I have now done half of my time away and must admit that the past few weeks have flown, which is nice in some respects as I have many lovely things to come home to and sad in others because there will never be a trip like this again. I am beginning to wrap up my time at placement and set dates to deliver some of the training which I will be facilitating before I go. This should be an interesting experience given that I only speak English and most of the course attendees speak mainly Khmer with a little English intertwined! I am sure it will be fine but the role play will certainly be interesting’…..
I have continued to spend time out in the communities visiting people and observing the social workers provide support and assistance. I have got used to hopping on and off Mr Chea’s moto and making our way through busy little town areas. One visit we went on the other day was very saddening. The families were boat people who had moored down a quiet part of the river. There was a mother, father and two children age apprx 8 and 10. When we arrived, I could see that their boat was upturned and on the river bank. It had broken and would take about 3 weeks to fix. The family was living on a wooden platform of no more than 6 foot square, sheltering under the makeshift roof of their boat, which again, could be no more than 6 foot long and two foot wide. They were exposed to all the elements, no privacy, their belongings stacked up under the makeshift shelter. The little girls was poorly with a fever and resting on the platform out of the sun. She was asleep and did not look well. The flies kept landing on her face and once again, I had another moment of thinking how well indulged and cared for most of us are when we get sick. What a different life……
I am looking forward to this week as we have a community dental programme taking place over two days. Basically an international organization of student dentitions comes over every year offering dental checks to the children registered within Riverkids school programmes and also to children resident within the slum communities who do not access our programmes. This has been taking place for several years. The dental hygiene of most children ion Cambodia is pretty poor. Many never clean their teeth and dental care isn’t really encouraged. As a result, I have seen many children of just a few year s old with completely rotted blackened teeth. It is a sad sight when they have such beautiful little faces but little or no teeth! I have been told that the dentist visits are always a little frantic, with children escaping when they hear tales or cries of other children having extractions. I guess I should brace myself for some ‘crowd control’ over the next couple of days. I am going armed with some stickers and toys to encourage brave behaviour! I was told that children have been known to bite the dentist or escape out of the building so cameras at the ready!!!!!
So moving on from work and my next favourite subject of food. I must admit that but I am finding myself officially bored of rice (it has taken six weeks)! My tum continues to ache every few days and my longing for a hot water bottle remains. Rath,our cook, is lovely but she is appears to struggle with understanding the true concept of vegetarianism. Every vege meal is infiltrated by some random piece of meat and whilst she does really try to make effort in catering for our preferences there is only so much variety you can achieve using a wok and two rings!!! This is part of the reason we look forward to weekends so much, when one can shove a bit of western cuisine down one’s palate! Life in the apartment continues to be good. Quite a few of us are getting ready to move on in the next few weeks and we have already had to say bye bye to others. One girlfriend Alex left on Friday and she is missed already. You really do build quite intense friendships over here, living in such close proximity. The other day I did a whole load of washing up on the roof (which I love!). I left it all out to dry which takes no time at all. However, silly me made the mistake of leaving it on the line overnight, on the first night we have had a real rain storm in Phnom Penh. My clothes were soaked and had to be hung out (again to dry). The reason I am telling you about the rain is because, the next day when I left the apartment, I noticed that the whole place was crawling in baby frogs. For those of you who do not know, I am absolutely petrified of frogs and so an invasion of tiny ones was really quite traumatic for me. They still haven’t left completely, as I almost stepped on another one when I left out this morning. This has got to be the one down side to being here so far…… (oh and missing my friends and family too).
The last two weekends have been pretty good. I travelled to Siem Reap on Friday just gone. We took the overnight sleeper bus and I loved it. Forget about seats, you get a whole little bed to yourself! It was fab, even though I didn’t sleep for any of the journey (maybe too excited….) We stayed in a lovely guesthouse called the Golden Banana and enjoyed spending time wandering the markets in town and sleeping in a room with A/C woohoo!!!. We also went sunset Quad Biking through the Paddy fields which was just amazing. The instructors take you out on a little mock driving test before we set off; I passed ok but was gas happy as ever! Anyway, the dirt tracks we rode on were amazing, the sights I saw on route were fab too. Little old women tending to their rice fields, young children rounding up water buffalo at sunset and bringing them back home. It was just brilliant.
I got up at 4.30am on Sunday morning to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat. That was pretty special too, although my camera will never do justice to the lights and silhouettes….. However, by about 11am Sacha and I were flagging so we decided to quit the temples at noon. We did get to visit the one where tomb raider was filmed and we were also lucky enough to see some monkey’s on route back to our guesthouse. Ok, I did get a little scared when they came right up to the tuk tuk and thoughts of contracting rabies whilst trying to get a pic of a cute little chimp crossed my mind! Had my usual pedi and mani in town and am now wondering how my nails will survive when I get back to England cos I definitely wont be able to finance this little luxury long term!!!
We have birthday celebrations next weekend for Michelle’s 26th . We will be toasting her celebrations on a private boat which we have hired to sail along the Tonle Sap for four hours! It has a sun deck to boot so I think it’s gonna fab…… my tan could do with a little topping up!
So, I think that’s just about all for now but a few little shout outs to end
- Happy Anniversary mum and dad (another year of wedded bliss you two are doing very well)
- Hello to all at work, I do think of you all
- Ju, I love you, Paulie and Leo and cant wait to see you all.
- Clare, happy belated birthday, has baby made an appearance yet?
- My girlies, look forward to seeing you all at Kat’s birthday bash once I’m back!
- Lucie Grace – Happy second birthday my darling, sorry Auntie Cal could not come to your party on Saturday but will give you lots of kisses when I am back!
- Chloe Mae – miss you too lots of kisses for my big girl also (mummy and daddy can have some too)
- Nan, make sure you and granddad take care and get rid of that nasty cough.
- Si – Easy on the curries and cheer up
So I have been in Cambodia since the 31st of January. I spent my first two days in Phnom Penh awaiting another volunteer so that I wouldn't have to make the trek to the island alone. My trip from Japan to the island included.. a 2 hour flight back to Tokyo, a 7 hour flight to Bangkok, 10 hours in the Bangkok airport and a 1 hour flight to Phnom Penh. Then I took a 5 hour bus ride to the south of Cambodia and took a 2 hour boat ride to the island. - It was a long couple of days.
Once I arrived at the island I was greeted by Elyse who has already been there for a month. It was very nice to see a familiar face after a few weeks on my own. I was given the low-down on what the project is all about and a tour of my new home for the next month.
The island has a local population of about 200 people. The project was created to help sustain the food sources for the village. Prior to the project, over fishing was a very large threat in depleting their main food source. The project has taught local people the skills for sustainable fishing and also focuses on the tracking of fish species and of course sea horses. Since the project started they have seen many species of fish return keeping their food supply plentiful.
The project also focuses on waste managemnet and english education for the locals. Also.. all the data collected about the protected sea horses and fish species living in their waters and on the reefs are being used for a student writing his masters thesis in America.
A typical day on the island includes 2 1 hour dives and 1 clean up and/or jungle trek. There is also a lot of hammock, sun tanning and nap time :) We are fed on the island by local women hired to cook for us. The food is good, but very repetitive. There is some relief though if needed.. there is a guest house that serves western food or you can go into the village for some noodles.
I am now an open water certified Diver.. I dove 7 times last week and saw many new fishies and plants. There are 4 reef spots where we dive that are within a 10 minute boat ride from the island. I am starting my Advanced course on Monday. So I will be an advanced open water diver by the end of next week. In the next 3 weeks I should dive about 30 times!
My living accomodations are quite different than what I am used to, but I am happy. I sleep in a bungelow with 2 bunk beds and a washroom. Our bathroom consists of a toilet and a large bucket of water. We use the bucket as a shower also.. (It has a smaller bucket to dump water on yourself with). It is kind of chilly at times but surprisingly refreshing. Each bungelow has a porch and every person has their own hammock to relax in. No one wears shoes really.. ever. There is no power, no mirrors and definitely no internet. My front yard is the beach and my backyard is the jungle. I am afraid to go into my back yard though...
THE SPIDERS... I have only seen 2 since I have been there and they weren't in my bungelow and only about the size of a daddy long leg. I have yet to find any creepy crawlies in my clothes or bed.. (although I am a nazi about keeping my bug net tucked in at all times!) Each bungelow houses a few geckos.. which may seem creepy but they keep to themselves and eat all the bugs so.. I'm a fan :) It is pretty fun watching the geckos do their thing (please refer to fb video).. haha.. its surprising how entertaining a gecko hunting actually is.
Right now I am on the mainland for the weekend.. so I could get some different food and the internet. I doubt I will come back in the next three weeks though.. there isn't a lot to see in the small town I am in so it isn't really worth coming back to. I will update again once I return to civilization!
Well it’s been a while since I last ‘blogged’. Apologies to anyone who was waiting in anxious anticipation! I have now been in Cambodia for almost five months and have to admit that time is beginning to fly. It’s amazing how the days roll into one and before you know it another weekend is upon me. The heat is climbing and it is harder to sleep at night now my rock hard bed is not helping either. I think that the temperatures have safely climbed into the 30’s and for once I must say that I am glad to not feel compelled to venture out into it every day. My one hour sun fix on the roof of our apartment every lunchtime suffices until the weekend when I might hit the beach, or a hotel pool in the city.
I have spent most of this week in the office as the social workers are undertaking training around the Chab Dai Charter. This is basically a collaition of various NGO’s committed to stopping child trafficking. Chab Dai is seeking to put in place some standards which all affiliates can work towards in order to ensure consistency of good practice. It is times like these when I really wish I spoke Khmer as I could join the training, but instead I have been working on drafting various training courses and other learning/development materials to assist the social workers in their future role. This is normally ok, except for the fact that this week we have had an excessive amount of power cuts this week which can last anything up to three hours. During this time there is little which can be done.
Last week, I spent more time out visiting the local community. We followed up some families whose children had not been attending school and tried to determine the reasons for their absence. It would seem that lots of the older boys want to spend time with their peers at the local gaming arcades or else they simply can’t be bothered to commit to learning, which is a shame is given the fact that education appears to be the only key to breaking this abject poverty and destitution all around me. The more I talk and walk and visit places the more the country amazes me. Over here, you cannot get health care unless you pay for it. Considering that it costs about $30 (apprx one week’s salary) just to get an ambulance to take you to hospital in the event of an emergency, there is little hope for many of meeting the prices for treatment once they arrive there. I cannot believe that ambulances will leave people at the front entrance of a hospital and if you don’t have the funds then you don’t get a bed or any decent treatment.
The other day, I met a woman and her son (about 17 yrs old). What struck me about the woman was the fact that she had terrible scarring on her face and a very uncomfortable looking brace/pin contraption holding her left leg together. It looked like a breeding ground for bacteria given the dirt and unsanitary environment in which many people live and work. I asked how she has sustained her injuries and was told that she had been hit by a car crossing a busy road opposite the slum area where she lives. I have crossed this road CAREFULLY several times on visits to the slums and can totally understand how she may have got mowed down. Anyway, it turns out that the woman did not have the money to pay for her treatment. Riverkids was able to support in paying the fee to get her to hospital. But once she arrived, it took a further day before the head of her already poor slum community could mobilize financial support from other (poor) community members in order to raise the finances for her treatment. Yes it is ironic how even people with nothing, will pool together to help their neighbours during times of crisis. During the 24 hrs which elapsed between her reaching hospital and the funds being forthcoming, the woman was left on the floor at the front doors of the hospital building. It’s such a far cry from the service we get back at home. People may moan about the NHS but come and visit Cambodia then you will realize that you have never had it so good! Another thing I leant whilst talking to this woman was the sad reality that victims of road traffic accidents are rarely helped by the person who knocks them over. It is commonplace and relatively normal for (young) drivers to simply drive off after an accident. It does not matter if the victim is an adult, child, injured, maimed or dead, they still wont stop and offer assistance. For many, this stems from fear of reprisal or being accosted to finance hefty medical bills. Oh my gosh, I just can’t believe that the value on human life is so low.
Anyway this blog may sound like doom and gloom but I really want people to understand that things that are happening over here and have your eyes opened in the same way mine have been over the past five weeks.
Cambodia still has many amputee victims of people who are so severely disabled that they cannot walk or really even mobilize themselves alone. They are viewed as social degenerates by wider society. On Sunday afternoon, I saw an elderly man, who was very badly paralysed laying in the gutter of the road. He could not walk, had no wheelchair and his only means of transport was to tether himself to a makeshift skateboard and journey along the road (a very busy road I would like to add), maneuvering himself with frail arms, whilst his redundant legs dragged along the ground behind him. Sights like this really do break my heart and knowing there is little I can do as one individual to remedy it is even more frustrating. The sad reality is that old man is one of many. …..
Child begging out here is also rife. Women with new born babies in grimy makeshift papooses will come and beg open handed for money. Small children of no more than three will wander aimlessly along the road looking for a compassionate foreigner to drop them a dollar or so. It is amazing to think that in such a developed day and age people still have to face such grim social pressures and injustices. For children, childhood innocence does not appear to exist, they are born into a world of poverty and survival. Once again however, I must stress that even the most impoverished families whom I have visited always make room in their homes and hearts to greet you with open arms. I can understand why so many people visit Cambodia and want to help effect change because the Cambodian people are so gra teful for anything given to them. We visited a Vietnamese boat family a couple of weeks back and they were just so welcoming and appreciative of the few clothes we took and the opportunity to be visited and have someone enquire after their welfare. Sometimes, these kinds of visit feel like true social work practice. Who needs to write along report about it afterwards? Who cares? What matters at the time is touching someone’s life…….
Ok, so as you can guess this place really does move me. But I will be moving on shortly in another direction. I am travelling on from Cambodia to Vietnam in just under four weeks time. Myself and another volunteer will be setting off to Ho Chi Minh City, then taking a flight to Nha Trang for some chill out time at the beaches. We will then be flying on to Hanoi and journeying to Halong Bay to check out the gorgeous crystal waters and tiny islands which make up the place. I am really looking forward to seeing some outstanding natural beauty. Much as I love Phnom Penh, the traffic and pollution is doing nothing for my lungs or hair! ( I had a haircut the other day too. A dry cut is a costly $4 but I pushed the boat out and paid $8 for a shampoo and set (ok maybe not the set, but the shampoo was nice!)
A group of us took the 5 hr journey down to coastal Sianhoukville a couple of weeks back. It was lovely to spend time on the beach and just generally chill out. But I have to admit the beach was nothing on Thailand….Sorry Cambodia but despite your white sand and clear waters, it still only came a close second. Whilst I enjoyed the trip there, I did get caught by the wrath of the dodgy Cambodian belly. But hey, everyone says that you get it at least once whilst you are here and if that was my dose then I am glad it happened sooner rather than later! I don’t know how Cambodian people function without toilet paper though!!!!!
I am off to Siem Reap next weekend, to take in Angkor Wat and go quad biking. Should be much fun, just hope the bus journey is not too unbearable. Whilst I love the Cambodian people, their penchant for hard boiled eggs in very confined spaces was not appreciated, nor the scent of eau de toilette emanating from the very compact and unappealing toilet cubicle stationed in the undercarriage of the bus!
So what else can I say to summarize me time so far….
1) I still love rice, but prefer it hot to cold and had a sticky variety last night which was quite palatable if a tad chewy
2) I am tool old to stay out partying in nightclubs until 3.30am! But can say I have done it at least once this trip.
3) I am completely accustomed to cold showers and will be switching off my hot water supply upon return to England.
4) I am no longer surprised by anything I see on the back of a motorbike
5) I spend far less money here than I do in England
6) I love my mum for sending me some hair serum and a big bar of galaxy chocolate!
7) Whilst I am most enjoying my time away but gutted to have missed the first cuddles with my best friends Julie and Paul’s brand new baby boy Leo. Auntie Cal love him from afar though….always remember that!
Anyway, over and out for now folks.
Projects Abroad was set up in Cambodia in 2006 and since its inception the number of volunteers has increased dramatically. Projects Abroad brings help and hope to children and has the potential to reach many more. With the participation of our volunteers from around the world, we have seen some positive changes at most of the placements.
Cambodia is still a developing country which requires a great deal of external assistance therefore; Projects Abroad has successfully cooperated with numerous placements in Phnom Penh to provide more support. Given the success of Phnom Penh placements, Projects Abroad would like to expand, by beginning to offer some placements of Care and Teaching in Siem Reap, beginning in 2012. So far we has managed to be a partner with six different care and teaching placements in Siem Reap. One of the advantages of working in Siem Reap is its proximity to the temples of Angkor and allows volunteers the chance to soak up a great deal of Cambodian history.
The arrangements in Siem Reap are very similar to those in Phnom Penh. The volunteers will stay at an apartment, where they will sleep and eat both lunch and dinner together. Like in Phnom Pehn volunteers meals will be provided by a cook and they will be transported to and from work by projects abroad drivers. Safety continues to be a major concern of Projects Abroad and all measures are taken to assure the same standards in Siem Reap.
As of January 2012, there are approximately about ten volunteers working in Siem Reap. Current volunteers are enjoying the Siem Reap placements. At this juncture there is only one permanent Projects Abroad staff in Siem Reap. This is Roeun Bunrouen, whose job it is to pick volunteers up from the bus station, orient them and solve any problems which might arise. With any luck the program will continue to expand.
It turns out that three weeks go very quickly. Unfortunately I have not had much time to blog or upload photos; I have been too busy enjoying myself and too busy watching a terrible series of events unfold at my orphanage. The situation at my placement is probably not something I should tell to the World Wide Web. Just trust me in saying that I've witnessed a lot of evil, corruption and inconsideration.
The other parts of my trip have been hilarious and fun- the best experiences of my life. I owe this to the volunteers in my apartment. "Apartment 6, we don't give a shit!"
Louis de Bernieres writes in Captain Corelli's Mandolin:
You come to know every nuance of each other's moods; you know exactly what the other is going to say; you know exactly who will laugh and for how long over which particular type of joke; you acquaint yourself intimately with the smell of each man's feet and perspiration; you can put your hand on someone's face in the dark, and know who it is; you recognize someone's equipment hanging on the back of the chair, even though his is the same as everyone else's; you can tell whose stubble it is in the washing bowl; you know precisely who will swap you a carrot for your potato, a packet of cigarettes for your spare pair of socks, a postcard of Sienna for a pencil. You become accustomed to seeing each other frankly, and nothing is hidden.
and I feel it is all too similar to apartment life. I will miss them all so much.
That is all from me. Until the next time I visit, hopefully very soon,
Visit Our Main Sites
Be Our Friend