Monday, March 25, 2013

It's great to see that the hygiene programme - and more specifically, the hand-washing programme - is being maintained at Spitler school, as we can see by these photographs just sent by Sarin.  It's easy to forget that amidst all the successes of Spitler and Kurata schools, and with quite a number of volunteers appearing on the scene recently, the schools are still working in a remote village in Cambodia amongst real poverty and disadvantage.  As I wrote some time ago, the child mortality rate in Cambodia is high: Cambodia has Asia's second highest mortality rate among children below the age of five, for instance. Clearly, we can't even begin to tackle all the problems that children and their parents in villages like Ang Chagn face, but we have made a small start by making clean water available in the school and encouraging a daily hand-washing habit. Regular health checks are also carried out by professionals from a local hospital. This basic hygiene programme is supported by the two 'nurses' who have been recruited from the village.

It is by small steps that success can be achieved.

Many of the children from the village come from extremely poor households, like that of Buo, a twelve-year old boy from Ang Chagn Village who talked to our long-term volunteer Jule last year about his family.  He and his family have lived in the village for seven years and every morning his parents go to Siem Reap to cut grass. They earn about 7000 riel ($1.75) a day between them. He loves coming to Spitler School where he says his favourite subject is English because it's a lot of fun and he sings songs and plays games.  When he returns home from school he helps his parents with the housework in the one-room house. In the photograph you can see Buo, his father, his oldest sister and her daughter.

He's not the only one who loves coming to Spitler and Kurata schools, of course.  As our friends Stuart and Barbara Marriott mentioned in their contributions to this blog, it is difficult to keep the children away from the schools when there is something going on - even an extra English lesson! Look at the success of the Apsara (traditional) dance classes that are held every Sunday morning in the school, and the results of which you can see in an earlier video on this blog.  The classes are still running, thanks to the patience and dedication of their teacher - and the support by voluntary donations (which are constantly needed.)  It's a good reminder that education is a good deal more than just the core subjects and in a country like Cambodia, where so much of the culture was lost during the time of the Khmer Rouge and the subsequent civil war, these traditions need constant support. 

Here are the children and their teacher rehearsing on a recent Sunday in the newly re-furbished Library and Activity room. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Stuart and Barbara's Final Blog

This is the second and last Blog Stuart and Barbara will be posting as we have finished our work at the two schools. We pressed on with our work at the bigger of the two schools, Spitler, but were looking forward to working at the smaller Kurata school. Unfortunately, unforeseen events delayed this as usual as, at short notice we discovered that on 14th and 15th Feb, the children from both schools gathered at Spitler school for health checks. A team of administrators, nurses, pharmacists and 6 young Japanese doctors on a week’s internship to the local  children’s hospital in Siem Reap gave every child a top to toe examination. What they found, I’m  not sure and whether anything could be done if they discovered anything more serious than typical hygiene and diet based problems I do not know, but at least the job was done.

We did eventually get over to Kurata but matters were further complicated by the presence of a group of 16 more Japanese students plus administrators and photographers who had come to paint the school, taking about 5 days over the job and well supervised by a young schoolboy.


They did  a reasonable job and even threw in an unintended Jackson Pollock on the ground in front of the classrooms.

Meanwhile we set up some craft activities during the 2 hour lunch break. A little group of 4 had the courage to join us-

- but by the end of lunchtime the population had swollen to about 60.

One bright idea we came up with was for the children to design bookmarks, using any design they wished. These could be used to give as a small gift to visitors to the school.
The idea was put to the test last week when a group of about 20 American tourists visited Spitler school and we arranged for 3 of the children to say a few words and distribute the bookmarks to them. You could almost hear the sound of hearts melting. (The bookmarks have the school’s website on the back).

An interesting income generation project at the school is the fishpond, a rather  stagnant pond which we are told has been stocked with 1000 small snake-head fish and just left. The strategy is to drain the pool at the appropriate time and see what turns up and sell them. I would have loved to be around on that day.

Meanwhile, back in town, an ancient ceremony dating back about 5 years took place on the evening of 23rd Feb. This was the children’s giant puppet parade, a very colourful mini mardi gras with groups from various orphanages and institutions parading their exotic creations.

The following Monday was a public holiday in honour of an even more ancient landmark- It was Buddha’s birthday. As Cambodia is such a universally Buddhist country we were bracing ourselves for loads of action, got up early and visited three of the biggest wats in town. To our dismay we found very little going on - in fact the gentleman below was about the most dynamic one we encountered.

Out of deep respect for Buddha, I chose to copy this gentleman’s posture in my own environment.

However, at about 4pm I was awakened by the sound of chanting, so we followed the noise to the nearby Wat Prom Rath where there was some reasonable activity. The monks chanted, the band plonked and chimed and we left when the abbot started what sounded like a very stern sermon - an interesting experience but not as spectacular as we had hoped. It seems as though the late king is held in higher esteem than Buddha himself.

Back at the schools, in a perverse sort of way, these children have the distinct advantage over modern western children in that they are not tied in the stifling strait jacket of Health and Safety. How many breaches of H and S can you find in the picture below? And note the haircutting going on behind, just out of reach of the swing- or perhaps not.

And on the way home the kids happily ride along main street on their bikes- some too big for them some too small for them some with their mates on the back and wave happily at us as we pass them
in our tuk-tuk oblivious of any hazards.

On the subject of tuk-tuks our driver, Daro, after a few teething troubles, did a pretty good job of getting us to the right place at approximately the right time, until on our last day he ran out of petrol on the Angkor Highway. This meant that we had to push the contraption to the nearest roadside shack, where he borrowed a bike (and $2 from us as he had no money), cycle back down the road to where a lady sits roadside with a table full of old whiskey bottles full of petrol in the baking sun, and cycle back to us. But we got there in the end and carried on with our work. We ended up working with pretty large groups at Spitler school as word had got around about something interesting happening.

At Kurata school particularly Barbara organised some supplementary activities. Here she is directing ‘The Three Bears’ with a sleeping Goldilocks on the right.

And teaching the ankle-snapping kindergarten children ‘Heads and Shoulders’ with teacher Ratha. Notice the smart new donated uniforms- a bit on the large side but they have to last for a year or two.

I said in my last blog that the boys seemed to have more interest in making dolls out of old bottles than the girls, but when the girls got going, they totally outshone the boys.

So we feel we have left some sort of legacy- a craft room full of lively work by the students.

And a lot of children had a wonderful time exploring their creativity and conversing a little in English.
In the early hours of last Thursday a lorry driver crashed into 11 power pylons near the Thai border, thus removing all available electricity from Siem Reap province. Since then we have had very occasional mains electricity. This is not so much of a problem for the big hotels as they have their generators to fall back on but for small guest houses like ours, run by a very enterprising Cambodian, Chantou, it can spell disaster as many of his guests moved into more expensive hotels with generators. We have stuck it out and with a little ingenuity and stoicism, it’s not much of a problem. Eventually Chantou took the plunge and yesterday, Saturday, bought a small generator, enough for fans and light - probably a wise investment and people are sure to come back.
There are strong arguments for staying in a locally run Guest House like Horizons rather than a 3 or 4 star hotel - apart from the obvious one of cost. Firstly, it gives young enterprising Cambodians the chance to better themselves - and their extended families. Also, they are so much more sociable. For example, a retired Aussie couple, Terry and Sylvia, who had been working in an orphanage, left last week and organised a little farewell party for the guests and Chantou’s very extended family - a lovely evening with raucous songs from us westerners.

  And, when they could eventually be persuaded, some delicate love duets from the Cambodians. 

I can’t imagine this happening in the lobby of the grand Hotel.

What with power cuts and unseasonable rain I think it is time to move on after 4 wonderful weeks working at Spitler and Kurata Schools.