. The greeting I received from children and Nannies alike reminded me why I love Kai’s so much. The genuine warmth and care you get from everyone living there is enough for you to leave a little bit of your heart there each time.
Over the next few days I spent time getting to know the children again. As I said the babies were now toddlers, each with their own personalities. Alisa, a cheeky devil now who likes to think she runs the place. Serevuth and Sounthy both shy but incredibly affectionate. Panya, always hanging back from the group but opens up if you take time to have one-on-one with him. I was introduced to the babies that Kai’s has currently, a blind boy and a girl with a heart condition. Both were incredibly small and fragile but were very responsive to being held and played with.
I did some work clearing the field of rubbish so the children could play and helping wheel the rubbish bins (made of recycled tyres) to the back of the farm. The children loved the wheelbarrows. I had many helpers that day. Help in the very loose sense of the word. More of an incumbency but the children enjoyed it so I allowed them to occasionally hitch a ride.
My five days were over as quickly as they had begun. I had sunburn, reformed relationships with many of the children, spoken in very basic and broken Khmer to the nannies about how “skinny” I am now and reaffirmed why I chose Cambodia. It was never really a question. The children make it worthwhile. Even if they do constantly sing “Let it go” from Disney’s Frozen.
It has also played a major role in my decision to extend my internship from three months to six. I have been able to take some friends down to meet the kids and have been to visit on three or four occasions in the past few months. It is not as much as I would like due to my weekends usually being busy, but I will definitely be going down more often over the course of the next two months and will spend my final two weeks in Cambodia at Kai’s.
I live and work in Phnom Penh and have been here for almost four months. I currently work in the Supreme Court at the Khmer Rouge tribunal. For those who don’t know; the Khmer Rouge was a period in the 70s where a political party instigated mass transfers of the population to worksites and cooperatives, killing many people for reasons such as their ethnicity, religion, intelligence and suspected contacts. Many were tortured in order to get names of others were thought to be KGB or CIA. The infamous names “S21” and the “killing fields” were major players in the aims of those responsible. The purpose of the Court is to prosecute those ‘most responsible’ for those crimes. Namely those in political power who created and instigated the policies which caused the resulting deaths. The Supreme Court deals with appeals from the Trial Chamber (who hear the trial and make a decision on guilt) and have the ultimate decision on issues of law, such as legality of the charges being heard. I assist the judges in their research surrounding pertinent issues and also in drafting various documents. I will be here for a total of 6 months.
My life in Phnom Penh:
When you live in Phnom Penh you soon realise that it is cheaper to eat out most of the time, rather than buy groceries. Food here can be incredibly cheap. If you buy street food you are averaging around a dollar or two for a meal. If you eat at local restaurants, not much more. Of course there are some higher end restaurants which we frequent. In Cambodia, tuk tuk’s make it incredibly easy to get around so we are never restricted to one type of place to eat. There are bars on every street and every other building is a restaurant. The amazing thing about being thrown into this lifestyle with a group of other people of a similar age is that you quickly form close friendships. We were forced together by circumstance and immediately became joined at the hip, spending our working hours at court together and then meeting every night for dinner, drinks, sport (basketball at Olympic stadium), to play pool and to have weekend trips away together.
One of the reasons I have only managed to get down to Kais four times is because of these friendships. We have something planned almost every weekend which makes it incredibly difficult to find time to myself. With trips to Kampot and Kep, Mondulkiri, Koh Rong island, Kuala Lumpur and many more, we are really making the most of what Cambodia – and SEA – has to offer.
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