The land of heroes
Our heroes
Our land
Cambodia Kingdom

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Forget the Gold Coast: Schools leavers focus on charity in Cambodia

New breed ... Mosman High School students skipping the schoolies scene in favour of charity work in Cambodia include Ben Cope, Morgan Forbes, Claudia Snell, Chloe de Ville and Astrid Milne. Photo: Janie Barrett

Louise Schwartzkoff, Andrew Stevenson

AS THEIR classmates flock to the coast for a schoolies week of sunshine and mayhem, Claudia Snell and her friends will celebrate the end of school by helping the less fortunate.

With the ink barely dry on their Higher School Certificate exam papers, 19 graduates from Mosman High School will fly to Cambodia to help build houses for impoverished families in a village outside Phnom Penh.

They are part of a growing group of HSC graduates eschewing the traditional Gold Coast knees-up in favour of alternative options.

''We wanted to end our school lives on a good note with something we'd remember, rather than getting trashed,'' said Claudia, 17.

The Gold Coast remains the leading destination for school leavers. Up to 40,000 students are expected to visit from next weekend.

But overseas destinations, notably Fiji, are also growing in popularity. Unleashed Travel will send 2500 students to Fiji on seven-night packages costing more than $2000. Bali and Vanuatu are other popular destinations for some of the 60,000 students on the move.

''It's just schoolies. We only sell to 17 or 18-year-olds so there's no older people or 'toolies' on the island whatsoever,'' the managing director, Jot Lynas, said.

''You can party with people your own age on your own private island for the week and it's the same price as going to the Gold Coast where you can scrap it out with 40,000 other people, fights and drugs.

''We're international so it's very hard to take drugs with you. As soon as they leave the airport we sort them onto buses which take them to the marina where they're put onto boats and out to the islands. There's no opportunities to get hold of drugs.''

While they prepared for their exams this year, Mosman High students spent time raising $55,000 for building materials. Working with the Tabitha Foundation, a non-profit organisation which promotes community development in Cambodia, they hope to donate a community well and build 30 houses. They will help Cambodian builders hammer walls and floors for houses sturdy enough to withstand the annual monsoon season.

''At the moment, these families live in houses made from bamboo and palm fronds, so when it rains, they flood,'' Claudia said. ''Hopefully we can improve that.''

They settled on Cambodia because some of the students had learned about the atrocities of Pol Pot's regime in modern history classes. Initially, about 50 students were interested in the trip, but enthusiasm waned when the student co-ordinators announced it would replace schoolies week - and that two parents and a teacher would accompany the group.

''Most people don't believe we'd do this instead of schoolies,'' Claudia said. ''They were a bit shocked, but they also gave us a bit of respect. Everyone thinks it's pretty cool.

''We can go out and party any time. This will be something we'll remember forever.''

No comments: