A complex of Buddhist temples in the vicinity of Siem Reap has been converted into the location of this year’s most exciting new paillote. A tall golden door leads into a large open area surrounded by brightly coloured pagodas. The paillote, also known as Prey Thom, hosts about 200 children from the neighbouring villages into its summer camp, and is also home to about 10 monks who live there all year long.
For Martin, the paillote’s coordinator, this month has been full of surprises and new experiences. This is his first time coordinating, and also the first time PSE has opened a summer camp in such a characteristic place. “It feels really great to be starting something new, to be building a camp out of nearly nothing, although it’s been a big challenge. I find it really stimulating because each day is unique, everything is always changing, there are constantly new situations to face and it’s super fun”, said Martin.
The camp has a large outdoor area for sports and one of the pagodas is used for the siesta time and indoor activities. There is also an area for eating and for showering, hand-made by the monitors.
One challenge of hosting the camp here is adapting the activities to the monks’ routines. “Their lifestyle is a lot slower than ours, they read and meditate all night and usually sleep in the mornings. Since the beginning we have tried to be extra careful and to be respectful to them and their traditions. For example, we don’t wear hats or cross our legs in the pagodas. In any case, whenever we speak to a monk we make sure there is a social worker present to help us translate” explained Martin.
The monitors have been trying to adapt the schedule to the monks’ timetable by doing field trips and indoor activities in the morning and leaving the loudest ones to afternoons. Despite the monks having trouble adapting to the noise levels of the summer camp, “they are very caring, and sometimes they share their leftovers and drinking water with us and likewise we share our meals when we have too much food”, said Simón, a Spanish monitor.
For the team the experience of working at a pagoda has been extremely interesting. “In the beginning we were very surprised, it was unexpected and we had no idea how it would turn out. But the truth is that is has gone really well. The environment is unique, and everything here is very authentic”, reflects Simón.