February 22, 2003 - US Embassy in Thailand: Denny Wells, Group 112, Cambodian Neighbors

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Thailand: Peace Corps Thailand: The Peace Corps in Thailand: February 22, 2003 - US Embassy in Thailand: Denny Wells, Group 112, Cambodian Neighbors

By Admin1 (admin) on Saturday, February 22, 2003 - 6:33 pm: Edit Post

Denny Wells, Group 112, Cambodian Neighbors

Denny Wells, Group 112, Cambodian Neighbors

Denny Wells, Group 112, Cambodian Neighbors

My wife and I have been Volunteers in Sangka, Surin, in Northeastern Thailand for the last year. Our primary assignment is with the District Primary Education Office, helping English teachers improve their English skills and teaching techniques. We taught in schools, conducted English Teacher trainings, and English Camps for students. While all of this has been interesting and enjoyable, and fulfilling the first goal of Peace Corps (providing skilled American help), it is in the areas of interpersonal contact and sharing of culture (the 2nd and 3rd goals of Peace Corps being about exchanging culture) that I have found the most satisfaction.

Within our first week at site we stopped to talk with our neighbors on their front porch, using our photo albums as a means of communication. It turns out that they were from Cambodia and had only been in Thailand about 6 months - they were still learning Thai too, making communication extra difficult. The father in the family was a writer, and he was in Sangka with his wife, 4 children and 2 grandchildren.

When my wife Lisa and I were home later that night, her melodramatic imagination took hold, and she said "I bet they are refugees who are fleeing the Cambodian government because their father writes critically about the government." Yeah right!

The next day we asked more questions, and we found out that Lisa was right our neighbors were guests of the UNHCR (High Commission on Refugees) because of the father's writing, and that they were waiting in Thailand until the UNHCR can arrange for them to go to America. Wow, this is the kind of story I read about in a newspaper, not the kind I have in my own back yard.

We became friends with our neighbors, inviting them over for my birthday party, sharing music with each other, and learning the Thai language together. Newsweek articles from Cambodia were captivating for them, though far beyond their English reading level. We shared the maps on our wall, asking where they were from and showing where we were from (assuring them that L.A. is not the only place that a Cambodian can live in America). We were very sad to come home from an English camp one weekend after 4 months to find that our neighbors had moved to Bangkok to be close to the UNHCR. While we had often grumbled to ourselves about the grandchildren in the household who ran roughshod over everything in the neighborhood, we soon missed the noise outside our door and the fun conversations at night.

About 5 months later we got an email in broken English from our Cambodian friends they are still waiting in Bangkok! I recently met them again in Bangkok along with another Cambodian friend of theirs. Their friend said that she had an English teacher who was from America I asked what state, and she didn't know. When I suggested using a map to find her teachers home she stared at me blankly as if to say, "A map? I know the word, but why would I ever use one?" However, my neighbor friends responded quickly saying that they have maps they could show her they were inspired and interested in maps as a result of looking at and talking about the ones on our walls. I've had my small impact with at least one family!

It is individual stories like this that make up the heart of my time here in Thailand the poor farmer students who I help apply for scholarships, the local "Joke" (a variety of rice soup) sellers who cannot speak a word of English but who still converse with me for hours on end even when my Thai is not good, the 6th graders who visited us during training and played UNO with us (great way to learn colors and numbers!). I am very interested to see what develops in the next year here. But I will still miss my Cambodian neighbors.

Denny Wells, Group 112

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Thailand; PCVs in the Field - Thailand



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