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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