I'm clean again.............

Trip Start Dec 25, 2009
Trip End Feb 08, 2010

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hooray! I am clean again!!!

It won't last long but what a treat I had yesterday – 3 hours of being scrubbed and pampered and massage to emerge white and clean once more.

Annie called it my half-way scrub.

RESOLUTION: to go again next week….

Last week’s theme at school was "The Children’s World". Having done “The World” the week before, we had soon realised that this had no real meaning for them so decided to relate more locally.

So the first creative project of the week was to draw a picture of their house. We were somewhat surprised at the quality of some of the houses until we realised that the reality was so grim that some of the children had gone off into fantasy land. That’s fine – we hadn’t given them rules and actually I am delighted that in their dire circumstances they have the ability to dream. This creative project became the General Studies class for the next day when we asked them to describe their homes and the items they might find in them. This brought up an interesting array of things – chickens and animals being the norm but furniture and toilet and washing facilities not often appearing…

A quick excuse here – if I lose my train of thought it is because there seem to be ants all over me and the computer this morning!!

The reading project for Monday was “The tortoise and the hare”. The kids seemed to enjoy this and also seemed to learn the message. The class was quickly divided into natural Tortoises and Hares which made them all laugh. Keeping face is a big thing here so no one wanted to be a hare!!!     

The other creative workshop topic for the week was to prepare for today’s football tournament. So now, as well as a wicked Hakka, we have a brilliant “Give me an “A”; give me an “N”, give me a “J”, give me an “A”, give me an “L”, give me an “I”. What have we got? A N J A L I” complete with decorated letters. I will try for some more photos later but as I lead the chant it might be difficult!

When we planned the week ahead, Annie and I made sure we delegated plenty to the new volunteers (4 new ones arrived – Sabrina, Karen, Nik and Sophie) including leaving them on their own for a full day on Wednesday so we could tour some of the other projects. We started our day at Green Gecko (www.greengeckoproject.org) which is truly amazing and the role model for the local Globalteer project, Grace House. Started just a few short years ago, this is now home to 60 – 70 street kids. They live here and are go off to school from here. It really is their home (even if they do have families of sorts) and the place is clean and orderly as the kids take responsibility and do their own housekeeping. And it all started with one girl buying dinner for these street kids when they were out begging… I hope to get to meet Tania before I leave. What an example!

The next project we visited was Grace House (www.gracehousecambodia.com) – set up by Globalteer to follow on the inspiration of Green Gecko. Only open just over a year it is looking hugely successful. Buildings are rapidly sprouting up all over the place and the latest project is an electrical school so the elder boys can learn a trade. What a brilliant idea this is. There is such an enormous hole in the skills available here that hopefully these boys will be assured of a steady income at the end of their education. Also at Grace House, the rest of the family are considered and some of the mothers are making items to sell (water bottle holder available for inspection on return!). Again, all the effort is going into making something lasting and not just a prop for the present (however important that may be it is NOT the answer). Until now they have only one toilet (for over 100 kids) and no kitchen. Your donations will go towards changing this.

Last, but not least, is the New Hope Community Centre. This is a small (in size, not volume) but very busy community centre in a ghetto near the main Angkor Wat temples. You really do go off into the back streets to find this one and it is clearly a real hub of activity for the local community. (www.newhopecambodia.com). There is a full time dispensary which has just taken 15 volunteer trainee nurses from Australia. There is no doctor, but the nurses can give out basic medication and will take the person to hospital if they feel the need. Remember, these people don’t even have the means to get to the local hospital. Often the disease is detected too late……… We met another amazing lady here – Kerry. She is bubbling with energy and positivity in spite of the daunting task in hand. She also relates some very sad tales and her eyes mist up..  One of the children has just died from eating the poison part of a frog (the person who cooked it wrong is now missing); another tale is of a couple of young children found drowned in a local pond. They had been fishing and were found clinging to each other. Then there was the case of the father who went to the Thai border to hunt or farm (if my memory serves me well). The Thai border soldiers shot and killed him. New Hope pay funeral arrangements in many of these cases. The family of the shot father are entitled to two or three hundred dollars compensation from the Thai government………….

But there is much positive at New Hope too. They hold workshops for the older kids who will cycle miles to attend an advanced English or Computer class after school. Some company in Australia has donated some old laptops so there are a fair number of computers here and solar power had been set up to run them. There is a sewing room and a cookery school. As with all the projects, there is a weekly rice drop for all the families so that the kids don’t have to beg to eat. Great stuff!

Then on Friday as a special treat (thanks again Lay Hoon - from the kids and all the volunteers who shared the day) we took the kids to The Cambodia Cultural Centre. This is a sort of theme park with a miniature Phnom Penh and various Khmer displays – theatre; a wedding; Apsara dancing etc etc. Plus, of course Superman; King Kong and Tom and Jerry thrown in for good measure. Not forgetting the unforgettable Tunnel of Judgement…..

So at 8 in the morning we piled the morning kids into the flat bed truck and off we set. We brought this lot back at 11:30, they showered and we all lunched together before they went off to school and the afternoon lot piled in the truck. But not before they had heard ALL about it from the morning group.

Each one was given a bottle of water and a bun which was probably consumed before even we got there! Some had no shoes so were barefoot. Goodness knows what the rich tourists thought (some were photographing us). Everyone was excited but the afternoon lot more than the morning as they had been briefed. We certainly got some odd looks – a flat bed truck full of kids is no rare sight but with half a dozen “barang” (foreigners) looming over the heads of the kids we did rather draw attention. So lots of waving was called for….

As is the way, there was some administrative hassle to get us all in. The children are priced by height so all had to be measured. I couldn’t figure out whether we were losing or gaining children but it was fairly chaotic and arguing with their figures would only have delayed things!

Once inside the children had a ball. It has to be said that they loved the simple things – feeding the fish; playing in the park; climbing on King Kong. Then we passed the Tunnel of Judgement……

This was extra but faced with a gaggle of kids begging to go in, a couple of volunteers agreed to pay. It was like a haunted house. We shuffled the first lot in innocently. A bit like lambs to the slaughter. We would know better for the afternoon lot…..

I was last in and there were a couple of the younger girls holding back. I naively said that it would be fun and not to worry. IT WAS AWFUL. As soon as you entered, it was pitch dark. I couldn’t see a thing. To assure the 2 little one I fumbled in my bag for my Dominion Marine torch (bit of free publicity there Catherine) but it was too late. There were actor monsters and groans in all directions. The girls (actually, second thoughts read everyone for this) were terrified and one of the little ones was sobbing her heart out. I picked her up in my arms to reassure her and then tried to exit the way we had come in but by now the way was blocked by monsters that wouldn’t stop even though the whole group was screaming and many were already crying. As we fumbled through the dark, I could feel at least half a dozen pairs of hands holding on to me or my clothes. It was bumpy under foot so I had to be careful not to fall. The little one in my arms was not so little after a while but there was no question of putting her down. My arms are testament to this even 2 days later. Actually I don’t think I can do justice to this situation because it might sound like fun but it wasn’t. They don’t understand “make believe” here and they are taught to believe in ghosts. All I can say is that that time in the dark trying to “save” a group of terrified children will stay with me for ever. I can see how quickly a serious incident can occur in a crowd of terrified people). We emerged physically unscathed, emotionally wrecked and, in some cases, missing a flip flop or two!! One little girl cried for ages afterwards. The outing in the afternoon was voluntary (the kids having now heard about it) – I stayed outside with the little ones, but apparently it was not much less traumatic!

We needed to find a high point to complete the morning outing as we did not want them having this scare as their last memory, so we went to the Khmer Wedding Ceremony where I was chosen to join the cast as mother of the groom!! In the normal world I would have declined. But I wasn’t in the normal world and there were 30 kids to be cheered up. So off I went up to the stage……. I had to sit as part of the wedding party, do the symbolic hair cutting and hand washing and then dance. Photographic evidence provided courtesy of one of the girls (on my camera). Actually the highlight for me was to be able to see the smiles back on the kids’ faces again. They loved it. All is well that ends well………

As I said things were a little easier in the afternoon. This time there was more going on (and less pressure to be back in time) so we managed the tunnel; a wedding and some theatre. Plus of course time at the playground area.

It was a fantastic day and we all said that we had had an amazing experience and in an odd sort of way we feel closer to the kids having shared the tunnel trauma with them. It certainly gave us a greater insight into their culture. My only hope is that they didn’t all have nightmares afterwards! Me? I think I passed out with exhaustion at around 9pm!!

On a slightly separate (but related) note – we were advised of an eclipse for the afternoon lot. Information was decidedly sketchy but we were told that complete panic would set in if it got dark. With this in mind, we arranged to be inside at the appropriate hour. We needn’t have worried – it was only very partial here.

Well Annie will be home by now. It wasn’t the same without her last night and she will be missed at the football today but her hakka will live on!!!
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Julia on

Hi Marianne - I've really enjoyed reading your blog - you'vealmost made it feel as we've been with there with you too - what a fantastic experience you've had and equally what a fantastic time the children have had with you being there for them for these 6 weeks or so. You must be so sad to leave but just imagine what an experience they've had with you and the memories they'll treasure from your trip.

Annie on

Reading this made me even more homesick ... oh, no, I am home ... I mean Siem Reap-sick! I particularly loved the clean feet picture!

marianner on

Yeh, I loved the clean feet too.
Sadly they are no more and the red nail varnish has a constant coat of dust to protect it!!

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