Ivanhoe Grammar School Cambodia Service Project 2023 – Day THREE Students’ Reflections

To continue from Day TWO Reflection blogging of the Ivanhoe Grammar School Cambodia Service Project 2023, this article reposting the reflections from the assigned students on their Day THREE experience and impressions:

Today team Muy (team 1) experienced the lasting effects of one of the most oppressive regimes in recent history. Firstly travelling to S-21 (security office 21) which was one of around 200 prisons set up by the Khmer Rouge between 1975-79. We began our tour hearing an extremely personal and heroic story from our amazing tour guide Vaesna, of his individual experience in dealing with the Khmer Rouge. This was met by many tears from the group as we were shocked in hearing such a personal story. He proceeded to show us the high security cells which were definitely the most confronting thing any of us have ever seen. Walking in the footsteps of those who had been tortured in horrific and terrifying ways silenced the group immediately. We continued into another building of cells filled with hundreds of photos of the prisoners. These photos were taken at the moment of their arrival into what once was a school turned prison. The fear in their eyes was sickening, evoking many emotions from our team. Some of the torture methods employed on children as young as six years old and mothers with their babies included; having electric rods inserted into their ears, constant beatings, licking their overflowing toilets clean and being suspended by their arms, beaten for hours on end. Over 20,000 prisoners passed through the gates of this horror filled institute with only 11 survivors. We were honoured to meet 3 of those survivors and hear their stories.

We then followed the route of the prisoners when being transported from the prison to their final resting place, the Killing Fields. Despite being such a peaceful place, the dark history was everywhere. From the remains of tatted clothes hanging off pieces of bone visible in the soil, to the teeth scattered around, this was truly confronting. The visible depressions in the ground where up to 400 people per grave were brutally beaten to death. This unforgettable and unique experience will never be forgotten. Continuing around the fields, we reached the centre memorial where 5000 skulls were shelved, all showing signs of how each victim was killed. The trees surrounding the fields hold vivid memories of children being beaten and swung against them. The famous music tree was notably in the centre of the fields, where the soldiers would play loud communist music to drown out the screams and moans of the dying victims. This day opened our eyes to the shocking realisation that such a horrendous regime could occur only 48 years ago and be led by such a delusional dictator.

Callum, Eden and Ava

Day 3, Team 2. S21 Genocide Museum; Killing Fields; markets and river cruise (fireworks courtesy of the Cambodian Queen mother’s birthday).

Student reflections:

Today we paid a visit to the S-21 genocide museum. This experience was both confronting and emotional for both myself and my peers. We started the journey with context from the guide and hearing about the victims and their unsettling tortures that lasted for 4 years. Over one million Cambodians were killed in both this museum and the killinv feilds. This was particularly difficult to comprehend and i found it hard to believe that such mass killings happened in such a brutal manor. Then continuing to see the photos of these victims, made it more real. It posed the question in our minds of why did this happen? And why wasnt it stopped? This experience put into perspective how important it to remember the past and be educated on the hardships of Cambodian generations. Its important to remember how lucky we are, to live how we do, and how enriched we are with our lives back in Australia.


Today, Team 2 visited the Killing Fields in Phnom Pehn. During the visit we were confronted with disturbing images and exhibits following the Cambodian genocide in the 1970’s. We came across real mass graves, bones of those that were killed and memorabilia including clothing, weapons and images taken at the time. At the centre of the Killing Fields there was a stupa; the stupa was a large tower which containd 5,000 skulls and bones to commemorate those who lost their lives there. Labels described how each individual was suspected to be killed.


Team 3 Sunday Alice and Emilia

After a beautiful buffet breakfast overlooking the river, we headed by bus towards a confronting day. The genocide museum was deeply upsetting, we went for a tour through all four buildings. We then went to the killing fields. As PK our guide led us through a tour, he stopped at a photo of his uncle in a collation of images of beaten and bloodied tortured victims, but was unable to tell the story as he was overcome with emotion. This made the pain that the victims and their families went through more realistic as it was put into perspective, accompanied by the wall of child victims in the next room, causing us to realise the true extend of the dark parts of Cambodian history. We cried. We then got back on the bus and went to our next destination, the killing fields, where we observed many empty pits of mass graves, once filled with bodies and a building packed with hundreds upon hundreds of skulls and bones as well as the brutal murder weapons used to cause deadly head trauma amongst victims, which we saw intents of in the skulls.

On a lighter note, we then headed towards some hot and bustling lively Russian markets closer to the central city, where we all ventured out to practice our bartering and shopped for trinkets and gifts, also practicing our Khmer language skills. Finally, to finish the night, after a quick freshening up at the hotel, we went on a river cruise with all four teams, allowing for many dramatic and over the top reunions between friends, followed by a firework show on the river in light of the queen mothers birthday today(which went on for way too long), finishing with some impromptu karaoke by some teachers and students through the speakers of the entire cruise. I will never listen to mama mia the same again.

Dakota Blade Reflection Day 3 – Team 4

Although S-21 is an emotional place to visit, I was looking forward to learn about Cambodia’s history and to see it. We learnt that S-21 use to be a school, but they used it to hold prisoners from 1975 to 1979. We walked through each building and saw the rooms where they were tortured and held, and were able to look at photos of many prisoners. It was really hard to take in and not everyone was fully prepared for what we learnt and saw. But the highlight of visiting S-21 for me was finally meeting Bou Meng. Bou Meng is a survivor of S-21 and he was there showing his photos and selling his book. I have a great interest in his story because his way of surviving S-21 was because he was an artist. He was ordered to paint rice fields and Pol Pot – who was one of the many leaders of the ‘Khmer Rouge’. Bou’s way to survive was taking his time in his paintings, and dragging out how long he took to paint them. I found his story very moving, and although he couldn’t speak English I was able to try and communicate with him, and he asked to take a photo with me. Myself and a few students purchased his book, to learn more about his story. He was such a kind soul and lovely man, and I am so grateful to meet and interact with him.

Bethany Clare Day 3 Reflection – Team 4

Today was a very intense and emotional day. Firstly we visited the killing fields where we saw the Choeung Ek which had bones from victims and tools that were used for the killing. Many people placed flowers to pay their respect to the victims of the Khmer Rouge. It was very confronting to see all the places where mass graves used to be and the killing tree where lots people were killed many years ago. It was amazing to see all the colourful bracelets hung from the tree to honour the children who lost their lives there. It was really great to learn about the history of Cambodia and it really put into perspective why we are here doing what we are doing.

After a delicious lunch we headed to the Russian markets. It was a lot of fun looking at all the different clothes, trinkets and ‘designer’ items. There was a bit of a learning curve to bartering, but by the end of it we all got the hang of it. Everyone came back with lots of goodies!!

We finished the day with a lovely dinner on the Mekong river with all the other teams. We saw a beautiful fireworks display and enjoying watching other team members sing karaoke. Although it hurt our ears it was a lot of fun and a great way to finish the Phnom Penh section of our trip.

Stay tune with Sam Inspire blogging series about Ivanhoe Grammar School Cambodia Service Project 2023

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