Tuesday, December 11, 2012

And so. . . . farewell.

Our final afternoon of our 'tour'  this time was spent in the delightful company of the SSF Apsara dancers - those children that Nick watched rehearsing with Lyda, their teacher, a few Sundays ago. Sarin had arranged for a full public performance, in costume, especially for us - and we felt very privileged to be sitting in the shade of the large tree in the compound -  one which Sarin had planted there some eight years previously - to see the fruits of all that practice. It seemed fitting to watch this dancing taking place outside in the sunshine, dancing enacting practical movements of planting and harvest and the usual village activities.As we sat there watching the children perform with such enjoyment, naturalness and easy manner, with many of the pupils from other classes joining in the fun, we were reminded just why we had been drawn to the Spitler School Foundation years ago. 

Sitting talking to Sarin, reflecting on Khmer society and matters of life and death, we were aware of the "family" that we have joined. Like all families we sometimes disagree, strongly, get disheartened, tired and fed up, but always there is someone else in the family feeling optimistic, energetic and full of ideas to get us back on track.


Sophea and Choeumroeun shake clean hands.
That morning we had again welcomed our friends from Pannasastra University into Spitler School to help with the hygiene training. They were enthusiastic about using the finger puppets (germs that come off one at a time as we use water, soap, brush etc) and the hand puppets enacting scenes about the village. They remarked about how "different" the school felt to their own experiences of primary school and we hope to have extended their teaching repetoire beyond the chanting and usual stuff they have known. We look forward to continuing to work with them as they make excellent role models to our village children of what can be achieved through education.
They are happy to volunteer their time, when they are not working for exams at University, and it is good for us to realise that we do not need to turn exclusively to Western volunteers for expert help. We hope too that the new "nurse" in place there will continue to work with the children to raise standards of cleanliness beyond their experience to date.
A dramatic moment for Socheat and Chomroeun

Kangna, our new 'nurse', is introduced to the children.

The day before we left we were saddened to hear of the deaths of nine people who lived and worked in the Night Market. Fire had spread rapidly and many people living above the market stalls had been trapped. Siem Reap mourned their loss with funerals at the wats around town and processions of people carrying their lotus flowers. Although Siem Reap is very busy at the moment with high season, anyone who lives here for any time is touched by the kindness of local people who are experiencing severe poverty with such pride.

We have left Siem Reap now, faced the joys of a border crossing in Poipet, been madly driven by taxi to Bangkok and now settled for a few days in Hua Hin. Already we are reflecting on our friends back there and wondering what they are doing.

We hope to meet up with our "other half" Jim, in a few days time to talk, plan and have a few jars. The Foundation is at an interesting crossroads now, needing to look ahead to the challenges of the future and build on the strong foundations that have been laid over the past eight years. We wish our supporters well and will continue to update this blog with news when we can.

And don't forget - the foundation relies totally on donations to support these two schools.  Without these funds some seven hundred children would lack a primary school education. We personally regularly hold "Curry for Cambodia" evenings at home where we invite friends to share a meal cooked by us and auction off various scarves and trinkets found in local markets. All the money raised goes directly to the school and on one occasion we raised $407 which we sent off. Coincidentally Jim had asked for $400 in order to buy some books for the library  on the same day. No matter how much or little we send we know that good use will always be made of the money donated. We think the curry evening idea could go global!

And finally . . . the boys join with the girls for the coconut dance!  They're certainly getting there, and the girls show, we think, a remarkable tolerance and good humour.  A real reflection of the Cambodian temperament.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Wedding, a new teacher - and a Nurse.

One of the wonderful things about being a long term volunteer out here is the deep friendships that are forged with many of the local people. Of course most of our relationships are with people that have worked for many years at Spitler School and more recently, those at Kurata School. These relationships haven’t always been easy; our role means we sometimes “tell it like it is” regarding  the need for child protection, play equipment, time keeping and so on. But always, always the kindness of the locals wins through.

A few weeks ago we were presented with a red and gold envelope. One of the teachers was inviting us to his daughter’s wedding. We knew what to expect, kind of, so we were looking forward to a trip out with our friends, lots of food and drink, and lots of noise. We were not disappointed! Some of the interesting features of a Khmer wedding include the fact they can last over three days, the main players might change anything up to seven times into beautifully ornate and brightly coloured clothes, there will be seven courses served (good luck number)  and EVERYONE will clink their glasses, touch their elbows and have a lot to drink. The level of busyness cannot be underestimated, food flies out of the cooking area, the huge, stacked speakers make conversation pretty well impossible and people laugh and shout. Glasses are spooned full with ice, guests are dressed up to the nines and children enjoy playing together and talking to their relatives. Rice appears at the end of the meal to avoid looking as if people are feasting on that and the courses generally include lots of chicken, duck and fish.

Sarin, Nick and Loll.
Loll - with Vebol and Daro
 in the background.
This particular wedding was a very happy occasion, with many of the teachers from Kurata and Spitler School enjoying a moderate drink.  Nick, presented with cans of 8% Panther Beer (a very dark stout), felt that moderation wasn't entirely within the spirit of the occasion.  We were sitting with some of our friends about one metre away from the sound system.  Its funny how soon you get used to the intensity of the noise, which you feel with your whole body, not just your ears.  In some respects, it makes life easier: no need for small talk (my Khmer only allows for the most minimal of small talk anyway) and lots of opportunities for clinking glasses and smiling amiably.
Our teachers in relaxed mode!

Enjoy a few more shots of the wedding - including the back stage mass-catering, the grandmother and her granddaughter - and, of course, the bride and groom themselves.

New English Teacher at Kurata
Neang Pisey
After an exhaustive (and exhausting search) -we have finally managed to replace our Kurata English teacher, Phoeum, with a young lady from Siem Reap.  Her name is Neang Pisey, and she started work at the school at the beginning of this month.  Although she does not yet have a lot of teaching experience, she speaks very good English and has shown that she has a lovely attitude towards the children.  Ratha, our other teacher at Kurata, has agreed to mentor her in the early stages, and we are confident that we will gain an excellent teacher in Pisey.

Loll and Nick went in for their final Activity Afternoon, and we all worked together on introducing new songs, doing some phonics, reading a story about a washing line (I know - but it's actually a bit more interesting than it sounds) and then doing some matching cutting and pasting (real cutting and pasting: glue and scissors! No computers at Kurata yet) and clothes bingo.

It was also our last opportunity to bring out the parachute, kindly donated by Northlight School, Singapore.  Pisey seemed to enjoy the experience, but looked a bit apprehensive about using this last item.  Don't worry, we said - it's not compulsory, and you will learn!

The Hygiene Programme
Sour Savang
Along with other things, this has been one of Loll's most important projects for the Spitler School Foundation on this trip. She set up some hand-washing instruction, using the lively talents of a number of students from Pannasastra University (and they are coming out to Spitler School this coming Thursday to repeat their instruction) and had identified a woman from her 'Play and Share' Sessions with the women (and young children) from the village who could act as a school nurse.  Sour Savang met with Loll and Vebol on Monday, and Loll was able to talk to her about the hygiene programme and what we should expect from a school nurse.  Of course, she has no medical qualifications, but she is a sensible woman, with young children of her own, and is very keen to promote good hygiene in the school, as well as try to cut down on the number of diseases that can afflict a poor community.  We were able to give her a copy of selections from a wonderful book called Where there is no Doctor - a book designed to give essential information about health issues that can be applied in very poor communities.  The folder we gave her deals with common problems, such as dehydration and how to mix a re-hydration drink, the link between malnutrition and diarrhea ('Malnutrition causes diarrhea; Diarrhea causes malnutrition'), as well as dealing with skin problems,  burns and wounds and snake bites - and many other things.  It's a well-illustrated book - and, crucially, is in English and Khmer, so we can all understand it! Savang will make sure she sees every class once a week, and will keep a close eye on children's attendance so she can pick up any underlying problems.  We also have a list of materials for a basic but appropriate First Aid Kit - which we can put together for the princely sum of $25. (Donations welcome!  And the donation link now works properly, so there's no excuse!)