Students from St Thomas More College (STMC) have last year had the experience of a lifetime during a visit to Cambodia.
Travelling to the Arrupe Centre in the north-western province of Battambang, the STMC students visited children affected by landmines, cluster bombs and polio.
The 12 students from STMC, a Catholic accommodation and formation facility attached to the University of Western Australia, were accompanied by Head of the College, Tom Mitchell, Deputy Head Bec Wood and College Chaplain, Fr Peter Toohey.
Through their fundraising, the students were able to provide scholarships to the families of many young people in the remote villages, enabling them to go to school.
The funds will reduce the likelihood that children will be kept home to work, and will mitigate against the all-too-familiar situation of the children becoming victims to sweatshops, prostitution and trafficking.
The STMC students also joined the children in participating in the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon in Siem Riep, an annual event to raise funds for victims of antipersonnel mines.
Students and staff from the college told The eRecord that the trip had given them a new perspective on life.
The students were extremely creative with their fundraising but a key source was to gain sponsorship for them to compete in the Angkor Wat Half Marathon, said Head of College Tom Mitchell.
“Our students competed in the very same events that the students they were sponsoring were competing in,” Mr Mitchell said.
“The sense of solidarity that this created was awe inspiring.
“The message sent through this activity, countless smiles, and warm hugs was clear,” he said.
“Our students were proud to be standing side-by-side with these amazing young kids who have faced their adversity with courage and an unwavering love of life.”
Student Bianca Rigby said she connected with one of the girls who she was pushing in a wheelchair.
“While she spoke hardly any English and I spoke hardly any Khmer, we managed to figure out a system and had an absolutely great time,” Ms Rigby told The Record.
“We eventually caught up with another three girls, who she was friends with, and we all got to cross the finish line together.
“It was so amazing to be able to form a connection with someone without the use of language – something that we often take for granted. I would take the opportunity to do this trip again in a heartbeat, it was so incredible in so many different ways.”
Fellow student Xavier Mitchell said one of the most moving moments of the trip was when he saw Toi, a child at the La Palerma Centre in Battambang, who had his leg blown off by a land mine.
“His beaming smile and energy were contagious,” Xavier Mitchell said.
“The way he could play soccer and run around the place with such precision and skill was awe inspiring.
“Seeing a kid with one leg loving life and living it to its full potential and happiness makes you wonder about why our Western society sweats the small stuff so much,” he said.