Monday, December 11, 2006

Deb - Volunteer Update # 3 (December, 2006)

I was assigned an alternate school at another temple approximately 5km out of town as the Wat Thmei temple is being used for another purpose this week. The new classroom and surrounding area is actually quite pretty (relatively speaking). I must be getting used to the surroundings already as it is still very poor but it is obvious that the people in this area take pride in the upkeep of their small homes (grass huts) and yards.

As with Wat Thmei there are two classes. One at 3pm and one at 4pm. The students are great. They are so eager to learn English and they try so hard.

I still have my morning class with the younger children but the class has doubled in size.
I was loaned a variety of Baby Einstein DVDs which are perfect for learning basic English words. The class became so popular we combined two classes into one for these sessions. It also reduces my preparation work significantly. In the Thursday class I included a Big Bird DVD which was a huge hit - Big Bird SingAlong. It includes the words at the bottom of the screen. The 3rd class (senior) joined in and they all did Kerioke to Big Bird. Quite funny actually.

Deb - Volunteer Update # 2 (December, 2006)

I have completed the first full week of volunteer work. It took a few days to get into the routine. When I attended the first class last Friday the classroom was a small grass hut with a mud floor. To my surprise, when I arrived Monday for the same class a new classroom had been built over the weekend. A cement structure, no windows, but of similar size, again with a mud floor. The grass hut formerly used as the classroom is now the home of the teacher who teaches this class full time.

This class is surprisingly hard to prepare for. They have no books to follow. I spend at least one hour each night trying to think of activities to do with 20 children. Thankfully, some kind folks from the US sent two full suitcases of books, pencils, crayons and flash cards to the Guest House to be used by the schools. Unfortunately some of the material can't be used as it refers to items the kids aren't at all familiar with such as skates, houses, Santa Claus, firetrucks etc. I actually resorted to teaching them how to do the Hokey Pokey last Friday which they thoroughly enjoyed but I'm sure they are still all laughing at my singing skills.

The afternoon class in the Temple is quite a bit easier. They have a book to follow and each day we complete one lesson. Learning English helps them get the better jobs in either the hotels or as tourist guides. Most of the students are quite advanced although their pronunciation is very poor as they have been taught by other Cambodians. Cambodians typically drop the last few letters of each word so the students tend to do the same with English. Example They say 'ri' vs 'rice'. Very difficult to understand.

Deb - Volunteer Update #1 (November, 2006)

Outside the morning school

Students show off their assignments

Inside the classroom

You are #1 !

Volunteer work started Friday November 24th after a month of touring Thailand and Vietnam. My last stop was Siem Reap Cambodia where I plan on volunteering for three to four weeks.

The days start with the tuk tuk driver picking us up at the Journeys Within Guest House at 8:45am for the morning classes. This week I am working with two other volunteers from California. Each of us have been assigned to separate classrooms.

The morning class is in an extremely poor area of town. I was initially shocked at the facilities and the surroundings. There are three small classrooms each approximately 10 X10 feet in size with one entrance door, no windows and no lighting other than the lighting the entrance door provides. The intermediate and senior classrooms have benches and chairs for the students. The students in the junior classroom sit on the floor. Each classroom has a whiteboard.

On my first day I was assigned to the youngest class who range in age from 3-8 years old. Approximately fifteen to twenty children for each class.I was dropped off in the class and asked to teach English for 2 hours. The teachers spoke no English at all. No guidelines, no programs, no books to follow.... Surprisingly and thankfully the kids are extremely well behaved and very polite.

At 11:00 a.m. each day we are brought back to the Guest House by the tuk tuk driver for lunch and a swim.

The afternoon sessions are two one hour classes (3:00pm and 4:00pm). The classroom is located in a temple called Wat Thmei and approximately 1/3 of the students are monks.The Wat Thmei building is quite large, rectangular in shape, and has a classroom on one side. The school has newly painted walls, fluorescent lights providing plenty of light, and four ceiling fans to keep the building cool during the sultry afternoons.The students range in age from 15-20. I was happy to find out that this class has a book they follow - series of stories that we read, have them repeat and make sure they understand the meaning of each word.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Kaitlin & Sean - Day 5

This morning we headed to the village to see how the wells turned out, and to finish our interviews for the Loan Project. Both of the wells are working wonderfully, and the villagers seem to be happy with them! We did 4 more interviews today, and one story was particularly interesting for us. A woman with seven children was among the first to receive a loan, and used the money to expand her small business. She had been a nurse prior to the Khmer Rouge, and because the Khmer Rouge killed many people with educations, she was forced to leave the medical field to avoid execution. She would now have to return to school to be a nurse again, and with 7 children, that is not an option. Her story is an example of how awful recent Cambodian history is, and how even educated people are still struggling here. We asked all of the people interviewed how the loans have helped them, and the project definitely seems to be a success!

This afternoon at Wat Thmei the students had another dialogue assignment. This one was more challenging than the last one, but everyone still did a great job. It is great to see students so proactive in their education. Most of the questions we still are getting are about vocabulary and pronounciation. Some English words are actually very hard to describe, and it was comical to listen to us attempt to explain them! Tomrrow is our last day at the school, and we are both going to miss working with these great students!

Kaitlin & Sean - Day 4

This morning we went to Wat Thmei to plant a garden in the front of the school. With the help of a few students and some of the resident monks, we cleaned up the grounds and prepared the beds for planting. We then headed with Brandon across the street to a nursery, where he picked out plants that will require little maintenance but still look nice. After lunch, we returned to the school and with so many helping hands, the garden was done in no time! A new sign for the school was also put up, and the school looks great now!

Kaitlin & Sean - Day 3

Today the well installation began in the village. We were supposed to go to the village at 8 a.m. with the well guys, but just as Brandon warned us about, they took their time getting here and we didn't leave until 10! Apparently that's how it always is in Cambodia....
Once in the village, we showed the men where the wells were going to be placed, and watched as they began jetting the holes. The jet pump method seems to work well in the soft clay and sand mixture that is here, rather than the New England rocky earth that we are used to at home. The process was interesting to watch both for us and the villagers, who all gathered around to watch as their new wells were installed! The men just created the holes and installed the pipe today, and will return tomorrow to finish.
In the afternoon, we returned to Wat Thmei and had an assignment to do with the students today. We read a restaurant dialogue with them, and answered questions about vocabulary, grammar, and pronounciation as we went along. Classes at Wat Thmei are exactly what school should be - lots of fun while learning a lot!

Kaitlin & Sean - Day 2

This morning we headed to a nearby squatter's village with Brandon. We had two missions today: first to interview participants in JWOC's Loan Project, and second, to find locations for the next two wells to be built. Journeys has just started the Loan Project, which provides microloans to people in the village. So far the program seems to be very successful, and it was interesting to hear everyone's stories. We interviewed two people who have gotten loans through Journeys, and it sounds as though the loans have helped both of their businesses become even more successful. Although we have been in Cambodia for a few days now, this was the first time we had witnessed such impoverished living conditions. The houses in the village are not much more than one room huts, many with dirt floors, and all with large numbers of people living in them. Perhaps the most surprising observation we had was how everyone was quick to smile and hospitable, despite living in such poor conditions. After we finished our interviews, we walked though the rest of the village to determine which locations would be best for two new wells. Many people are using water pits as their main source of water, and although the pits provide cleaner water than some other sources, it is still quite unsanitary. We tried to choose locations that were central to many homes so that the clean water would be accessible to as many people as possible. We will return tomorrow with the well guys to begin installation.

After lunch we headed back to Wat Thmei to help at the English classes again. Today we spent a lot of time taking questions about specific words that were confusing, and also about pronounciation. We also were asked many questions about our families and childhoods. The students are all eager to learn and teaching is quite easy with such great students! Again, we had a great day and can't wait for tomorrow!

Kaitlin & Sean - Day 1

Hello! We are Kaitlin and Sean from Connecticut, USA, and we are here in Cambodia for 2 weeks. We are doing a Give and Take Tour through Journeys Within, which means we spend half of our time here volunteering, and half sightseeing. Today was the first day of volunteering, and we went to Wat Thmei Pagoda School, a language school sponsored by Journeys. We spent the two hours meeting the students and helping them practice their English conversational skills. We were both impressed with how well many of the students spoke English, especially those that have only been studying for a year or so! We got lots of questions about how schools are in the U.S. and it seemed as though they were all very interested in education and careers in America. We had a great time and can't wait to go back tomorrow afternoon!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Travel Aid Photos

Travel Aid Volunteers next to their donated well

Two shy girls below the well donated by Travel Aid.

The Travel Aid Sign

The mother shows how clean the water is!

A typical water source in Cambodia

Conducting a household survey

Rhodri with the kids

Check it out: it's a soccer ball!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

TravelAid - Day 5 - Dollars for Scholars

JWOC runs a sponsorship programe which gives out scholarships to promising and talented university students by paying their university fees of 360 USD per year. About 50 students had applied and it is our task now to figure out who the are the 6 most deserving of them. It's a scary task with lots of responsibility if one considers how many doors are opened by a degree.

For their application the students were asked to write an essay in which they explain why they should be given the scholarship. The short answer is: because they are poor, very poor. The long answers did not often say more than that, but when they did the stories were touching, sad, clever and creative. The most outstanding application was a narrative including dialogues about divorce, palmtrees, future dreams and growing up in rural Cambodia - it made us all appreciate how lucky we are to be born in rich countries.

A few things were intersting to us: hardly any girls applied. Then, some students either used the same book or copied from each other: their essays were identical to the dot on the i. Apparently though, copying from others is not seen as a bad thing. Obviously, anyone who showed evidence of original thought was much more likely to get an interview. ALso, a huge part of the application / CV was dedicated to the family. The students volunteered information on their parents', siblings' and grandparents' age, heigth and weight, occupation etc.

We have now chosen 15 studnets to be invited for interview...the interviews will be a story for another day...

TravelAid - Day 4

The nice and comfortable house of 'journeys within' stands back to back with a settlers' village. It is rather different to the villages we have visited the past days in that the houses are much closer together, there is no open countryside and people have only come recently from all parts of Cambodia and thus don't know each other that well. Our task was to find out what water sources they use. It turns out that a number of families have invested in private wells, some even have them inside their houses; many families boil water or buy 20 liter bottles. We basically just need to draw a map now including the existing water wells and the number of people living in each house to decide on thw best locations of about 15 wells throughout the village.

We met one large theatre family of 30 members. They were more outgoing than other people we met. The children were keen to touch us and to ask for money. A pregnant woman told Rhodri that she would like her child to look like him (Mike is a bit offended). Shockingly, one mother of 8 led us to our house. Well, that pile of wooden bars and plastic sheets does not deserve the label 'house'. She desperately wanted us to help her to improve her housing situation...we'll see what we can do. Sad, that we cannot promise anything!

TravelAid - Days 2 + 3 - More surveys

I have been told off by Andrea (pronounced the German way) for not introducing ourselves, so here goes. I'm Rhodri Saunders, the co-ordinator of this trip and now the TravelAid president. I have just completed my Masters in Biochemistry at Oxford University (2.1) and am about to start a Dphil there in statistics (don't ask). Anya I met through my biochemistry course, she's a nature loving, foreign film watching all round nice Russian girl who is currently floating around on perfumed air having got a 1st class degree. Mike is the baby of the group, a Welsh law student he has just completed his first year at Oxford. Mike first got involved in the Nepal project that I was co-ordinating and has since taken over its reigns, we'll be out there at Easter 2007. Andrea was the TravelAid president till I ousted here ceremoniously, she's the only German and only blonde of the group which means many jokes are directed her way. Fortunately she has a very good sense of humour and thick skin to go with her charity soul.
Right, back to business! As the title says, we spent the day doing more surveys. We visited a couple more villages, Kondol, Tatrav, Preah Ko and Kok Kreul to be precise. The first we visited, Kondol, had a broken well that the villagers told us had broken 2 days after it had been put in. Pretty hard to prove but one wonders why they had not contacted anyone to fix it. Hopefully we will have rectified this in a day or two. The well man, whom Sombin, our translated called out, then took us on a tour of his other wells to prove they were all working. During this outing we each bought one or two wicker baskets from a local woman. Two baskets for 500 riel, barginous! Just to be generous we paid double price, no one was going to argue over 6 cents. It was Kok Kreul where we hit our jackpot, a village no other NGO had visited. The interviews were interesting, with many wanting a new house over the clean water source we were offering. But, still, it is here that we hope to install our first new well in a few days. This well should provide clean water for up to 7 families, or about 30 people. Day 4 will be a new area, a settlers village just behind the Journeys Within 'Mansion'...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

TravelAid - Day 1

Day 1 of volunteering - Water surveys

The aim of today was to visit some areas where JWOC had already installed some wells to see if they were being used by the villagers. We visited a number of villages in the Angjor Thom area. Questions were not only about their water use but also more general health issues such as sanitation and understanding of disease. Interestingly, going to the jungle meant going to the toilet 5m from your front door and/or very close to your fresh water source. Also, many villagers 'understood' birth control but not pregnancy; and everyone was 1.50m tall though we later found that tape measures, coincidently, maxed out at 150cm! In addition to such water and health questions, we asked about the availability and interest rates of loans because Brendan (the JWOC big man) has been looking to set up fair loans for those with good beusinness ideas. It turns out that those with loans thought that an interest rate of 120% was fairly good value!

We had earlier, in Siem Reap, bought a football and a few other toys to give to any children. We found a suitable place to drop off the football in the last village we visited. The 10 or so children loved it and we played football and catch with them for a good half hour or so before getting back to the job in hand. Unfortunately the 'delay' meant that the monsoon rain struck while we were still exposed. Luckily shelter was close at hand and all the surveys were still legible when we returned to JWOC HQ.

All in all a fantastic first day and it showed to us how much the villagers appreciate the wells and the help that we can provide. Rarely, if ever, had we met so many genuinely friendly and welcoming people.
Andrea, Anya, Mike and Rhodri

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