Thursday, February 26, 2009

A new venture

Leaving Cambodia in April is going to be extremely difficult. We have adapted to life quite well here and most of the time have relished the experience. However, our links with Cambodia will not be broken - far from it. In fact we now have a new charity(!) that we have set up. We are currently doing research on the situation of children who live in prisons in Cambodia. The aim will be to establish a project that will provide these children with a safe and clean environment in which to live, free from violence, with access to education and to medical/social care. The project will be run by Cambodians but managed from the UK.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Kampot break

This week I had a break from school (half term) and so went back to one of my favourite places to visit in Cambodia - Kampot.

Kampot is a beautiful small town with lots of character and lovely old colonial buildings. My first impression of Kampot, nearly a year ago left me unimpressed but the charm of the town has grown on me and now I think it is great!

The old bridge in Kampot was bombed and so what remains is 3 different bridges all put together.

It rained! - The first rain since the end of the wet season sometime in October
The main reason to go was to try (again) to get up Bokor Mountain. Bokor is a National Park with a deserted old hill station built by the French including ruins of a casino and a church. A large chunk of Bokor has however been sold to a developer and for a while access has been refused to tourists.

Last time I visited Kampot it was still possible to walk up but as it was a two day hike I didn't fancy it... This time I was prepared to hike but now the developer's security guards have stopped people even walking up to visit the ruins. No doubt when its open again it will have turned into a tacky resort rather than an "abandoned hill station".

So, with Bokor being impossible the alternatives were lazing about with a book, cycling through the nearby villages and a sunset river cruise.

The cycling was great. The sun however was scorching. I have forgotten how fierce the Cambodian sun can be because its the start of the hot season again and also because when I'm in Phnom Penh you are never outside for a long period of time.

The roads were not too dusty thanks to the strange rain but it was hot and rough in parts.

Over 2 days we cycled over rocky roads and into Muslim Communities (known as Cham in Khmer). "Hellohowareyouwhatisyourname!" was called at least every 10 metres by kids and adults alike. Most Cambodians in the rural areas do not know what this even means so (in true teacher format) I try to throw back the answer in Khmer hoping they might start to understand what they are saying! After 3 hours this gets a little waring though.

One group of kids were particularly amusing though. About 10 children returning from school screamed in joy when they saw foreigners. I spoke to them in broken Khmer and they looked at me as though I was an alien - to the extent that I wondered whether they spoke Khmer at all! Eventually there was a break through and then my camera was an object of delight for them.

Tort Roop? [photograph?]

We then came to the end of the road. The trucks carrying stone up to the new resort came thundering past over a bridge that looked like it might break any moment. Rocks perched high on the trucks looked like they could just plop off any second and flatten anyone nearby. Returning the way we came we came back to the school kids again who ran with the bikes holding hands (try cycling with 10 kids all wanting to grab you).

A welcome drink at this oddly placed roadside stall with the trucks hurtling past - The driver was very busy staring at the white people but he managed to keep it on the road

Later the cruise up the river, through the fishing village to the ocean. In order to get onto the boat we had to climb down a make shift ladder (a piece of wood with a few nails) onto the boat (ominously partially filled with water) Our driver then nearly caused us to crash into a moored police boat - never a good idea. He did not appear to understand the dynamics of a rudder.

My confidence was not increased by the fact that 5 minutes into the journey he let out a sound that "said" - "ohhh - how could I have been so foolish as to forget to put on my helmet!"... and then he picked up his motorcycle helmet and put it on - Yes, he put it on, without a hint that it was more than a little odd, even though we were on a boat in the middle of a river. Ummmm - After so long here you do just generally stop asking yourself the question "why?" when you see something strange but sometimes you just can't help but wonder!!

Anyway, the fishing village was interesting and we went out to a sand bank in the ocean and had a paddle before returning for sundowners.
Now where did I put my helmet?
Our boat with Bokor in the distance

Monday, February 16, 2009

People watching

There is never a dull moment from our balcony.... I'll miss people watching when we return to the UK.

Balloon sellers

Delivery by Cyclo

Food sellers, plastic wares sellers, balloon sellers, school buses and unhatched ducking snack sellers (a popular snack..), the local shop - all at the same time. Other sellers include: bread man, CD man, feather duster man, coconut man...

Changing of the guards at our flat (about 6am) - The man on the bike has just finished the night shift

And the (almost) ever present moto men - There are 4 main guys.

Its started to heat up properly here and temperatures are now about 30 degrees. The hot season isn't supposed to start until March but it is so sticky and hot already. This week is half term at my new school so tomorrow the plan is to head out of town and escape the dust and heat. I'm looking forward to a holiday - afterall its been about 3 weeks since the last!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Day hits Cambodia

In Phnom Penh street side stalls quickly appear from no where to cater for the "must have" of the day/week/month etc.

For example, when the police started to fine people for not wearing helmets many stall owners started to sell helmets and made a tidy profit as (nearly) everyone rushed to buy one. Some might think Valentine's day is a day of romance etc but here it seems to be the day to make a quick buck. On most streets there is a rose seller or two (...or ten) encouraging young Khmers to buy one for their sweethearts.
A large Khmer nightclub, called Rock, is also having a Valentine's special. You can take your date to the "night" club between 1pm and 6pm this afternoon and get two free soft drinks!!

Roses for sale by the side of one of the main roads

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Prey Sar Prison

At the weekend we took a visit to the Phnom Penh prison. The prison is not too far from the Killing Fields on the edge of town. It is a "model" prison because lots of NGOs come to monitor it. There is a women's, men's and youth prison. Even though it is a "role model" prison it doesn't mirror a western prison at all.

On the way

We were lucky to go because of a University Project which is presently helping the youth offenders recognise the importance of law and their rights. The Project is very impressive. It is run by students at a Cambodian University - This in itself is great to see as so much is done by international NGOs which could be done by Cambodians themselves. The Project was very professional and the ideas that they are running and the way they are running the workshops are excellent. They have about 60 children attend so the class is BIG! Last weekend they were studying the rights of the child.

The gates of the prison

You can read more about the Project here

We then met with the prison director to discuss our ideas for the prison. I'll put more about this later when things are better established...

Friday, February 6, 2009

Sponsor me to swim like a Dolphin!!!

OK, so those of you who know me are aware I have not done any form of "real" exercise since leaving compulsory education (and compulsory PE) over 10 years ago. So - It is with complete madness that I shall be swimming across the Mekong river in April.

Here are some facts about the Mekong River:
  • It is the 12th-longest river in the world
  • It is the 7th longest in Asia
  • Its estimated length is 4,350 km (2,703 mi) [to be fair I did say I was swimming across it not up it]
  • The extreme seasonal variations in flow and the presence of rapids and waterfalls have made navigation extremely difficult.
  • More than 1,200 species of fish have been identified and there could be possibly as many as 1,700. The fish there are BIG... in fact...
  • No other river is home to so many species of very large fish - The giant Mekong Catfish is one of them (below). And if that's not enough...
  • A rare type of crocodile lives in it
I have never understood why anyone would want to train for anything that involves exercise before but now I am in "training". The reason is simple. I do not wish to drown.

Please also remember that I am extremely petrified of "creatures I cannot see in the water".

Another incentive would be for me to raise money for Cambodian Children's Projects. So if you would like to SPONSOR me (please!!!!) to swim like a dolphin rather than a beached whale please drop me an email or leave a comment below.

See they are REALLY BIG

The working week!

This week was my first working week at my new school.

The school is one of the larger international schools and I am enjoying teaching in a large primary school - run very much like a UK primary school and with a similar atmosphere. My days consist of teaching English as an Additional Language (EAL) to different groups of children who need extra practice and help with English (all lessons in the school are in English). The lessons are only half an hour long which means there is never a slow moment!

Half of my new classroom
This weekend we are going to a women's prison to accompany some university students and look at the conditions of the women and their children. I am looking forward to seeing the "facilities" they have first hand.
This week I made another appearance in a PP publication "Asia Life". Asia Life is basically a monthly expat magazine that everyone (expat) reads but runs practically the same articles over and over. Its a bit irritating as sometimes it it highlights how shallow expat life can be - Its particularly annoying that you see the same people in it again and again. This is mainly because some of the photos are set up e.g friends of the photographer and secondly because there is a limited pool of people to be photographed at the limited expat events they cover!
Well this month it was me gracing its "social" pages - with my Martini in hand (of course). The event was the opening of a new club in the grounds of Gasolina - a favourite place of mine in PP's NGO-land: Bong Keng Kong. It seems like a good idea for a new bar particularly as Elsewhere - a bar which is an "institution" for some expats is closing shortly. It supposedly has legendary monthly Friday parties. I say legendary because I have never been...Tonight is the last one so....

Please note the US president shares the page with me - ha ha!!

Oh finally, on an amusing note - I've discovered Korea has a World Toilet Association (WTA) - They are claiming to be building what is said to be PP's "pilot" public toilet. However, this is simply not the case (!) there is a public urinal just by the National Museum - I think built in 1937 (so French...).
The building despite only having a partially formed brick wall is probably already in full use - Other facilities are simply not needed. The general approach by moto drivers and the like is to just go on any old wall that is available. The WTA can therefore claim that the "pilot" project is a success even if people will not go inside to use it!!!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Australian and New Zealand Photos

I took a few photos in Australia and New Zealand - They are here if you are interested.

Roadshow - CCH

Today I went with CCH to one of their roadshows. I have not been to one before because they involve getting up at 6am on a Saturday or Sunday. However, this weekend I managed!

We travelled from CCH in the truck that would later turn into the stage for the roadshow. At the roadshow the children from CCH teach vulnerable groups about child rights, HIV, domestic violence, drugs, trafficking - It is very worthwhile.

The village that we went to was one of the villages set up to cater for people who have been forceably evicted. By chance the people in this area came from the Dey Krahorm area I mentioned in my earlier post a few days ago.

The final people from this district were evicted this week but some have moved to this area provided by the company who evicted them/the governement about 3 years go. On arrival you can tell it is a village that is the result of an eviction.

The "houses" are all in ordered plots and it has a very temporary feel to it. It is also generally in the middle of nowhere - no water and no electricity. The people are extremely poor. There are no jobs in the middle of nowhere.

At the Roadshow first there is a traditional dance, followed by a role play to educate the audience in an entertaining way, some audience participation and then reading, drawing and oragami. All the CCH children knew what they were doing and soon after we arrived the entertainment for the people of the village was underway. There was well over 100 kids together with mums, dads, grannies etc.

The CCH roadshow is very pracical in the advice that it gives and it talks about very real dangers that these people face. It is extremely worthwhile and the children from CCH appear to enjoy giving something back to the type of communities that they came from. One of the young people from CCH told me how sometimes there is only a small audience on Sundays because if a church visits they go to that event instead because there is food available at the end. This highlighted to me even more the way in which these people are very vunerable not just in terms of HIV/drugs etc but also in terms of the information that they can be subjected to...because they are so poverty stricken they can be manipulated to attend events contrary to their own religious beliefs so that they get food - they then miss out on information that may save their lives. I hope that the church groups are doing something more constructive than just teaching about Jesus because in Cambodia, quite frankly, this is just not enough to get you through.

Here are a few of the pictures I took... there are a few!

Oragami folding lesson
Happy children after the roadshow - The discovered the camera and could not get enough pictures!

Drawing class in progress - the house in the background must belong to some one "important" as none of the other houses were anything like this one - People were living in shacks made of thatching and iron.

Children of all ages learn about corrpution!

Listening carefully to the education via comedy role play!
It was funny! (and also in Khmer so I am guessing by the laughs)

He's only 11 but playing the part in the role play of a man who has slept around and so caused his wife to catch HIV. Heavy but important issues.

Hands up if you know.... The participants got a note book and pencil
CCH kids Apsara Dancing

The village