7 – Friday 8 January
Today we had a very early start, leaving the hotel at 6.30 am to go to breakfast at Morning Glory, after which we drove about 1-1/2 hours out of Sisophon to Bos Thom School. I was here in June 2015 for the official opening of the new Bos Thom School buildings, so it was a real privilege to be back here and see the children using and enjoying the new facilities, including the playground equipment. When we arrived, workers were finishing the final touches on the new bathroom block, which they had been unable to complete previously due to flooding.
Now that they have a new building, the school has started a Pre-school which runs in one of the old classrooms. The community have also been building up the grounds to help avoid flooding. As they dig fish ponds (an income generation project to help teachers), they have taken the dirt from the fish ponds to the school and built up the area where they want to build a soccer field. The principal told us yesterday that they want it to rain in order to settle the dirt and dust so they can compact the dirt, then they plan to build a soccer field, putting in goal posts. Once this is done, the principal will invite another primary school close by to play a soccer competition with them. It’s great to see the teachers, children, parents and the wider community wanting to make further improvements to their school since getting the new building. áWe visited each classroom, having an opportunity to see the ‘We Can Read, We Can Write’ program in action. In one classroom the children were working with tablets to learn the Khmai alphabet, numbers and words. In other classrooms they were using the toolbox kits with counting and reading games to make their lessons more interactive.
After visiting each classroom, the principal took us across the road to his home where we saw the livelihoods program in action. Samaritan’s Purse assisted the principal with a chicken coop and a few chickens. At one stage he had increased his chickens to over 300. However, during wet season it’s extremely difficult to keep chickens due to the flooding and the fact chickens can’t swim. So, the principal moved from keeping chickens to raising frogs. He was able to sell the frogs for a very good profit and buy more frogs. He also has a fish pond and is raising vegetables – some of the biggest beans I have ever seen!
By assisting the principal and other teachers, not just at Bos Thom, but at many schools in Cambodia, Samaritan’s Purse is providing them with opportunities to supplement their income. This means that they do not have to skip school to take paying jobs, work in the rice fields, or go to Thailand to work. A few years ago, teachers earned around $90 US per month. At the last elections, the government agreed to increase the teacher’s salary to $150 US per month. We are told that in about 6 months, a teacher’s salary will increase again to $200 per month and this should mean less need for income supplementing programs. I wonder how many teachers back in Australia would start work prior to the kids arriving at 7.00 am and finish after the last classes left at 5.00 pm for as little as $90 per month, or even $200 per month!
After lunch we visited some of the recipients of the Safe Migration and Anti Trafficking project. For the most part, Samaritan’s Purse works in the area of prevention and education, rather than rescue. By working with families in low socio economic situations, Samaritan’s Purse is able to provide assistance by educating families to the risks of trafficking, not just in the sex trade, by all types of trafficking. Many Cambodians trust brokers who promise to take their children to Thailand, or elsewhere, and train them to work in hotels, etc, so that they can earn money to send home and assist their families. However, once the parents sign their children over and pay for passports and other necessary papers. However, often the brokers are unscrupulous and put their children into situations where they are abused. We heard one story about a young girl who was taken to Malaysia to work in someone’s home as a maid. However, the girl never got paid and the broker held on to her passport and documents so she couldn’t leave. The man in the house she worked in abused her and when he got her pregnant, his wife called the police and had her arrested for not having any legitimate papers. Another man was put on a fishing boat and didn’t touch land for 2 years. His wife and children had no idea what happened to him. One day, when the boat was close enough to shore, he jumped ship and eventually made his way home to his village in Cambodia and was reunited with his wife and children.
More than 60,000 Cambodians are deported from Thailand every year for not having legitimate work documents. Samaritan’s Purse, at the request of the Cambodian government, has set up a Migrant Access Centre in Poipet to help these people get home.
Day 8 – Saturday 9 January
Today we visited a school about half an hour from Sisophon. This is one of the poorest schools in the area. It is a 3 room wooden building with 98 students. Samaritan’s Purse has already secured funding to rebuild this school and the ground breaking ceremony will take place next week.
Today we had the privilege of being the first team from Samaritan’s Purse Australia to visit this school. While we were there, the team broke up in to 4 groups and taught the children. One group taught geography, a second group taught the importance of handwashing, a third group taught scripture and the fourth group taught PE…..and did the children have fun! Even some of the parents got in on the fun, learning about the importance of washing their hands (and their children’s hands) before eating, after going to the bathroom, before preparing food, etc. The children were broken in to 4 groups and rotated through all four activities every 20 minutes or so.
Afterward there was free play with the girls teaching us how to ‘high jump’ using a rope made of elastic bands, while the boys got in to soccer with the balls the group brought with them.
After lunch we headed to a village to do monitoring of BioSand water filters. The filters were placed in the village last year (the money for these water filters was donated by Camden Baptist Church). The Samaritan’s Purse Cambodia staff do follow up visits every month or so to check on whether the filters are being used and if they are being used correctly. It also allows the opportunity to provide further training if necessary.
Tomorrow morning we leave for Siem Reap. We plan to stop at a Silk Farm on the way and then shop at the Old Markets after lunch and the Night Markets after dinner. Monday morning we visit Angkor Wat and then in the afternoon I head to the airport for my flight home, arriving back in Australia on Tuesday morning. The team, however, stay on in Siem Reap for an extra day and will then spend three days in Singapore on their way home.
DAY 5 – Wednesday 6 January
Today was a travel day. We left Phnom Penh a little before 9.00 am and headed northwest. We stopped in Pursat for lunch at The White Elephant and eventually arrived in Battambang around 4.30 pm. (See the map to follow the journey.)
Day 6 – Thursday 7 January
Today we got to do an Operation Christmas Child Shoebox distribution. Always an amazing experience. There were supposed to be 200 children at the distribution, but a there were additional children turned up and unfortunately we ran out of shoeboxes and around 7 or 8 children missed out on a box. The local pastor promised to return tomorrow with boxes for those children. The distribution took place in the remote village of Roka, outside of Battambang, where last year an unlicensed doctor infected more than 200 people in the village with HIV by reusing dirty needles. (He has since been sentenced to 25 years in prison.)
The local church had a number of young women dance (with fans) to How Great Thou Art. They did an amazing job and left us all a little overwhelmed. Another group of 4 men and 4 women performed a traditional Khmer dance and then our group taught the children Jesus Loves You (in English), before the pastor, the Commune leader and a member of our team spoke. It was then time to hand out shoeboxes. I’ll let the photographs speak for themselves!
After lunch in Sisophon, we visited a school in a nearby village where Samaritan’s Purse had put in a larger version of the BioSand Water Filter. Although today was a national holiday in Cambodia (a celebration of when Phnom Penh was liberated from Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge), when we arrived at the school almost all of the 124 children who attend this school were waiting in school uniform, having formed a guard of honour for our arrival. As we walked through the school gates the children applauded our arrival and made us feel as though we were royalty. We sat under some trees as classroom tables which had been carried out and placed there for our benefit. While we met with the principal, some of the teachers and some parent representatives, the children went to their classrooms and waited (almost patiently) for us to come and visit them. While we visited with each class we had the privilege of presenting each child with a water bottle. These bottles are so they can have fresh, clean water not just at school, but also at home. They are able to fill their water bottles at the end of their school day and take the fresh, clean water home with them. Eventually, it is hoped that their homes and village will have their own fresh, clean water supply which will benefit the entire family.
DAY 3 – Monday 4 January
This trip is a little different to the usual Samaritan’s Purse Discovery Trip, as the group requested a visit to The Rabbit School in Phnom Penh, as well as some time to sightsee/shop.
Our day started with a visit to The Rabbit School, which is a school that provides educational and therapeutical activities for children with intellectual disabilities. Children at the school range in level of disability from mild and able to complete schooling and find paid employment, to those with severe disabilities. Quite a few of the children are orphans, placed at the school after being abandoned at the hospital.
We heard a story about one boy whose family brought him to The Rabbit School because they had very little hope for his future. After completing his schooling at The Rabbit School, he has been able to find paid employment working in the laundry at a guest house in Phnom Penh. He earns $140 a month……of this, he sends $60 home, saves $30 and lives on the remaining $50. His family are trying to save the money he sends them each month so that they can eventually start a small business and secure his future (the goal is that he will come home and help them run it).
The school also runs a small cottage industry, which teaches the older children skills and earns some income for the school.
The group bought soft, small footballs, Australian flag stickers, picture cards and other items they thought would be helpful to use in activities with the children. One of the staff showed us around the school and gave us a presentation on what the school does. Shortly after this he took us to a public school where they have integrated a number of students from The Rabbit School into classrooms at the public school.
After lunch at Jars of Clay, we enjoyed some free time and shopped. Some of the group went to Central Markets, while the rest of the group went to The Russian Markets, which is only a few blocks from our hotel. I opted to join the group going to the Russian markets and was able to buy a few Christmas presents from an NGO shop just up the road from the markets, as well as some cement bag pencil cases and a notebook cover…..and the most important buy of the day…..a fan!!!
At 4.00 pm we left from the hotel to go to New Life Church to hear about the Office Skills and English classes. Normally we would help teach the classes in conversational English, however, today was the first day of the new term which meant the students only came in to do their registrations and to hear a talk on the “7 Habits of an Effective Person”. The speaker only did half the talk on Monday night and was going to do the second half on Tuesday night. So when the talk was finished, the students were divided into small groups and our group split in to teams of 2 and spent around 20 minutes chatting with the students, allowing them to practice their English even though classes hadn’t started.
The day ended with a Khmai BBQ dinner. In the middle of the table was a hole with a cover on it. When we took the cover off there was a hole, into which they placed a bucket of hot coals. On top of this then then placed a cooking pot, kind of like a cake tin with a dome in the centre. The meat (beef, pork and squid) was cooked on the dome, while a broth was poured into the tin and in the broth we placed cabbage, some kind of bean, seaweed, egg, rice noodles and carrot and waited for them to boil. There were a few condiments such as ginger, chili and garlic to add, as well as a sauce which was hot & spicy and very delicious even though I’m not sure what it was. A good end to the day!
Day 4 – Tuesday 4 January
Today was supposed to be an earlier start, but unfortunately Ranni’s motor scooter broke down and we had to wait for her to arrive. This meant that instead of leaving the hotel at 7.30 am, we didn’t leave until around 7.50 am. We faced a fairly long drive as we headed way out of town to spend time with the staff of Prison Fellowship Cambodia (PFC). We visited a church PFC is working with in the local community and also visited the family (mother and 4 daughters), where the husband is in prison. They lived in a small house which constantly flooded. PFC, along with the local church, came alongside this woman and her 4 daughters and helped them build a new home with an elevated cement floor. It’s a small home, very compact, but this all the land the family owned. With the assistance of PFC and the church, the family were able to contribute half the cost of the building of this home. This is such a worthwhile project when you realise that the families of the prisoners have done nothing wrong, yet they suffer because there is now welfare system in Cambodia so they are left with nothing and have to find another way to survive.
A long ride back to eat lunch at the 2nd Jars of Clay, but only about halfway back to our hotel. Here I was able to meet up with Soraya, a beautiful young women I met when I was here in January 2013 and our team went to New Life Church to teach English classes. Soraya attended the English classes herself, to improve her own English. She then started attending New Life Church and is now on the worship team (she has an amazing voice!) and then she started teaching English classes herself, as she wanted to give back some of what she had been given. Last year Soraya graduated from medical school and has now opened her own medical clinic. Between her work at the hospital, the clinic and her work as an interpreter, she no longer has time to teach English classes. However, through her medical clinic she is providing free consultations and treatment, only charging her patients for the medication they would pay for if they went directly to the pharmacy. We have already made plans to catch up again in February when I am due to come back.
After lunch we visited Kork Roka Health Centre, which Samaritan’s Purse built in 2011. Unfortunately, there were no patients at the clinic. We were told by the nurses that the only patients, a mother and her new born, had left to go home that morning. We had gifts for the mothers and babies…..hand knitted clothing, booties and toys….some the Camden Baptist group had brought with them, and some I had brought which had been sent to me from a couple of lovely ladies in Victoria. We were able to leave these items with the nurses and they will hand them out as babies are born at the Centre.
We got back in to the city a little earlier than anticipated so most of the team opted for more shopping, which was followed by dinner at Friends, as well as more shopping at Friends N Stuff, followed by dessert at the Blue Pumpkin before heading back to the hotel to pack and sleep as we move on to Battambang tomorrow.
Thank you again for your continued prayers and support.
DAY 1 – Saturday 2 January
Day one started very early. In fact, my alarm went off at 4.00 am (Sydney time). I had a shuttle booked to collect me at 5.30 am and drive me to Sydney International Airport. Unfortunately, at 5.45 am the shuttle still hadn’t arrived. After a number of phone calls, which all went to voicemail I finally had to give in and call a taxi. Needless to say, I was not very happy!
The flight from Sydney to Singapore encountered some turbulence, both outside and inside the plane. As it is school holidays in Australia, there were a lot of families on the flight – most headed to Thailand. I had a 6 year old behind me who kept kicking the back of the seat (his father told him at least 5 times not to kick the back of my seat), and a teenage girl in front of me who put her seat back as far as it would go for the entire flight (she had to be asked by cabin staff 3 times to put her seat in the upright position to prepare for landing). A little more than one hour before our flight was scheduled to land they decided to turn the inflight entertainment system off and quite a few younger children began to get restless. One 3 year old ran up and down the aisle yelling “Look at me daddy”. She was then buckled in to her seat to keep her still and decided to start crying because she wanted down. After a while, the crying turned in to a full blown tantrum which lasted until the plane touched down 10 minutes after our scheduled landing time because of bad weather in Singapore. I’m really hoping I’m the only person on the flight home……but I couldn’t be that fortunate!
During our stopover in Singapore, we ran in to a team from a school in Victoria who are travelling with our Victorian and Western Australian Operation Christmas Child State Managers. We were all on the same flight from Singapore to Phnom Penh, and we’re also staying at the same hotel in Phnom Penh. However, we are going in opposite directions. They leave for Kratie tomorrow, while our team leaves for the Banteay Meanchey province on Wednesday. We will meet up with them again in Siem Reap next Sunday evening.
The flight from Singapore to Phnom Penh was very uneventful and so much shorter than the first flight. We arrived in Cambodia on schedule but it took a little while for all of the luggage to be offloaded, which meant it was after 7.00 pm before we finally arrived at our hotel….The Frangipani Living Arts Hotel & Spa. This is the first time I’ve stayed at this hotel, but it’s very nice, the staff are very friendly and always wanting to try out their English on us.
I have to confess that after dinner I had an early night (for me) and was in bed a little before 9.30 pm. Unfortunately, the time for the alarm to go off comes around all too quickly!
DAY 2 – Sunday 3 January
Fortunately, after such an early start and long day on Saturday, Sunday was a late start. We didn’t have to leave the hotel until 9.45 am, which meant a bit of a sleep in before heading downstairs to breakfast (vegemite on toast….always bring my vegemite!). We then attended a Khmer speaking church service about a 15 minute drive from the hotel and here it was proved that even the best laid plans don’t always go as planned. Wayne arrived early and saved seats for us. He also arranged radios and headsets so we could ‘listen’ to the English translation of the service. But what do you know….today was the day the translation service decided not to work. The pastor, an ex-pat from the USA, did his best to translate what he was saying from Khmai to English, to give us the gist of his message, which was titled “30 cm from Heaven”. He talked about having to believe Jesus is Lord, having to receive him as your Saviour, is the Holy Spirt active in your life, and is your life different (eg is the fruit evident). All things considered, it was a really good service. The worship was also amazing and could have rivalled Hillsong. The worship leader is a very talented musician and has written a lot of worship songs in Khmai. They have even recorded 2 worship CD’s which are being used in churches throughout Cambodia. It’s great that Cambodian Christians now have worship songs in their own language, not songs written by Europeans and translated to Khmai, but songs written in Khmai by a Khmai.
After church we headed to Khmer Thai for lunch, where we experienced our first fully Khmai meal of the trip (some of the group opted for western food at dinner last night – pizza, pasta and burgers, while almost half of us had Pad Thai). We also had the experience of sitting on the floor to eat – a very interesting experience for some of us.
From lunch we headed to Toul Sleng and then one of the Killing Fields, to give the team a bit of background on what happened during the Khmer Rouge. It also gives the teams a bit of perspective on why Samaritan’s Purse is working in Cambodia to help improve conditions. For anyone into facts and figures, or interesting trivia, we were told today that since the end of Pol Pot’s reign, there have been 343 Killing Fields discovered throughout Cambodia, which combined have a total of more than 19,000 mass graves. Even though this is my fifth visit to Cambodia, it never ceases to amaze me how one man could do this to his own country and his own people. Another interesting bit of trivia is that 80% of Cambodia’s current 15 million people are under the age of 30. The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, and during that time wiped out 1/3 of the then population of 12 million people!
While at Toul Sleng (or S21 as it was known during the Khmer Rouge), we met 2 survivors. Both have written books. I bought one of the books last year and bought the second book today. Both men are there every day, health and weather allowing. They have written their stories because they don’t want anyone to ever forget what happened….simply because they don’t want it to ever happen again.
After an emotional afternoon exploring Cambodia’s history, we headed to the river and had a pleasant cruise along the Mekong River, where we enjoyed the cooling breeze and the relaxation of the boat ride. We then finished our day off with a very enjoyable dinner at a little place called ‘Brooklyn’s”, just across the road from our hotel.
Hope you enjoyed the update and I’ll catch up again with you soon.