An old lady from the village of Ang Chagn Chass looks through the grill of the library window on a Sunday morning as the young girls and boys practise their Khmer dance routines, under the careful eye of their dance teacher, Chea Chanlyda. This image shows us something important about Cambodia today, as it captures the wistful expression of this woman, who has lived through the turmoils of the past - the civil wars, the period of genocide under Pol Pot and, no doubt, the loss of family members and friends. It is difficult to judge her expression, but she seems totally absorbed by the graceful movements of these young people, who represent the future of this country. These children have escaped the horrors of the violent past, but are still very much victims, living in extreme poverty in a country which still does not, yet, value education sufficiently to ensure that it is available and well-funded for all children. Which is, of course, the point of Spitler School Foundation.
The dance class runs every Sunday, from 8.00 am to 10.30. Regular readers will remember that we missed the class last Sunday as we were too late, and also wanted to join with the university students presenting their hygiene programme at Kurata school. This time, however, Nick set off with determination on his bike, to cycle the 40 minutes in to Spitler School to find out just what was going on. What a wonderful experience. Some 22 kids are crowded into the school library, from Grades 3, 4, 5 and 6 and Lyda gently but firmly encourages them through the complex movements of Khmer dance. The older children work with the younger ones, ensuring that the fingers are sufficiently supple to bend into the most extreme angles. Most of the dancers were girls, but the five boys who joined in certainly put their souls into the enterprise and what they lacked in grace they made up for in enthusiasm. This class has been funded by a generous donor from England, and we are determined that it will continue. The children also have costumes which they put on when they are dancing for special occasions, such as graduation.
Wonderful Washing ...
It seemed that the opportunity to stay in contact with those wonderful university students was too good to miss as we needed help with selling our hygiene programme in Khmer. Nick and Loll met up with the jolly group in town and Loll explained how our finger and hand puppets, made by local mothers and children, could be used in a fun way to educate about the evil world of invisible bugs and germs. A bit apprehensive but nevertheless willing, they agreed to helping out on Saturday morning, their only free time. We tried linking it into an overview of "Staying Healthy" looking at the need to eat fruit and vegetables, take exercise, clean teeth then - hand washing. Our focus was on the latter and soon the children were joining in the fun and able to recite the order of how to wash hands using soap, and possibly a brush. The finger puppets acted as germs that gradually fell away as water and soap were used. A little play, based on some adventure in the village, was acted out using hand puppets. The adventure involved sharing and eating of food, playing with animals, going to the toilet etc, all without handwashing. The poor puppet dramatically acted out the possible consequences of germs reaching the tummy and the children were well able to identify with these results. (There was no Western squeamishness about 'rest rooms' or 'bath rooms': the student with the 'sick' puppet squatted most realistically on the dais at the front of the class, to the amusment (of course) of all the kids!
We were pleased to be able to talk to all the morning children at Kurata school about this including the kindergarten and we tried to explain to one of the teachers that many of his frequently sick children might only need basic washing eqipment and not expensive medicines to improve their health and school attendance. It was lovely to see the children dashing to wash their hands before accepting some biscuits to eat. It's a long road but a start has been made. Spitler school children this week were helping to make simple posters that they proudly stuck around the school reminding all of the importance of personal hygiene. Gratifyingly, the message has also been adopted by the sewing group who now are washing before eating our shared snack. From that group we have managed to identify a lovely woman who might be able to act as our "school nurse" at Kurata who, if we can get the funding, would be able to check on general cleanliness of children, visit sick children at home, arrange hospital visits and teach basic hygiene techniques. All of which can be life saving. Maybe someone out there would feel they can support this? Nick and Loll have only three more weeks in Siem Reap before they return to the UK and would be pleased to have someone in place, trained up in both schools, doing that job.
|Off to wash our hands!|
The hard facts behind the smiling faces of our images. This, from a recent UNICEF report on Cambodia:
Findings from a 2010 National Sanitation and Hygiene Survey show that only 31.8 per cent of Cambodians use latrines, only 16.7 per cent of Cambodians have a fixed hand washing place in their homes and only 62 per cent of respondents reported practising hand washing. Yet, the use of a toilet can decrease diarrhoeal deaths by 30 per cent and hand washing with soap by more than 40 per cent.
And this from theGlobal Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing Initiative:
The two biggest killers of children in the developing world today are diarrheal disease and respiratory tract infections. The simple act of washing hands with soap can cut diarrhea risk by almost half, and respiratory tract infection by a third. This makes handwashing a better option for disease prevention than any single vaccine.