FOR many, finishing high school means the chance to participate in a raucous week of heavy drinking and wild partying along a beach.
But for the sixth consecutive year, year 12 students from Kerang and Cohuna have come back from an Alternative Schoolies trip to Cambodia with a different perspective on life and with memories that will last forever.
There was no alcohol on this trip; not even for a student celebrating their 18th birthday.
Along with students from the Northern Territory Open Education Centre, the young adults helped enrich the lives of disadvantaged children in remote communities.
The students, along with teachers and members of the Rotary Club of Kerang, assisted in building new houses and shelters for the community.
All the equipment needed to construct the buildings was funded by the students during the year, which included organising a used battery drive and several other fundraisers.
The overall fundraising amounted to $15,000 to put back into the Cambodian communities.
The students’ own expenses were all self funded.
Kerang Technical High School student, Luke O’Brien had no regrets about choosing this Schoolies option, rather than party on the streets of Surfers Paradise.
“At first I was a bit worried (about doing the trip), but I absolutely loved it,” he said.
“The only time I thought about home was when I was at the airport, other than that I was so happy to be there.”
The 18-year-old said it was a “life changing” experience.
“It makes you think differently about your own life seeing the kids over there,” he said.
“The kids treat you like family and welcome you. They are very polite, even if they are asking for money.”
The students shared their experiences with local Rotarians at their monthly dinner meeting on Thursday evening.
Cohuna Secondary College student, Rebecca McKenzie said it was “overwhelming” coming back to Australia after an emotional two weeks from November 25 to December 7.
“I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried when I got home. I cried for those that I had left behind – the orphans, the veterans and the street kids,” she said.
“I cried knowing I was coming home to such comfort but the people I’d left behind had nothing of the sort.”
Kerang student Katie McDonald said she now has a different perspective on life after spending time in Cambodia.
“I think we all learnt who we are as a person and what’s really important to us and not to focus on all the materialistic things in life,” she said.
“You just look at what they’ve got and how happy they were (the disadvantaged children) and think back to our own lives.”
Fellow Kerang student Erin Knight said her favourite part of the trip was taking part in the Green Gecko project, which looks after homeless children who have been street beggars.
“They are still independent and they wash their own clothes and look after themselves, but they just have a place to live,” he said.
“It’s like a big family there.”
Local Rotarian, Sharon Champion has led the trip since its inception in 2007 and said this year’s group of students had been exceptional.
“They are an amazing bunch of students,” she said.
“Each and every one of them has just got so much out of the trip.”
Mrs Champion said parents of the students have commented how much the trip had changed their children.
She said the trip was tough at times, but overall the group bonded well together.
“The way the group worked together was amazing. There were ups and downs, but you can’t throw 50 people together for two weeks and not expect there to be some disagreements,” she said.
“If there weren’t, I would’ve been wondering what was wrong.”
Kerang and Cohuna students help stabilise the bamboo floor in Cambodia during the Alternative Schoolies trip.
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