Every morning we wake up, often after a night of torrential rain, to wonder if school is operating as usual now the term has really begun. The Pchum Ben festival finished on Sunday and school re-opened on Monday (having managed one day's tuition in the previous week!) Of course, we shouldn't have worried. Apart from Sineth, whose house was flooded out and his moto under water by the river, all teachers managed to get into school, even if they had to wade from their houses to their transport. The school is reasonably accessible, although the 'river' that runs through it, and over which many of the houses are built, is very high and providing some excellent, though possibly dangerous, swimming opportunities to the children.
The school is up and running and full of lively children. The high water levels throughout Siem Reap and around the school allow for the expression of one of the deepest passions of Cambodians: fishing. All along the river banks you will find young and old with rudimentary fishing rods hovering hopefully over the water, and - with more ambition - groups of men, waste deep pulling large nets through the water. Even at the gates to the school we find one young man trying his luck!
The English programme is back in full swing, although the imminent introduction of a government programme to teach English to grades 4,5 and 6 will no doubt have an impact on what we do. We have prided ourselves on the breadth of the Spitler programme, especially as we have also started to work with the youngest children - those who are in the kindergarten, a grade not found in government primary schools. Occasionally we - and the teachers - worry about how effective our teaching of these tiny children is, especially as class sizes in kindergarten can be huge, I don't think we need to worry. Here's a group of Grade 1 children (last year's kindy) who gathered around me yesterday and insisted on showing me their expertise in English. Not bad eh - and congratulations to the English teachers for persevering!
The grounds of the school, though a little submerged at present, are looking good - and we were particularly impressed with the floral decorations around the toilet area!
We were also delighted to see that the library is now fully functional here, as Sophat and Vebol (the Principal and administrator) now have their own office. The children here do not need any encouragement to come into the library and settle down with a book - so long as there are plenty of pictures.
Loll, Jim and Sarin have been meeting with the local clinic director in order to help coordinate the arrival of some nursing students from Australia who will be spending some time in Siem Reap learning about medical practices in a part of the world where health care is extremely basic. They will also be spending some time with us at the schools, providing - we hope - some basic health care training.
The clinic, which is quite near Angkor Wat, is also pretty basic, with a rather severe birthing bed and a recovery suite with double beds for the mothers and their new-born babies to lie on.
The clinic caters for six remote and very poor villages with a total population of 8158. Most people are in the lowest poverty groups of 1 and 2 and they receive free care. Others will be charged on a scale that is clear. The most common problems are breathing difficulties, diarrhoea, cholera, TB, Malaria, Dengue Fever, stomach problems, skin infections, insect bites, parasites and itching. Women also give birth and are looked after afterwards at the clinic.