Monday, 10 December 2012

A connection in Cambodia

An amazing experience in Cambodia
Arrived in Phnom Penh Cambodia. 4th August, 2012
International Volunteer HeadQuarters
Cambodia Volunteer Foundation.
Placement, Joy Day Care Centre, Phnom Penh.

Settled into Volunteer house on Saturday. Friendly staff made me feel at home. The other volunteers, welcoming. I think I am going to enjoy this experience immensely!!

Sunday 5th Aug 2012.

Cambodian hospital visit.
I have just got back to the volunteer house after a day out with a few of the volunteers. A young lady from Italy, Vishnu, a young guy from America, Daniel and a young couple from Canada, Todd and Kristen.
We went to a local hospital and met up with a Cambodian lady by the name of Sopheavy. Being the small world that it is, I also met an older guy from no other than Ourimbah NSW. Serious! He lives in the old Ourimbah fire station.
All of the meeting and greeting was the nicer part of the day.
The hospital visit was something I never thought I would ever witness. Hot humid, filthy rooms with some patients having to depend on volunteers to bring them basic supplies like fresh drinking water. I'm sure the beds are remnants of the 1920's and the facilities not much different.
The saddest cases are the burns victims. One woman who has burns to most of her body, the father with burns to his legs and arms. They lost their 4 year old daughter in the explosion.
Three burns victims all from the same cause. Cooking with little gas burners in their homes. Too poor to get the little gas bottles replaced, only being able to afford to have them refilled over and over, with no safety rules or regulations in place, and so many accidents are caused by the same thing. One man was so seriously burned he was begging his mother to let him die. It took the Doctors 3 days to treat him. In fact it was the volunteers that helped clean him up and bandage him. I don't know how he isn't dead already.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I seen. Surprisingly, I handled it all pretty well, but I'm not sure if I can go there too often. I like to think I could if I thought I could be of some help, but I guess I can only spread myself so far, and it is the kids that I'm here to help.
After the hospital we took an hour tuk tuk ride to a small village to look at a house that Sopheavy had built in just two days with the help of some of the local people from the village. Talk about off the beaten track, across the Tonie Sap river on a ferry, and through some very rough terrain to the village. Some of the poorest conditions I have ever seen. However, I also met some of the sweetest friendly people and children who live there, unaware of anything different. No sadness on their faces, just a welcoming smile!
Well, that was my first day in Phnom Penh.
Now for a little reward in the form of a nice cold beer! 50 cents a can from the little store across the road ;)

Orientation day 1, 6th Aug and 7th Aug.
Informative and good social interaction. Highlight being the tour of some of Phnom Penh's landmarks. S21, very difficult to take in. Emotional tour. A history lesson.

8th Aug 2012

My second day of work today, and happy to say I'm settling in well.
The class I'm teaching ranges in ages from 3-7 years old with faces and personalities that melt my heart.
The children all live on the fringes of Phnom Penh in the slums. They are picked up from their homes at 7am and arrive at school around 9am. Their parents can't afford to send them to school, barely able to feed them, they are so poor.
The parents scrounge through the local rubbish tip collecting bottles, cans and plastics to sell for recycling. Often making a meagre $1.00 a week. Before the centre was established, the children would accompany their parents to work, their playground being the dump. Some children are still spending their days like this with their parents.
When the kids arrive at school we bath them, feed them, wash their clothes and dress them in a uniform. The pride they show on their faces once in a school uniform is magic.
The classroom is basic, with very few facilities and equipment. On my lunch break today, me and another volunteer that I am working with, Asha, went shopping for craft materials, flash cards, subject and predicate cards and some Alphabet posters for the classroom. Paper, pencils and books, and didn't spend much more than $30.00 each.
Some of the children are very smart and are like sponges soaking up every piece of information they can. Some are just happy to be there, some not so interested in learning, but it beats the alternative.

We teach them the ABC, counting, and some basic English language. We sing nursery rhymes, dance, do crafts and play games.
They have a 2 hour break after lunch, most of them rest, sleep, or just play around and disturb the other children trying to sleep ;-)
After their rest period, it's back into the classroom for another hour and a half. Then they are changed back into their home clothes which have been washed by the staff at the centre. At 3.30, they all pile into a mini van, and off they go home. Their bright faces pressed against the glass windows grinning from ear to ear and waving bye bye!
Today I took some clothes for them, some second hand that belonged to my grandkids, and some new ones given to me by a good friend before I left home. One particular little girl took a liking to an old pair of denim shorts that belonged to Aceah my granddaughter. This little girl did not want to put her uniform skirt on, instead insisting on wearing her'new denim shorts, showing them off to anyone who cared to pay attention. The new clothes were also a hit! For some, likely the first time they have ever worn something brand new in their young life.

The staff at the centre are very caring, and have the children's interests at heart. I have heard some horror stories from the other volunteers here relating to another particular centre that is run by Nun's., also some bad feedback regarding one of the orphanages. I won't go into that right now, I'm just happy to say there are some good programs and centers for the underprivileged children of Cambodia, and I am very lucky to be a part of them.

Hi all
Sua Sday!!
Just arrived home from another weekend in Siem Reap. Visiting temples, again, shopping yes again, and eating! Oh and a few beverages, at 50cents for a can of beer or $3 cocktails!
I had a great weekend... Now feeling a little exhausted from another long bus trip back to Phnom Penh not to mention the hours of trekking the temples around Siem Reap, and a very heavy night on Friday night. A lot of fun.
A good group of people, a few of them particularly so. One of the benefits of this experience, is the beautiful, fun and diverse range of people I have met. The different personalities, experiences and nationalities.

It is now late Sunday night, home ( as i have come to call it ) I am contemplating the next weeks work and the serious side to why I am here, and the real reason. To give some of my time and energy, life skills and experience, gaining so much more reward and experience in return.

This week I begin with gathering information for the goal I have set. It can all be a little overwhelming, and you want to achieve so much, making a difference in such a short space of time. But where to start, and what to focus on? I want to know I have made a positive ongoing difference to the beautiful children and people of Cambodia. I have been here long enough to ascertain what it is I really want to do whilst I'm here and how I can make a difference. The village where my children live ( called 'my children' as in my class) is very poor and isolated. No public transport, even if their parents could pay for it. Consequently, none of the children over the age of 6 go to school. Education is reasonably inexpensive, however it is the transport that makes it almost impossible for these children to attend school. Their parents cannot afford to feed them most days, so paying for transport is out of the question. Without an education, these children don't stand very much chance of breaking out of the poverty cycle they now live in. They won't have much chance of getting employment or opportunities for a better life. These kids need an education and learn how to speak basic English to be able to break out of this cycle. Being able to speak some basic English is almost a prerequisite for most job applications or UE. Some kids in the village are aged between 7 and 15 and have never been to school. I hate to think that these children hold little hope of living a better life, and their children and so on. They don't have any land to harvest, or any chance of living off the land. Their home is literally a rubbish dump. This is their backyard!
My goal is to get 25 kids to school!! How to do this is the challenge. Last Thursday I had a meeting with the director of Transform Asia, an American charity with placements all over Asia. The centre where I work is funded by Transform Asia. I have suggested a fundraiser and donations to fund a van to transport the children to a public school. This would also involve employing a driver, which in turn supports another family's income. He suggests a private school, which provides transport food and clothing for the children. Of course, private schooling here is no where near as expensive as Australia. However it does involve a lot more ongoing costs than the smaller ongoing costs of a van for the kids. And of course, raising the funds and making sure it is sustainable.

 The next few weeks I will be be working out the costs, pro's and con's of both options. Wish me luck ;)

Well it is certainly the wet season here, although nothing like the 'wet few years' we had at home. Here, it is really hot! All the time!! Generally it rains in the afternoon, mostly a heavy downpour, sometimes only briefly, sometimes a few hours. It's tolerable and cooling.

Now Tuesday, and I still haven't sent this blog!! So much to do.....
Take care everyone!!

Hello all!!

Time is going by so fast, and I am now only here for another five short weeks. I already know that I will be leaving a part of my heart in Cambodia. I haven't travelled the world, but I have been to many places, and Cambodia has captured me in so many different ways, like nowhere else I have been. I dare say I will be back many times in the future, and don't be surprised if one day I make it my short term home away from home.
Back to my main priority...
Well, I have been busy gathering information from the children's families to have them enrolled in school. Appointments with the accountant at Transfom Asia, and we now have the ball well and truly rolling. 42 children from a very poor village, will now start school on the 1st of October. If nothing else, they will be occupied in a much better environment than the dump where they live. Working with their parents, scrounging for recyclables.

However, I have witnessed how smart and clever most of these children are, so I dare say they stand a good chance of obtaining a good education, and the hope of a better future.
At first,I placed a limit on the amount of children I thought I would be able to enrol, 25, to begin with. However, upon visiting the village for information on the children to enrol, I had children and their parents begging me to send them to school. They aren't begging for money or food, they beg to go to school. How can I say yes to one, and not to the others that are so keen, and want to go to school to learn. They told me they want to get abetter job when they grow up.
 One little boy told me ( through translator) that if I help him go to school he will promise to make his parents very proud and he promised one day he will write to me and tell me about his job and also make me proud! I could tell by the look on his face as he said these words, he has determination. I wanted to cry, instead, I give him a high five and smiled!!

Education is cheap here, the only costs are their uniforms, basic needs such as a few books and pencils, the expense lays in the transport. Arrangements have also been made for the school to be provided with a small amount of money each week to feed the children, as it is unlikely they will get fed at home before going to school. Their families only being able to afford one small meal a day.
These costs will be covered by myself and a few very giving and helpful people, friends and family at home in aussie. I am not asking for anything from anyone, but if you would like to help these children with a small monthly donation, even $10 a month can do so much. The children, their families and I would be most grateful. I will be placing a blog with details on my wall in the very near future. I can guarantee that every dollar raised will help these children, and give them hope for a much better future. It's a long way from home, but I have witnessed how just a little can go so far, and the rewards are tenfold.

A bank account has been set up with Transform Asia. This is a separate account from any other, and I can access the details of expenses etc, from Internet banking. I insisted on transparency, and wanted to be able to make sure all the money goes to the purpose of sending the kids to school. This has now been established.
To begin with, we have to hire transport, eventually, when enough money has been raised, a small bus will be purchased as a more permanent option to take the kids to school. More on this in the next blog.

On the second day of starting school, the van broke down ( one of many times in the first month)
Mr See arranged for two tuk tuk's for us to get the kids to school.

Last weekend, I visited a place called Kep, on the coast of Cambodia. A peaceful seaside town that is famous for its fresh seafood, particularly crab. I have to say it was the best I have ever had, along with the prawns and the fresh fish. I also enjoyed a weekend of doing very little else other than eating, swimming, walking and sleeping. It was nice to spend a few days on my own away from Phnom Penh and its hustle bustle of everyday. Fresh air replaced the pollution, the heat replaced by a cool sea breeze. A truly laid back picture postcard seaside retreat. I hired a moto for the weekend, the ride taking almost 4hrs, leaving me with a very numb bum by the time I arrived. The countryside here is nothing short of beautiful, and to see the local people working in their rice fields, or lazing in a hammock under a tree, paints a picture of a very peaceful life in a tourists eyes. Look a little closer, and you see them struggle to make ends meet for all their hard work and effort. Yet they smile. Little huts along the road side selling cold drinks from Esky's, the welcoming service and a smile is free.
My return trip back to Phnom Penh on Sunday started out with sunshine, then rain, then sunshine, then torrential rain. Soaked to the skin by the time I reached Phnom Penh 6 hrs later!
Still, I love Cambodia!! Deciding to come to this country to volunteer, has been the best choice I have made for a very long time.
Take care everyone

Hello all!

Wow! What a week! Highs and lows like a roller coaster ride of emotions, breakthroughs and brick walls! Many times coming close to breaking down, wearing out, and even the thoughts of "I just can't do this" have crossed my mind....momentarily.
My search for transport to get the kids to school was futile. Many transport companies charging exorbitant prices, catering mainly for the tourists and not for a reduced price of transporting children to school. This left me with no other option other than to try and raise some money to buy a small van and pay a driver to drive the kids ourselves. So the hunt was on. We found a van that was cheap enough, and out of my own pocket and some donations from some very giving volunteers and their families we purchased a van and employed our trusty Mr C, to drive the kids to school. Of course, buying a cheap van came with its own dilemmas. Breakdowns and repairs have hindered our progress throughout the week. A new fan, belts, service, power steering repairs and a new alternator. At first inspection of the van, the tyres looked in reasonable condition, but after the front left hand tyre blew out, I decided to go the extra cost and buy 4 new tyres. After all, we are transporting precious cargo, and safety is more important than reliability. Now it appears we are all set to go with our own independent transport for the kids, which will save money in the long run.
The next hurdle was enrolling the kids at a school close enough to the village where they live. Just to get these kids enrolled took some effort, and many hours of frustrations and hurdles. Collecting all their information from their parents, taking individual photos for their paperwork, purchasing uniforms, books, bags and other necessary items the kids will need. This is not only expensive, although very cheap in our dollar terms, it was very time consuming when your enrolling 44 children! Back and forward to the school with one set back or another. We had intended to enrol the kids and have them ready to start at the beginning of the term here, on the 1st of Oct. These plans were delayed due to transport reasons, lack of information on some of the children and the procrastination of the staff at the school. On the morning planned for the kids to go to school, I arrived to find all the children dressed in their uniforms, backpacks on and the biggest smiles and excitement written on their beautiful faces. This soon turned to disappointment and sadness when they were told it will be another week....and it almost brought me to tears. It certainly brought a few of the children to tears. This then made me even more determined to not give up on them, to keep going, and to try harder.
Teachers here earn very little per month, so when enrolling so many children at once, setting up a classroom can also incur expense. We agreed to subsidise the teachers income, paying an extra $50 a month, on top of her meagre $50 a month salary. The children also need to be fed, so we discussed paying the canteen 1500 riel a day for each child (roughly 38 cents in our dollar) we were told it would be paid for each child daily regardless of how many attended school, so if we enrolled 40, we would pay for 40 everyday, even if some didn't attend school. Our driver and very good friend, Mr C, later suggested that he give the children their 1500 riel each morning, to pay for their own lunch, and to be able to have choices other than just rice for their meal. He will monitor their spending and I have no doubt, the children will not only eat, it will also give them some empowerment and a choice. Something they have for too long been lacking.
Then another bombshell! The vice principal wanted $50 a month to 'arrange and organise the class'....!! WTF.... Dragging her across the desk and slapping her stupid wasn't an option, but it did cross my mind. This was negotiated and terms were set for $15 a month, with her having responsibility for reporting and monitoring the children's progress.
Finally, Friday last week we managed to get 44 children enrolled to start school on Monday! For the first time in their short lives, these children will attend school. This is the right of every child in our world, regardless of their wealth or impoverished conditions. These children now stand a chance of breaking the poverty cycle they live in, to have hope for a better future, to gain employment. These children aren't slow or stupid, they are smart, intelligent and very bright, it is the poverty that holds them back from having an education and achieving their goals. Some may not complete an education, some may go on to successful careers, in turn being able to not only help their families and communities, but their beautiful country of Cambodia.

                                                                      Morning Class

Can I give you a brief history of this country's past. When the Khmer rouge took power in the mid 70's, they set about creating an agrarian and totalian society, and communism. They tortured and murdered millions of their people, especially the academics and educated men and women. Teachers, lawyers, monks and peasants alike. Poverty and famine followed on for many years and is still obvious today. Although peace has come to this country, a lot of greed and corruption at the higher levels of Cambodian politics and society still exist. The rich get richer and the poor stay poor. With education, that can change.
Fifty per cent of the population are under 21. Only fifty one per cent of the children attend school. Education is a huge advantage for these children, and I believe a key factor to change. I can't and don't aspire to saving the world, but helping as little as 44 children have an education is certainly something that many lives can benefit. Their are many people just like me doing and wanting the same, and that is to help the children, give them hope and faith that they can look forward to a brighter future.
Sorry if I'm rambling.... You guessed it, I am passionate about this country, it's people and especially the children.

On behalf of these children who now attend school, I would like to ask for some help, to continue supporting their education. Many of you have already asked how you can help? And here is how. A one off donation would be greatly appreciated, however a monthly donation set up through a direct debit would help us to ensure these children will have a chance, a future, and to be able to continue their education. All donations go into an account set up by Transform Asia and myself. This account is only for the cause of sending these children to school, every cent goes towards this cause with no administration fees paid to anyone other than the people directly involved in educating the children. Such as the driver and other costs involved such as fuel and maintenance on the van, the payment to the teachers, and a little to buy the children their breakfast and/ or lunch. Even a small amount makes a big difference. I am working on setting up a fundraiser through, to be able to buy a more suitable form of transport for the future. However, for now, I would like to focus on the day to day, week to week, month to month expenses on supporting these kids. A very big THANK YOU in advance!! From the children!!
Another way of helping would be to pass this message on to your friends and so on. These children really need your help.
If you would like to help, here is how you can donate.
Details of fund and account:

ACLEDA Bank Plc, Head Office Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Swift code: ACLBKHPP (if needed)
CHIPS CODE: 415637 (if needed )

Account name: Transform Asia
Account number: 00010123760318

Take care everyone xxx
Every little bit helps!!

Lenore xxx

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