Monday, February 18, 2013

New Volunteers

We must apologise to our devoted reader (?s) for the lack of activity in the Spitler Blogosphere over recent months but Nick and Loll are back in the UK enjoying the snow, rain and overcast weather of the North East while we know our friends in Siem Reap have been very busy.  Quite a lot has been happening recently which has certainly been keeping Jim on his toes, the most difficult being the sudden resignation of our new English teacher, Pisey.  Thankfully, our long-term teacher, Ratha, has stepped in and is now working full-time (that is morning and afternoon sessions) teaching English at Kurata school.  What a star! 

We have also had two excellent young volunteers from Australia who have been helping develop the library and working with the children at Spitler School in Story Time sessions. In addition,  Ngaire and Danielle have spent a busy time reorganising the English collection so that it becomes more user-friendly for our children. Jim reports that they also managed to find the time to teach the children some new games - and some pretty cool dancing! They also went out with Jim and our newest volunteers, Stuart and Barbara, to buy supplies from the bustling market of Phsar Leu.

Stuart and Barbara? Let them speak in their own words:

First, let us introduce ourselves. We are Stuart and Barbara Marriott, long standing friends of Nick and Loll Thorne. As they are both back in UK and we are working at Spitler, we agreed to keep the blog going for a few weeks while we are here. We spent most of the first four weeks of our stay in Cambodia working at a school in Phnom Penh and were fortunate enough to be in town to witness the amazing scenes surrounding the funeral of King Father Sihanouk.

We spent our first few days in Siem Reap  visiting the temples- quite convenient really as the school was closed for the public holiday of the King's funeral, and finally on Thursday 8th Feb made our first visit to Spitler School. Surprisingly, our first few days with the school involved three shopping trips. A new project at the school is to upgrade the library and create a dedicated craft area so on Friday afternoon we endured the stifling heat of the central market to buy stacks of plastic containers- stacks indeed, as they were all stacked on top of the two of us and the two young Australian volunteers, Danny  and Ngaire, in the tuk- tuk, which carried us all precariously back to school.

A rather more civilised expedition on Saturday saw us buy paints, paper, glue and all the paraphernalia required for creative craft work; but the highlight was on Sunday when the Khmer staff from both schools gathered in the air conditioned splendour of Lucky Market to spend a donated $400 on Khmer readers. A riot of happy browsing, comparing and selecting ensued - a rare opportunity for these good people to spend serious money- and if Jim had not called a halt they would have gladly gone into four figures.

The festive atmosphere was enhanced by the sound of lion dances up and down the road outside, it being the first day of Chinese New Year.

I must say, furthermore, that the new titles are a great hit with the children at school.

In our first 10 days at the school we have done some mentoring of the two English teachers, but Geoff, another volunteer, is taking the major responsibility for this. We have concentrated more on developing the craft and library area. Sral has been busy nailing up rolls of bamboo on every vertical surface and every low table, so the room resembles a sophisticated Japanese restaurant and has the tranquil atmosphere conducive to reading and creative crafts.

Barbara has so far devised four craft activities for the children. There is absolutely no problem in attracting participants. Word seems to get around quickly that something interesting is happening; some children from the afternoon session come in during the morning, and vice versa. There is a 2 hour stretch over lunchtime for anyone interested and quite a few children sneak a quick ten minutes between lessons.

It’s wonderful to see the other children in the playground indulging in what I thought were the long lost arts of skipping and marbles- and with a high degree of skill. Not a Gameboy in sight.

Barbara initially set up two activities. The first one was to make bookmarks which will be given to visitors to the school as a memento of their visit. It is amazing how creative and imaginative many of the children can be once we have instructed them to put away their rulers and pencils and explore paint and free-hand crayon work. So far we have collected over 70 lovely bookmarks.

At the same time some children have participated in a card making competition in which the children design a typical Cambodian scene. The best of these- and there are some very good ones- will be made into cards to sell in the UK and elsewhere. 

More recently, Barbara has introduced paper weaving and doll making from old water bottles and scraps of material. To our surprise, both of these activities were extremely popular with the boys.  Perhaps someone might be able to explain this to us.

Not only is the craft centre an opportunity for the children to explore their creativity but it is a forum for them to listen to advice and instructions in English and on occasions engage in simple conversations with the two of us.

On our first day at Spitler, we and the children were distracted by the sight of Jim bravely having his hair cut by a band of itinerant student hair dressers. The jury is out as to whether the cut improved his appearance or not but he certainly looks different.

Actually, we owe an enormous debt to Jim, not only for spending hours with us explaining and showing us the Spitler project but also for being a mine of information about the best Happy Hours, live music and free food in town. It is because of this information that for the first time for decades Barbara and I had a romantic Valentine’s Day evening- a lovely dinner at a little restaurant called Marum which supports  and trains young people from difficult backgrounds followed by a couple of half price, very powerful Shingapore Shlings at the… I've forgotten where.

So - many thanks (and a very happy belated Valentine's Day) to Stuart and Barbara.