Hands on History Program

We’ve been happy to sponsor several field trips in the last few months. The program, “Hands on History” is Ponheary’s method of delivering meaningful history lessons to Primary School children from Tchey, Knar and Koh Ker Schools.

Ponheary explaining the history of Angkor.

Ponheary grew up in the temples of Angkor Wat, the recipient of a life time of oral history, given by her father and grandparents. After the Khmer Rouge Regime and the Vietnamese Occupation, she became a guide and has been leading private tours in the Angkor Wat complex for over 10 years. Her love and respect for the temples coupled with her deep knowledge of the architecture, historical context and mythology makes her an amazing instructor for this program. And giving the “tour” in native Khmer is an interesting twist for an English, French and Russian speaking guide!

The students meet the bus at school early in the morning for the ride to temples, during which Ponheary begins laying down the framework for what they will see that day. The morning is spent at Angkor Wat learning the history of the Khmer Empire, seeing the bas reliefs for the first time and gaining understanding about life in Cambodia 1,000 years ago.

Next stop is the Khmer Kitchen in Siem Reap for lunch. (A big thanks to Khmer Kitchen by the way for the crazy good price and service they give us for these feasts) Very rarely have any of these students ever been to Siem Reap proper; they’ve never seen big buildings, streetlights, city traffic, so many foreigners, and certainly never eaten in a restaurant such as this, with food such as this. Lunch in town is always a big highlight, as is a stop at the ATM.

After lunch we proceed in the big bus to Angkor Thom. Here, Ponheary explains khmer history, tradition and culture through the carving. Last stop is Ta Phrom wherethe students get to explore the jungle temple on their own for a bit and take some class photos to hang up at school. On the way back to the school they all receive a khmer language book about the temples and Ponheary asks questions relating to her lecture. We are always impressed how much they remember.

It’s become clear to us how little the students in the countryside really know about the temples and subsequently about their own history and the legacy of the khmer empire. The rich cultural heritage that 2 million tourists a year come to experience in Cambodia is often lost to them. Some of these children sell trinkets outside the very gates of these ancient structures, yet understand little of the great treasure that awaits just inside. We are always satisfied to see them get off the bus with a new sense of cultural pride and sense of ownership of one of the wonders of the world.

Thanks very much to Kathy Epstein, Sue Mandell, Carol Bryant, Mandy Makrogianis and Maureen Lydon for sponsoring these events. We look forward to more outings like these with the students.