Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Leaving Siem Reap

 This is probably our final posting, as we're off back to the UK now and will not be returning to Cambodia in the near future.  We've really enjoyed our time here, working with the teachers and children of  Spitler School and contributing what we could over the years.  It's become increasingly difficult for Loll to get out to the schools now, however, as her neck problems have made cycling the 40 minute trip impossible - and tuk-tuks over the rough terrain are not much better!  Anyway, everything is functioning well and the school will  continue to thrive with the support of donors and, increasingly, the government of Cambodia. 

Although we won't be able to update the blog from Siem Reap, we hope that we will receive news from Sarin and the teachers so that we can add the occasional update.  Sarin, Ann Hoy, Sineth and Ratha also agreed to send us material for the blog when we last met: so make sure you do, guys! It would be good to hear the experiences of new volunteers as well as from the children in the school.

So: don't go away!

The last few weeks of our stay in Siem Reap always seem to creep upon us rather quickly. We try to get jobs done, complete some tasks and set up for the following few months whilst we're away. While Nick and Jim were busy grappling with timetables, Loll was doing a final shop for hygiene and first aid equipment. The aides were well positioned to choose carefully the resources needed from the pharmacy on Road 6 and then a trip followed into Phsar Leu, the big market. It was important to involve the Hygiene Aides in this trip, especially following the Australian nurses training, as Loll wanted them confident for future shopping expeditions as she knew this was going to be her last trip out to Siem Reap. No need to have worried! They knew a good bargain and had lots of ideas of things to buy that would ensure a healthier and cleaner environment for our children. Whilst out shopping it emerged that our Aide in Spitler School was pregnant but had already sorted out a replacement when she is on maternity leave. The initiative of these two wonderful women leaves one gasping sometimes.

Our newest residence!
As long term volunteers we have experienced lots of different accommodation, from a large,shared, tiled four bedroom house, to guest houses, hotels and a wooden Khmer style apartment. Each area we have explored has opened our eyes to the different life styles in Siem Reap. Having advertised as potential  "house sitters" before we came out on facebook, we were approached by an Australian saying he was staying in the best place around and it would be free most of October and November. He approached his landlady and a deal was agreed that was mutually advantageous.

Around Taphul Road

Local petrol station.

So that's how we came to be living on Taphul Road in a laundry! And indeed it was a great place to stay. Despite the increasing proximity to each other in our bijou studio apartment, and the comments about the red light district we were moving into, we had a wonderful time. The family adopted us, chatted, showed us their homework, and sometimes shared their meals. This was a khmer family that really was unusually open, funny, demonstrative and always helpful. A pleasure to have got to know them.

We also wanted to make a final visit to the temples; we chose Angkor Wat and the Bayon Temple as our favorites. Accompanied by our "adopted son", Khemrak, we spent a lovely, hot morning drinking in the atmosphere of these two great places. We have known Khemrak from our very first trip out to Cambodia, working in the guest house we stayed in and struggling to complete his university studies. Although he has since dropped out from university and gone on to manage another highly successful guest house he knows that we will support him through his studies if he chooses to return. It's a reminder of how hard poor students have to work in Cambodia in order to achieve anything. And how many people drop out of education as they cannot  juggle all the balls that make up their difficult lives.

Siem Reap is a place full of NGOs, shops selling wares and eating places supporting a number of charities. Before we left we were drawn to visit a laquerware workshop just out from town. Like many other places this was developing skills in some of the poorest, and in this case, many hearing impaired people. We were able to watch as the Christmas presents we had bought were transformed from cheap little boxes into a work of art.

And finally, back to Spitler and Kurata schools. We have always encouraged the English teachers to take a thematic, story-based approached to English teaching, and have made much use of fairy-tales on our activity sessions (and thank goodness for YouTube, we say).  Loll's sister, Lesley, very kindly knitted some dolls to accompany some of the books, and here is a little chap on an off-hours Grade 4 English lessons, grappling with the intricacies of a double-headed Cinderella: one happy face and one sad face.  The girls also took an interest later!

Around the school life went on as usual: women could be seen in the fields near their houses laying out rice to dry and kids were fishing in still-flooded land.

Meanwhile, children from Spitler School and Kurata school continued to receive an education - an education that would simply not have been available if it had not been for the vision of Chea Sarin, supported over the years by many members of the Spitler family - and with a little help from many volunteers since the start of the school. Finally, of course, it's the teachers who make a school, and we have to say that both Spitler and Kurata school now have a complement of dedicated, hard-working and cheerful teachers, working - like all teachers in Cambodia - for a pittance.  It says something about them and the schools that they work in that so many have stayed for so many years.