Cambodia – February 2016

Day 7 – Friday 19 February

Friday started with yet another long drive. This time from Svey Chek to Sisophon, near the Thai border. After lunch at Morning Star, which included the most amazing curry you will ever taste, we headed out to visit a school which needs rebuilding. This is a 5 classroom school with cement floors, wooden walls and a metal roof. There is no air conditioning, unless you count the open windows and doors (with no glass!) and the hot breeze that sometimes blows through them. The children were so polite and well mannered, standing to welcome us and not returning to their seats until they were told to do so. We visited with Grade 1 who were learning Khmer words and then Grade 5 who were doing mathematics. In Cambodia, children go to school for four hours a day, six days a week. One month, Grades 1, 3 and 5 will go in the mornings, while Grades 2, 4 and 6 will go in the afternoons. The following month they will swap around, with Grades 2, 4 and 6 going in the mornings and Grades 1, 3 and 5 going in the afternoons.

 

We then went on to visit a nearby village where Samaritan’s Purse have been working with the community to build water filters. Our team got in and worked hard, after a very long day, and helped build 14 BioSand Water Filters.

 

Day 8 – Saturday 20 February

Today we got to visit Bos Thom again! We went to see the projects ‘We Can Read, We Can Write’ and ‘Better Teachers, Better Education’.

When we arrived we went to look at the old school buildings. Now that they have brand new classrooms for Grades 1 to 6, they are using one of the old school buildings for a preschool. The preschool was not running today, but we were able to look through the classrooms. The children and teachers have made craft items and hung these from the roof and on the walls. The floors are still dry and cracked during the dry season and mud during the wet season. The children are unable to sit on the floor for activities as bugs and insects crawl up from the cracks (some of which are more than 5 cm wide) and snakes come in from outside. The children are sitting at desks from the old school, but the desks are too big for them and most of the children cannot see over the top of the desks. The principal and community are trying to raise $2,000 US to cement the floor so that the insects can’t keep coming up through the cracks, however, this won’t solve the problem completely as some of the boards are missing off the walls.

 

It was then time to visit the new classrooms where the children were using the new resources provided through the ‘We Can Read, We Can Write’ project. It was great to see the children interacting so eagerly with the resources and with the teachers. Grade 1 were learning Khmer words and having competitions to see who could find the correctly spelt word on the whiteboard first. Grade 3 were spelling words using resources from the toolbox and Grade 5 were using the tablets to learn their Khmer words while some of the children were readings books from the resource library. This turned out to be a very popular activity with some of our team reading the books in English to the children, while some children read the Khmer version to members of our team.

 

The principal then took us to his home where he showed us his chickens and frogs. He also has a fish farm, beans and fruit trees. By helping teachers subsidise their incomes through farming and by raising chickens and frogs, Samaritan’s Purse is helping teachers subsidise their incomes and provide food for their families without having to take time off school to work in rice fields or take jobs over the border in Thailand. When teachers do these things, the children in their classes have to stay home as there is no one else to teach the class. With recent decisions by the Cambodian government to raise teachers’ salaries from $90 US per month to $200 US per month (effective from April this year) and with other income generating projects such as fish farming, raising chickens, etc teachers no longer have to take other jobs, which in turns means the children are able to continue classes.

After a picnic lunch in the school grounds we went on to see some of the Safe Migration and Anti Trafficking projects. We started by visiting a Community Savings Bank. This group of ladies, and two men, contribute anywhere between $2.50 US and $50 US each month to the savings bank and community members are then able to apply for low interest loans (2% interest). These loans may be used to start a small business, purchase school items for their children, purchase feed for their animals, etc. Individuals have to complete a loan application which is then assessed by the group leaders (there were five of these – 4 women and the village chief). The applicant will have to wait 15 days from the date they lodge their application until they know whether it has been approved or not. However, if the loan is for a medical emergency, the waiting period is waived, as is the interest. We even had the opportunity to pose for a photo on a rice tractor!

 

The second project we visited was an income generating project, where a grandmother is caring for her two young granddaughters. Her daughter and son in law (the parents of the two girls) are working Thailand and her husband is a musician and not home much during the dry season. This woman is not only caring for her two young granddaughters, she is also raising chickens and ducks and growing mushrooms so that she can earn extra income to provide for her grandchildren. We had the opportunity to help cut up the banana branch which is used for chicken feed, as purchasing feed is quite expensive.

 

 

The third program was a Coop, where the women in the village we visited all purchased shares in the Coop. The Coop leader then travels to the closest town to purchase items which they can sell in their Coop shop. This means that they can sell items cheaper to the local community than if everyone had to pay to travel to town and purchase their own goods, or if they used a middle man to purchase the items for this. Everyone in the Coop has to sign an agreement to purchase the items they need from the Coop. If they break this agreement then they can no longer be in the Coop. At the end of the year, the profits from the Coop are divided amongst the shareholders according to how many shares each person bought. At this time, if a member wants to leave the Coop they can do so.

 

Most of the projects are run by the women. This is mainly because the men are out working, either in rice fields, in Thailand or in nearby towns, to earn an income to support their families. When men are involved as part of the groups, it is usually the village chief or an village elders, mostly so they know what is happening in their village, and what Samaritan’s Purse is doing within their community. It’s amazing to see how these women are being empowered to care for their families.

 

Day 9 – Sunday 21 February

This morning we visited the site of a potential church, where we met a local pastor who is part of the Regional Leadership Team for Operation Christmas Child in the area around Sisophon. This pastor has been very involved in running The Greatest Journey classes as well as distributing shoeboxes.

After this we made the shorter road trip to Siem Reap where we enjoyed lunch at the Blue Pumpkin before checking in to our hotel ‘Angkor Paradise Hotel’, where I am staying on the ‘Paradise Floor’. After checking in, some of the group headed to their rooms to rest, some headed for a swim and others headed for a massage. However, I lead a group of women ready for an adventure and the six of us headed off to the Old Markets where we shopped until we were ready to head back to the hotel for a cool drink and a rest before heading out to dinner at the Red Piano. After dinner, half the team headed back to the hotel and an early night. The other half headed to the night markets where we again shopped until we were ready to drop. I am coming home with 12 pairs of genie pants and around 50 purses. All of these will be sold at a fundraiser my young friend Keira is having in September to raise money for an education project in Cambodia. I’ll keep you all posted on the fundraiser and any of you in the Newcastle area may like to come along!

 

Day 10 – Monday 22 February

It’s just gone midnight here, so I guess it’s officially day 10! In another 6 hours I have to be up for breakfast and then at 6.45 am we leave for Angkor Wat and a few of the other temples before having lunch and heading to the airport to begin the journey home. We leave Siem Reap at 3.55 pm local time (around 7.55 pm Sydney time) and arrive back in Sydney at 11.35 am on Tuesday morning.

Thank you for journeying with me again. I appreciate your prayers and support.

 

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Day 3 – Monday 15 February (Evening)

After our Operation Christmas Child shoebox distribution, we went to New Life Fellowship Office Skills and English Training program. Here the team divided up and went to different classrooms where they taught ‘conversational English’ to students ranging from around 10 years of age to young adults. Classes started at 5.30 pm and finished at 6.30 pm. Some of the team had a lot of fun, with one team member teaching his group to jump out of an aeroplane and ride a unicycle.

 

Day 4 – Tuesday 16 February

Tuesday morning we visited the offices of Prison Fellowship Cambodia. In previous years teams have been able to go in to the prison and see the work Prison Fellowship are doing firsthand. Unfortunately, this was stopped a few years ago and now we are only able to see the work that is happening with the prisoners’ families outside the prison. Today we didn’t have a lot of time, so we visited the office where staff gave us a presentation on the programs they run. Prison Fellowship Cambodia does a lot of work with the children of prisoners, ensuring they are kept safe and well while their parent (or parents) are in prison. They also provide ‘supply packages’ for prisoners who don’t have any family to visit them, or whose families can’t afford to help with ‘extra’ food. Prisoners in Cambodia receive 75 cents per day to pay for meals. This usually provides them with two meals of rice each day, one in the morning and one in the evening. It is then up to their families to provide additional food and supplies. Prison Fellowship assists them with this. Until recently they were providing items such as soap and toothpaste, but this has recently been banned as contraband and now they are only able to assist with basic food rations. As we didn’t have time to visit a Prison Fellowship project, we assisted by putting food packs together. This consisted of two cans of sardines and seven packets of instant noodles. Not really much when you think about it!

 

After our visit to Prison Fellowship we began our long journey from Phnom Penh to Kratie, about a 5 hour drive. The drive was broken up by a stop at a Destiny Rescue café in Kampong Cham for lunch, before completing the journey and checking in to the Mekong Dolphin Hotel in Kratie where they put on an amazing sunset just for us!

 

Day 5 – Wednesday 17 February

Wednesday’s first visit was to a Maternity Ward which Samaritan’s Purse built just over 12 months ago. In that time, the Maternity Ward has averaged 28 births per month. It’s great to see women in the rural areas having access to good pre-natal care as well as a safe place to deliver their babies. The maternal infant death rate is very high in rural areas of Cambodia as most women do not live close enough to a hospital or medical care to go for treatment, and when they do, the treatment they receive is not always from a licenced medical practitioner. Samaritan’s Purse is trying to meet this need by building maternity wards in rural areas where women can come and see professionally qualified doctors and midwives for pre-natal care where they learn about the importance of eating healthy and caring for themselves during their pregnancy to ensure a safe and healthy delivery. They are also taught about the importance of regular visits to the maternity ward after the babies are born so that they can have follow up treatment, including vaccinations. One of the great things about these maternity wards is that they include a waiting room, which means women can come to the maternity ward a few days before they are due to give birth so that they are not trying to make the journey while they are in labour. Sometimes these trips are on the back of a motorbike, or an ox cart behind either oxen or a rice tractor on what are often just dirt tracks.

After our visit to Prison Fellowship we began our long journey from Phnom Penh to Kratie, about a 5 hour drive. The drive was broken up by a stop at a Destiny Rescue café in Kampong Cham for lunch, before completing the journey and checking in to the Mekong Dolphin Hotel in Kratie where they put on an amazing sunset just for us!

We were blessed with the privilege of meeting this beautiful young man, who was only three days old. His mother, only 19 years of age herself, went in to labour at 1.30 am on Sunday 14 February and he was born at 7.30 pm that night. His mother told us that she and her husband live with her parents and five siblings. She is the eldest and the other five children are still at school. That’s four adults and six children living in one house, most likely with only one or two rooms.

 

After visiting the maternity ward, we headed back toward the Mekong River, where most of the group took a ferry ride to an island, where they then took an ox cart ride to visit one of our Maternal Infant & Child Health programs. One of the ladies didn’t feel up to this, so I stayed in Kratjie with her and after a cold drink at a local guest house we wandered through the local markets checking out the different vegetables, meats and other goods for sale. We then headed back to the café for another cold drink before venturing out in the opposite direction to explore a little further before the rest of the group joined us. We had the pleasure of handing out a few toys and Australian stickers to some of the children we came across during our walks.

 

After re-joining the rest the team for lunch, we headed out to another rural village to visit another Maternal Infant & Child Health program where a young mother gave us a cooking demonstration, showing us how she now feeds her 4-1/2 year old daughter. Twelve months ago her daughter was diagnosed as malnourished. After being in this program and learning how to cook nutritious meals for her daughter, the child is now considered to be healthy and is developing normally for a child her age. It was interesting to watch the mother make her ‘porridge’ or rice, fish, pumpkin, cooked egg yolks, chopped ivy leaves, soy sauce and some salt. Once it was cooked and dished up, the little girl showed us how she feeds herself, while another mother fed the same meal to her three year old. The little girl actually ate three helpings!

 

Day 6 – Thursday 18 February

Thursday morning we visited two programs before leaving Kratie. First off we went to see a program that is Empowering Women against Violence. The women are being taught skills to assist them to help improve their home life by dealing with situations in a healthier manner. Men are also being taught how to grow mushrooms, look after chickens, etc so that they not only have something to do, but are doing something that is helping to provide for their families. In this way, their self-worth is increased and they relate in a better way to their wives and children. The women who participate in this program are being trained to teach other women in the communities what they have learnt.

The second program we saw this morning was Food for Life. Samaritan’s Purse have worked with a man in this community to create a model farm. His neighbours learn by watching what he is doing. Some are then assisted by Samaritan’s Purse, while others see what their neighbour is doing and then go about copying him. This man’s income has increased from approximately $100 US per month to $300 US per month. He has five children, the eldest four are married and the youngest is at university in Phnom Penh. The man is 70 years of age and his wife is 67 years of age. They are continue to farm and work so that they can put their youngest son through university and see him achieve his goal of becoming a veterinary surgeon.

I would love to show you photographs from these two programs, but again I have had issues copying the photographs from my brand new memory card to my computer, which tells me the card is not formatted! I’m going to have to buy another memory card tomorrow and now I have two cards which are saying they are not formatted and I don’t know that I am going to be able to retrieve anything from them.

Thank you for your continued support and prayers.

 

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Day 1 – Saturday 13 February

An early start saw me join 3 of our group on the shuttle bus from the Ibis Sydney Airport Hotel to the International Terminal at Sydney Airport at 5.30 am. We met a few of our fellow travellers while we waited in line to check in. However the 10 of us travelling from Sydney did not meet fully as a group until we met up at the boarding gate for our flight. We had an eleventh member of our team travelling directly from Perth to Singapore and she was happily waiting for us when our flight landed. After a two hour stopover in Singapore we were finally on the last leg of our journey, arriving in Phnom Penh at 5.15 pm. After checking in to The Almond Hotel, we enjoyed our first Cambodian meal together before heading up to our rooms for an early night.

 

Day 2 – Sunday 14 February 

Sunday morning we headed to a small church where they were starting the first week of The Greatest Journey classes. We were made to feel very welcome by the people who attend the church. After about 20 minutes in the church service, the children left to go to The Greatest Journey class and we followed them. They had two young men teaching the class and they were brilliant! They had a great repoire with the kids and interacted well with them.

After lunch we headed to our first Operation Christmas Child shoebox distribution. What a great experience. It was the first time handing out shoeboxes for all 8 members of our team and boy did they have a wonderful experience.

The local church had worked hard to put together a program, with different groups of children singing and dancing and one young woman sharing a message with the children. Our group also participated in the distribution. We had planned to sing and teach the children ‘If you’re happy and you know it” in English. However, the children upstaged us by singing the exact same song in Khmer first. We still did this song with them, lead very professionally by Andrea who started off with ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi!” before leading the team in song. After this, Betsie shared with the children why she packs shoeboxes like the ones they were going to receive. Wayne then told the children what would happen with the shoeboxes while the team cut the tape to make it much easier for the children to open their boxes once they received them. I would really love to show you lots and lots of photographs from The Greatest Journey and the Operation Christmas Child shoebox distribution but unfortunately I had issues with my camera on Sunday and when I went to copy my photographs from my camera’s memory card to my computer there was a problem and after copying around 20 or so photos from The Greatest Journey, I received a message advising me that the card was not formatted and I should format now. I was able to go the next morning and buy a new memory card, but that doesn’t help right now.

The only photograph I have from Sunday’s distribution is this one, which I took on my mobile phone….

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When we returned to our hotel prior to going to dinner, there was a red rose and lovely handwritten note from the Hotel Manager on my bed. All members of the team received this and I thought it was excellent service! At dinner we all received a chocolate rose, which was another nice moment, but unfortunately, again I lost the photos, although I was able to take one of the rose and note on my bed with my mobile….

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Day 3 – Monday 15 February

On Monday we took the team to Toul Sleng (S21) and the Killing Fields. This is always a pretty hard day emotionally as you come face to face with the reality of what happened during the days of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot’s reign, although the team seemed to handle it well. After dropping the team at Toul Sleng, Sophoin took me to a phone shop where I was able to purchase a 32MB memory card for my camera for $17 US! So far this seems to be working and I haven’t had any other issues with my camera.

After lunch we had our second opportunity to participate in an Operation Christmas Child shoebox distribution. This distribution took place at the home of a Canadian couple who are working in Phnom Penh with another NGO. The wife is teaching sewing to local women who are at home looking after their children. The phrase ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi!’ took on a whole new meaning!

This gorgeous little boy in the photo with me is David. His mother is the lady in the wheelchair in the next picture and is one of the ladies learning to sew. There are so many people working here in Cambodia, helping to make a difference in the lives of Cambodian families……it’s great when we can work together to achieve one common goal!!!

 

 

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