Thursday, December 20, 2007

Brook's visit to new wells in the countryside

When I decided to donate a well during my stay at the Journeys Within B&B earlier this month, I asked John if I could visit the site of my future well. He said he could do one better: I could spend a morning visiting new wells with the scholarship students who oversaw the project.

Seven university students showed up at the B&B early on Sunday morning. All have received a full scholarship from JWOC, and in return donate five hours per week to the well project. Kimpouv Nou, a slight 21-year-old, sat down next to me and told me about herself. She lives inPuok district, 16 kilometers from Siem Reap. Her father died 10 years ago, so of course it was even harder than usual for Kimpouv's mother to support her nine children. Kimpouv was the only child to enroll in university, where her friend Se told her about the Dollars for Scholars program. Not wanting to burden her mother further, but also not earning enough from her teaching position at the local high school to pay for college tuition, Kimpouv applied for the scholarship a few months ago. Now she devotes her only free day(Sunday) to the well program.

Once the students had all arrived at the B&B, I jumped on theback of Kimpouv's motorbike and we headed out into the countryside. You see donated wells along many of the tourist routes, but JWOC's locations are far from any idle visitor's path. We drove for 45 minutes over bumpy dirt roads, passing a man with one son on the back of his bicycle and another in the basket, a game of pickup volleyball, and shrubs stained ochre with dust.

At the first well, which had just been dug earlier that week, John showed the students how to test the water for e. coli and coliform. This, I believe, is one of the most important aspects of JWOC's programs, letting the Cambodians take charge. Progress was slow at first, but by the fifth or sixth well, the students had naturally taken on an efficient rhythm: Some would squat down to squeeze a few milliliters of water into a sample vial, others could record the GPS coordinates of the site, and the rest would gather the local families for a photo that would be sent to the individuals who had donated the well.

Toward the end of the morning, we took a detour to the site where the well I'd donated would soon be installed. I played with a five-month-old girl who lived there. They say that in Cambodia, one in five children doesn't make it to his or her fifth birthday. With the help of my well, this little cherub would have much better odds. The cost of the well:$100. The smile on her face: priceless.

Brook with JWOC's loan recipients

While visiting Cambodia earlier this month, I had the opportunity to meet some of JWOC’s loan recipients.

Here are their stories:

Kheng Lerb lives in a small, thatch-walled house with her husband and eight—that’s right, eight—children. She operates a makeshift general store on her porch, selling skewered chicken wings, oranges, bananas, cigarettes, and other small goods. Before she received her first loan from JWOC seven months ago, she also had to collect recyclable cans and bottles in order to make ends meet. Lerb heard about the program from one of the Dollars for Scholars students, and eagerly applied so that she could expand her business. She’s now on her way to paying back her second loan, of $125. I asked her what she’s done with the extra money she now earns. Her father was sick several months ago, she told me, and she had to pay $300 in medical bills—sadly, however, the treatment could not prevent his death. But she also proudly showed me a silver bracelet that she’d bought for herself. A rare reward for a life’s worth of hard work, I thought to myself. When I asked her what she pictured in her future, she told me that she wanted a university education for her kids, and a better house for herself.
Meas Sreipech, the scholarship student who was collecting loan repayments for JWOC and translating for me, then brought me to the house of Tarb Chour. As we talked, Chour related a heartbreaking story. One of her sons had lost his wife during childbirth several years ago. The son gave up his single son for adoption, then left his four daughters with Chour’s sister back in their home village. With the children all off his hands, Chour’s son remarried and ran away. He doesn’t send a penny back to help raise the girls, so Chour and her sister must support her granddaughters themselves. Because of the loans she’s taken out from JWOC to expand her own small food and dried goods stall, Chour hopes that one day the girls may be able to attend university, something she was never given the chance to do.
Sitting next to Chour was Soeurn Srey, a meat and vegetable retailer in the same village. Hers was a happier story. She bought her own house one month ago—one bigger than her previous rental—with some of the extra money she’s earned since getting a JWOC loan five months ago. She’s also saved $500 for the motorbike and cart that she’d like to buy to sell fish snacks around town (the total cost will be $800).
It’s amazing what $100—the amount that you or I might send on a moderately extravagant dinner—can do in a place like Cambodia. There are numerous other stories just like these three among the recipients of JWOC’s microloans.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

TravelAid - Final Days

It’s our last day working for JWOC, and the month seems to have gone by in no time. We’ve been massively busy this last week, trying to wrap up everything before we go.

So for the micro credit project, we went over all the different documents we’d created, making sure the scholars felt comfortable with using them all. This was especially necessary for the Excel Spreadsheet Seb had created, which can now be used to do most of the budgetary calculations for the loans, and is a complete and comprehensive database of the information needed for the project.

We also did quite a lot for the new language school we’ve been sponsoring in Wat Chork. The classrooms were finally built on Monday, so the new desks we had ordered were delivered. They all were painted with a JWOC – Travelaid stencil on the front which looked really nice. The next mission was to buy the computer equipment for the second classroom. A big central desk was ordered for this, and we went out to find some decent computers. These should all be delivered by Monday. We’ve also bought some decorations (maps, posters…) and a few books and dictionaries. It was so exciting having our first class in there yesterday.

We’re also very proud to have found our first Travelaid scholar: Monnoreth Beav! After we had all met him, and spoken to him about why he wanted to go to university, we decided to sponsor him for four years to study tourism and hospitality at Build Bright. It was really awesome being able to make such a difference in the life of our new friend, who was working as a moto-taxi, but whom we all found extremely motivated. We are convinced he will be a great student and help to JWOC and the community.

The last main thing we’ve been doing is organizing some fundraising here in Siem Reap, with the help of our new friends Trixie and Mac who run the Funky Munky Pub, where we’ve been going for the pub quiz. They agreed to hold three fundraising nights for JWOC: one race night, one pool tournament and a pub quiz yesterday. This has been a great success and allowed us to raise about $270 for JWOC! We also managed to win the pub quiz a third time in a row, which means Trixie’s pasta for everyone tonight.

In any case, our time in Siem Reap with JWOC has been an awesome four weeks. We’ve really been able to see loads of what they have been doing for the community, how far they’ve gotten in two years. We feel like we’ve had a great chance to give in as much as we possibly could in a month, and we’ve hopefully solved a few problems which we’ve seen. All in all a great experience, thanks to John, Narla, Seila, Somit, all the other scholars, staff and people we’ve met on the way. It’s going to be hard to leave!


Monday, August 27, 2007

TravelAid - Water Well Testing

We’re halfway through our third week, am I’m amazed at how quickly it has gone. Being part of the well testing and scouting has taken up most of our mornings. The work we’ve done has been really interesting – always varied, and I feel we’ve accomplished a lot. By now we have tested 11 wells, in several different villages. On Sundays we have gone with the scholar Vorng, to scout new sites for wells. Both these tasks have been really fun, allowing us to get out of Siem Reap town and into the countryside, where you can meet “real” Cambodians going about their daily business. It helps that they’re always happy to see you!

Going to the villages has definitely been a highlight of my time here – the scenery is beautiful and all the people helpful. The icing on the cake is that you are doing something to benefit their lives.

Another of our tasks is slightly more mundane but just as important: inputting all the new well locations onto Google Earth. The goal is ultimately to create a more systematic approach to well building, testing and checking.

Our afternoons teaching at Wat Thmei have also been rewarding – getting to know the students and seeing them progress in both computing and English. We were invited by one teacher to go to another village and teach in an orphanage. The experience was great: new set of students, new set of challenges. It was fun to break our daily routine.

Our visit to temples of Angkor tomorrow will definitely break our daily routine. Can’t wait!!

- Ruaridh

TravelAid - End of Week 3

Week 3 is already over. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday we are going to visit the temples of Angkor. After 20 days in Siem Reap we will at last discover its major attraction!

Still, quite a few things happened in this very short week.

Sunday afternoon, JWOC held its second presentation on microcredit. We were able to organize it in a classroom of one of the schools around Siem Reap. Between 1:45 and 2 o’clock, around 20 women of all ages and a few men entered the school. At least 5 of them came with young children. Most of them dressed up for the occasion. The classroom quickly became full of life and colors (and even a little noisy with the children restlessly running across the room). People seemed excited about the whole happening and eager to learn what JWOC would offer them. As I do not understand Khmer, I could not understand a single word from the Scholars’ presentation. But from what could be read on the audience’s faces, it was very clear and interesting. In 45 minutes, they told the villagers about JWOC, its activities, the loans and the creation of a Business Plan. After that, the interested villagers were given the time to fill out their applications – and as most of them cannot read and write, they were assisted by scholars. I was truly impressed to see how well and easily the scholars, both the old ones and the ones that had joined the Microcredit team only a few hours before, helped the loan applicants. All of them took great care in going over what the villagers did not understand and in writing down what they were told. As a result, 30 minutes later we had 18 new loan applications (each of $100), which will be given out this week. And there is another presentation this Sunday!

As the weeks go by, we get to know the students at Wat Thmei a little bit better and we start to see some improvements in their understanding. So we decided to make one class sit a test, on the past tense: a great experience. First, most of the students actually turned on the day of the test. Then, they had all learnt their grammar and did a great job on the test. Buon Thoi, one of the youngest students in the class and Sok Mon, one of the monks, even got full marks.

Wat Thmei is one of the most touristy pagodas around Siem Reap. The classes are often disturbed by a group of curious Barangs (Cambodian word for ‘white people’), but Wednesday was exceptional. An entire bus of Japanese travelers entered the classroom, sat down at the tables, took photos, listened to Michael’s explanations on polite expressions… and gave out presents to the students. And indeed, the answer was very polite: ‘Thank you very much!’

A last piece of information before we go to the great temples of Angkor: one of the nicest places in Siem Reap to chill out after a day of work is Sidney Aqua. Very hard to find, but really worth it: they have a 15 meter swimming pool and a very welcoming - English - manager!

- Seb

Sunday, August 19, 2007

TravelAid - End of Week Two

Markus Wegelius and University Scholar Se in back with children from Dai Thmei Village, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Already the end of the second week! It is Sunday and we surprisingly were able to wake ourselves up bright and early to start another busy day of work at JWOC. I can’t even remember the last time I woke up so early on a Sunday morning but the beautiful turquoise sky coupled with the bright sun more than makes up for it. Our task for the day (as I specialize in Microfinance, along with Seb & Robin) was to explain to Narla, Piseth, Mai and several other scholarship students the changes that we had brought to the Power Point presentations of ‘How to construct a Business Plan’. These presentations will then be translated into Khmer (which is undoubtedly a lengthy process, as 1 page of English translates into 4 pages of Khmer!) and explained to villagers who have shown interest in the Microloan system. That meeting will take place later on in the day and we are confident it will be a success.

These 2 weeks have enabled us to understand how the JWOC Microfinance system works and to improve certain elements (with the advice of John) but more especially we realized the true benefit that the loans can bring to poor Cambodians. Cambodia has one of the worst banking systems in the world, with the private sector charging outrageous interest rates. According to the World Bank, Cambodia is ranked the 2nd worst country in the world for access to credit, outdone only by civil war-ridden Afghanistan! Microfinance was created in response to this, and has ‘changed the lives’ of countless Cambodians (their own words!). This is specifically why working with JWOC has been so gratifying and has enabled us to witness the difficult lives that most Cambodians lead; the lives that many tourists conveniently do not encounter traveling from their 5-star hotels to Angkor Wat and luxurious western restaurants. It really makes you look at things from a different perspective.

After 2 weeks of disciplined work, we finally allowed ourselves to go sightseeing for the first time! Yesterday, all seven of us left to ‘Tonle Sap’ which is the single biggest fresh-water lake in South-East Asia and a vital food source for the entire region. It has been designated as a UNESCO biosphere reserve, which basically means a protected natural conservation area. It was beautiful and is famous for its ‘floating villages’: there are thousands of ethnic Vietnamese who have built ‘boat-houses’ and live upon the lake. The interesting reason behind it is because of the monsoons during the rainy season (May - November) the Tonle Sap lake expands 4 times and in some places the water edge moves 50km! Thus the fishermen found a very ingenious technique to always wake up right by the water. Can’t wait for our next day off!

- Markus

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Ari - Business Training Volunteer

I had the pleasure to volunteer for the Village Microfinance Fund project for about 3 weeks. I worked closely with another volunteer and both were encouraged to discuss any changes that we thought were needed. We also got to interview villagers with the scholars.

Early on, we realized that it was extremely important to provide a basic business & finance training for the scholars. As loan officers, the scholars are essentially business consultants, but don't necessarily have business training or experience. We created and trained the students on two modules. Major topics covered included:
  • Determining feasibility of business ideas
  • Refining business concept
  • Market and develop of products and services
  • Managing cash flows
  • Writing and developing business plans
  • Understanding your customer base and evaluating competition
  • Forecasting economic and seasonal trends
  • Risk Management
I was very nervous at first about training the scholars because I've never trained or tutored anyone in business/finance topics. But I realized that the little I did know was tremendous help. Scholars were very happy and grateful that we could help them learn something so valuable. It helped tremendously that the villagers' businesses were small and not too complicated (selling food in the market, recycling, sewing).

The real challenge came with creating an additional seminar for the villagers which - taught in a simple manner- would include most of the things students were trained on. Since they would be the ones to train the villagers (in Khmer), we needed to make sure that they had a good understanding of every topic.

I realized then that passing on knowledge to the local staff could potentially yield a greater impact because they will still be there to assist and train the villagers when I left. This was the first time that I was training/teaching practical skills in a non-hypothetical situation. I learned so such about myself on a professional level as well as personal. I can't wait to return and see how the scholars are doing and see any new developments in the villages. A piece of my heart will forever stay in Cambodia!

- Arisleyda Veloz

First blog from the Travelaid well team

It’s now the middle of the second week we’ve been working with JWOC, but already it seems much longer. This is partly because there’s been so many tasks and different types of work to do (from teaching how to print without a printer with which to demonstrate, to testing well water for arsenic and e-coli), but also because John and the scholarship students we have been working alongside have been so welcoming and helpful.

I feel grateful to Narlar and Sai in particular for always going out of their way and for putting up with my incessant questions about Cambodia. I now know that the reason older Cambodian women are bald (which really puzzled me) is that “they don’t want to look pretty any more” – in other words they have dedicated their lives to religion and shaved their heads.

Our most recent outing to test wells was to Kok Thnot, a village spread along the northern edge of a huge ancient Angkorian resevoir (1.5 by 5 miles!) and down one of the worse roads we’ve come across. At the first well our interviewee grabbed my hand and felt all up my arm, explaining to Sai that she’d never seen a foreigner before. Maybe she was checking if I was real? It seemed unlikely, being so old, that she’d never come across a foreigner, until I realised she was only in her forties – the shaved head really does distort things.

The second well we tested in Kok Thnot is shared by 32 people, pretty much all of whom gathered around while we were working, plus a few others. The interview turned into a sort of mass debate slash Khmer lesson, with all the women attempting to teach me the words for the animals around us, and at one point it got a little out of hand and the tests were kicked over.

I think what has struck me the most from the experience of travelling around the villages has been the openness of the Cambodian people. The immediate reaction of people you pass when they realise you’re a foreigner is to grin – so different from what’s typical in England! It’s HOT at the moment, so again strangely for an English person, I’m wishing it would rain.

Monday, August 13, 2007

TravelAid - End of Week One

It is now the end of our first week volunteering and I have been extremely busy. Splitting my time between teaching ever eager English students and sifting through applications for future scholars, there has been little time to reflect. The others in our group have been testing wells - some problems have been found such as low levels of arsenic (although I have been informed this is ok!!!) and e-coli – a result of the well functioning improperly.

Early in the week we went on a tour of a nearby village to see the work that JWOC has already carried out in the area. The village is essentially a squatter settlement with families living in houses they have built themselves on land set aside by the government for the construction of roads. On this trip we came across Pwet, a young boy who had a deep cut on his knee which could potentially have been very serious. The accident had happened a week before but the cut was still bleeding and there were signs infection. His mother had taken him to the hospital only to be deterred by an excessively long wait. However, Pwet was soon on Robin’s shoulders and on the way back to JWOC headquarters before being whisked off to hospital for some much needed stitches!!! A couple of the group saw him the day after and said a smile was back on his face!!

However, it has not by any means been all work! Thursday night saw our group (with the aid of John and Angkor Beer) win a local pub quiz. We now know what Taphophobia is the fear of being buried alive!! For our endeavors we earned ourselves four free meals and boosted our egos!!

Friday, August 10, 2007

TravelAid 2007

By Michael Brodie – My First Day: 7/8/07

After a day of introductory discussion, where we got to grips with the way that JWOC works, today we began our four weeks of volunteering. My name is Michael Brodie and I am part of a group of seven Oxford University students, representing the charity TravelAid, who are working in conjunction with JWOC. After the first day, we decided to separate into small groups in order to give our full commitment to each of JWOC’s projects. I am concentrating on integrating the new scholars, who are to be selected this month, into JWOC’s programme and on creating brochure for the organization. I am also going to be teaching English at the language school at Wat Thmei.

The morning was spent beginning preliminary work on the brochure. We began to think about the layout and what we wanted to include – we think interviews with villagers in receipt of loans will be an interesting starting point. The afternoon was more eventful. I taught my first lessons at Wat Thmei – a Buddhist temple which doubles as a memorial site for the victims of the Khmer Rouge. The number of skulls on display is a harrowing reminder of Cambodia’s tragic past. But the future appears much brighter, if my teaching experience is anything to go by! Despite being thrown in at the deep end in my first class (when I asked what I should teach, the monk who usually teaches the class simply replied ‘English’), the fact that the students were so dedicated and willing to learn made the class both enjoyable and rewarding (I hope on both sides!). I was struck by the smile of one student which beamed from ear to ear throughout the whole lesson and afterwards as he came up to thank me repeatedly for teaching him.

Of course there are problems to overcome. Try teaching a computer skills class when there is a power cut!! Also, Wat Thmei, because it is a tourist attraction, attracts a few street children, one of whom came up to me crying in hunger pains. This experience brought me back down to earth after the ‘high’ of teaching and made me realize the many problems Cambodia still faces.

However, despite sobering moments like the one above, I now have a great thirst to become more involved and I can foresee the next four weeks being a great experience.

Monday, July 23, 2007

West Point Volunteers - Katie

For me, the most rewarding part of my experiences in Cambodia so far has been teaching at the schools of Wat Chock and Wat Thmei. Every day has been an adventure at Wat Chock. It is located about 15 minutes outside the village of Siem Reap, surrounded by farms and fields. The tuk-tuk ride there is a bouncing, bumpy, hang-on-for-dear life experience down one of Cambodia’s infamously bad dirt roads. Zach and I get a lot of smiles and laughs as we try to brave the road, bouncing around in the tuk-tuk as Cambodians sail smoothly by on their motorbikes, missing the potholes.

The school is located at the back of Wat Chock, in a building with only a roof, which serves a variety of other purposes beyond being just a school. The orange robes of the monks are hanging everywhere around the classroom drying after being washed, chickens walk by with chicks following them, people take showers by dumping a bucket of water over their heads less than 15 feet from my classroom. Occasionally some shirtless older men wander by and might join in the lesson, repeating after the teacher in English.

The best part of Wat Chock are the students, all of them are extremely dedicated to learning, very respectful and have great senses of humor. Bo-phi is a little girl who rides her bike to the school every day and is unfailingly the first one done with every lesson and assignment. Another student is studying to become an English teacher in one of the surrounding schools, many others are hoping to get jobs in the hotel or tourism industry, such as working as guides at the near-by Angkor Wat temples.
We are looking forward to another week of teaching, along with helping with the building of a new school at Wat Chock. The new school will have two sunny, well-lit, open rooms with computers and new desks, allowing for the expansion of the school. It would be very rewarding to come back to Cambodia in a few years and see the new school and what the students are accomplishing.

July 31

Looking back, I can’t believe how fast the last month has gone while we have been in Cambodia. It is really going to seem like no time has gone by when we board our flight for Bangkok. I think what I will remember most about being here is the time I spent teaching English at Wat Choch and Wat Thmei. Getting to know the students and finding out about their lives was what made it memorable, especially having the same students for the entire time.

Saying goodbye yesterday to the students was difficult, especially a few I got to know very well. I would love to come back in five years and check back on the students that I had in class. On the last day we talked about what we wanted to do in the future; Zach and I talked about our plans after we finished college. Most of the dream jobs for the students centered around the growing tourist industry in Siem Reap and education, two areas that provide decent jobs. Many wanted to be tour guides for sites like Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples, some wanted to achieve management positions at hotels, a good majority were working towards becoming teachers. Going to university was a dream for a lot of students, but a difficult one to achieve without outside financial help or a scholarship, due to their poor backgrounds.

I was really touched by a girl in Wat Thmei class who took the time and money to go out and buy Zach and me departing gifts, to thank us for teaching us. She works very long hours at a nearby hotel and has to be away from her family in order to work, I know it must have cut into whatever free time she has to get us gifts. The scarves and bracelets she gave me are beautiful and will be a great reminder of my time teaching here. Another student who was difficult to say goodbye to was a girl named Bo Pea in my Wat Choch class. She is extremely bright; she finishes before everyone in the class on every single assignment, and despite starting to study English only a few months ago she has the best pronunciation and understanding in the class. She would love to go to university but cannot afford to do so; she will be finished with high school in two years and most likely go to work at a hotel in Siem Reap to support her family.

After three years of college, I have to say that I have learned more this month than I have in any of my classes, and definitely have gained a new perspective. I hope I can come back to Siem Reap in a few years and see the changes that have taken place as Cambodia continues to grow.

Desk Clean Up - Photos!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

West Point Volunteers - Kevin

Well, we just arrived in Cambodia and I could tell immediately after leaving Siem Reap International airport that we were in a developing nation. The six of our group piled into a taxi van with all of our luggage and the feel of the air conditioning blasting from the vents was such a relief coming from the hot and muggy weather outside. The cab drive spoke broken English, and we all found it very interesting trying to communicate with him across somewhat of a language barrier and ask him all about Cambodia and himself. Though the conversation was intriguing and we were all bursting with excitement after finally arriving from our two days of non-stop travel, our attention turned to outside the van.

The streets were very busy; motorbikes speeding by and an occasional car or van weaving through both lanes of traffic. Small little markets lined the streets of intersections with woman selling fruit and gasoline from makeshift storefronts. Little children road their bikes along side the busy streets; some carrying their school books in their hands and dressed in their school uniform. Other children had two plastic bags attached to the rear of the bikes and searched the sides of the road for recyclables. Cows walked along side the road; packs of dogs barked at passing motorbikes – it was an interesting scene to say the least.

Mesmerized by the passing scenery, it took me a second to realize we had just turned onto an unpaved side street. As we dodged potholes on the road, we began to see small groups of houses. These houses were small and raised above the ground on stilt-like structures, obviously to avoid the water levels of the country’s long rainy season. It looked like the entire family was outside – the children were playing right outside the house and the mother was washing clothes at a nearby well. We passed various other kinds of buildings, one that looked like a newly open resort/spa and another that appeared to be completely abandoned. Finally, we saw a sign for Journeys Within, which would be our home in Cambodia for the next three weeks.

Crossing the tiny little wooden bridge, we were greeted by an almost out-of-place villa surrounded by a Cambodian countryside. Once we opened the door, the rain started pouring down and several of the employees ran out with umbrellas and began unloading our luggage. We next met John, our host for our time here.

July 31

The past three weeks have just whizzed by. I have had such a great time and have learned so much on this trip. From teaching the students at Wat Tamei, to visiting the temples at Angkor Wat, to traveling down to Phnom Penh for a weekend, I am truly grateful for the many experiences and memories that I will take back with me to the states and that I will remember for a long time to come.

Leaving Wat Tamei on the last day that we would be teaching was a great deal harder then I had expected it to be. Somehow the students all knew that we would be leaving the next day and that we may never see each other again. They really did not want us to go and kept asking us when the next time would be that we would come back to visit and to teach. Many of the students had email accounts, and we all exchanged email address so that we could continue to keep in touch with each other.

Though I am leaving, I am really looking forward to sponsoring one of the bright young students that I had in one of my classes. He is currently in grade 10, at age 14 no less, and really wants to continue his studies at a local university. He is a diligent worker and strives to succeed at everything he does. When he completes high school, I plan to work with John and JWOC to sponsor him for at least one year of university. I also hope to involve my family in sponsoring him for the remainder of his education at university.

West Point Volunteers - Justine

Our trip to Cambodia has, in many aspects, blended smoothly into what I already know about the less developed countries of the world. That is unfortunate because it bears many of the hallmark plagues of such a country: rampant corruption, a young population that is growing rapidly, and a lack of infrastructure like roads and clean water. However, it has another thing in common with the rest of the less developed world, and this thing may offer a ray of hope. This thing is the ability to improve swiftly. For example, a decade ago, there was no road to Siem Reap, and the area immediately surrounding the small town was jungle. Today, Siem Reap is a major tourist center, with a paved road leading from Phnom Penh and many high-end hotels that generate job growth in the area. The temples at Angkor Wat have also been mobilized to the advantage of Cambodians. The entries fees and tour guides are another source of income. Furthermore, the development of the tourist industry, in my opinion, could help to decrease corruption. It also definitely leads to improvements in the countries infrastructure, which will enable Cambodia to make even more progress. Also, the fact that Cambodia has made all these positive changes in the shadow of a horrible war that killed 20% of the population.

While I have full confidence in the Cambodian people, and I think that the answer to their problems must largely lie in their own efforts if people are to have ownership over their progress, I do think that there are things that the outside world can do to help. Journey’s Within, with its smaller scope and consequently more personal operation, does a good job of this. For example, there is a squatter village a short walk from the Bed and Breakfast that is the pinnacle of what a third world village is: corrugated tin and straw make up the shacks people live in, green water is what the children drink, and a field next to the village is the collective toilet. It is no wonder that one in five children die within a few years of entering the world. In this village there are, I believe, 12 wells built by Journey’s Within that pump clean water. This is a direct way to help the Cambodian people without diverting any funds to middle men.

There are also many micro-financing projects in the village. This is where JWOC gives a $100 loan to someone who wants to start of expand a business. The best example that I saw of this was a woman who received a loan to buy a new sewing machine. Before the loan, because of the sewing machine she had, she could only make alterations to clothes, and therefore her profit was limited to just enough to buy food for her family during the day. She used her loan to buy a different type of sewing machine that could be used to actually make clothes. She could make substantially more moneymaking clothes that by just doing alterations. Therefore, after the loan, she made enough everyday that she could save money. With the money she saved, she started small kiosk selling food products and other items. Now she has even more money to save and invest in new projects.

Later on, as we continued our walk, I saw a group of small boys, playing by the water. It is the rainy season, and water is everywhere, after all. I held up by camera and motioned for them to get together, and they all smiled and waved and were happy to practice the few words of English they had learned. After snapping a couple classic pictures, they all circled around me and I showed them the picture on my cool, sleek digital camera. I do not think they had ever been shown a picture in a camera like that before. It is small incidents like that where I think of money in terms of what a Cambodian makes in a year- my $300 digital camera cost a year’s wages for the average Cambodian. A bag of tortilla chips cost what they might make in a days. A movie ticket plus a drink is what they make in a week. For me, this is one way I put things into perspective. I will add some of the pictures I took on the village tour when I can.

As for the temples, I have always wanted to go, and I was thrilled to finally find myself on the other side of the world, a short drive away from them. I can happily check Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm off of my ‘Places to Go’ list. At many of my favorite temples, the jungle is slowly taking back what is his. Huge trees crawl over temple walls, and roots strangle stone with the patience of an enemy whose victory is certain. They lend to the temples the faded magnificence of an empire that was once and is no more. As with all the dead empires that stretched from sea to sea, there was the palpable presence of a melancholic air that drifted around as I climbed piles of old temple walls and pulled myself up on vines and roots. This old glory adds another dimension to the tragedy and unfolding history of Cambodia.

During the week, we volunteer teaching English from 1 to 6 PM. We each have about 3 classes: Steve and I teach at Wat Tamay. Since corruption extends well into the public school system, kids are pretty enthusiastic about free English classes. This enthusiasm is furthered by the fact that English is such a useful language in the tourism industry. Many of the kids stay for more than one class, and our classes range form kids to middle aged adults. They are very good students- none of the idleness or complacency that I have seen in some American students. Today, instead of teaching like we usually do, we are sanding and varnishing the desks and sweeping out the school. The school itself is one large room with a roof, nothing extravagant. It is in a complex of buildings, set in the midst of a temple and a monastery. I always think about how the U.S. had one-room schoolhouses somewhere around 200 years ago. Is Cambodia that far behind us? Surely, with modern advances in technology and medicine, that time gap can be shortened. The day is often brightened by the entrance of a kitten or a pair of puppies into the classroom that belong to the monks that live in the area. One day a kitten that looked like it was starving came in and we took it in for the day, buying it chicken at a nearby road stall and letting it fall asleep in our laps.

July 31

As we prepare to leave Cambodia today, everyone would agree that is has been a valuable experience. Yesterday was our last day teaching, and all of our classes each said good bye and good luck. I am sure that everyone enjoyed teaching; the students were very good and seemed to learn a substantial amount during our three weeks of teaching. After all, many of the students started learning English a short year ago, and can already survive and converse in English.

This past weekend we all went to Phnom Penh. We hit many of the darker sites to Cambodian tourism, including an old high school that was used as a massive prison under the Khmer Rouge, and one of the larger killing fields. As you enter them, you see a sign that says something like 9,089 mass graves. I was reminded of the signs you see on a road when you enter a small town, you know, like “Welcome to Ghent, population 9.089.” And just think, those 10,000 or so where only a fraction of the people who died under the Khmer Rouge. It seems to me that how that kind of mass tragedy happens will remain both an eternal mystery and a simple fact of humanity. On the one hand, we question how it is even possible for an idea that is so crazy and radical could ever take hold like that over an entire country. Were there not far more ordinary people than Khmer Rouge soldiers? Could the populace not have shaken them off from the start once the general madness commenced? This is the aspect of eternal mystery. On the other hand, organizations like the Khmer Rouge and things like mass genocide and quite commonplace in human history. Is it really so unexpected and astounding? No, it is just how the world works; it is just how people are. This is the aspect of simple fact.

The thing that has surprised me and continues to do so is how far Cambodia has come in the short decades that have passed since those great losses. There are clearly many problems remaining. However, the progress from mass graves to a booming tourist industry and the construction of resort hotels is impressive. The distance between the dismal past and bright future is great. I would say that the next step is that eventually the country needs to wean itself off of all the NGOs and international assistance and stand on its own. Many of the JWOC scholarship students who I have spoken to about their lives said that an NGO run school affected the major change in their lives. I thought to myself that it was wonderful that outsiders could help, and make a difference in someone’s life, but I also thought it was so sad that their own government could not. Cambodians are not learning or building their dreams in any of the Cambodian schools. That is a problem. Additionally, the government is too corrupt to be trusted with international aid designated for education. The fact is, when NGOs do things themselves, like open a school, it is far more effective than funding a government one. Maybe one day that will change, and Cambodians won’t be so reliant on the charity of others. For now, while mass corruption still exists, we must continue to help, and I for one am glad that I have had a chance to do my part.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

West Point Volunteers - Steven

July 9, 2007 Tokyo

After seventeen hours in the air, I doubt hell is that bad. No doubt, the high schoolers (of which there was around 30) combined with those sitting next to me, made the journey nothing short of memorable.

July 10, 2007 Bangkok Airport

Well, the day started in the Hotel Inn Come, in the heart of Bangkok. Last night we arrived in the city around midnight, met up with Zach Booms and took a $15.00 taxi to our hotel where the check-in was quick and the sleep followed soon thereafter.

The weather here feels a lot like the humid South around the Georgia area. I have yet to see any dirt since the ground is usually covered with thick vegetation.

So far our trip has not encountered any major trouble. The only cause for concern we have deals with Katie’s and Zach’s flight to Siem Reap today. Apparently they were booked on later flights than the other four (we leave at 1110, they leave at 1600 and 1800). We hope that their standby status will work out.

Oh and Thailand has a king… I’ve seen his picture…everywhere

July 17, 2007

Cambodia, what can I say about it? What I expected, I did not find and what I felt would never have been here, I have seen.

I suppose a good place to start is from the beginning. No doubt, my expectations of this place reflected the common belief of this country resembling the poorer, dangerous, and somewhat backwards area of the world. My old vision of the country involved no roads, dense jungle, rice fields as far as the eye could see, and cities that had next to no resemblance of their Western counterparts. Yet what I have seen of this country has astonished me.

Journeys Within Bed and Breakfast has all the modern convenience of any hotel, motel, or Bed and Breakfast in the United States. I was thoroughly surprised with the swimming pool, services, and hospitality shown at the B&B. Certainly, it was a breath of fresh air since it meant that my stay here would be both comfortable and memorable.

The temples around this area are beautiful – to the extent that I have made it my goal to revisit them at a later point in my life. Their size, history, beauty, and depth are all too much to take in within a mere weekend. I still remember just looking at the moat of Angkor Wat.

July 18, 2007

Its my birthday and for the record, there was a lot more to the previous blog entry; however, a power surge/spike forced the computer to reboot and erase nearly half of what I wrote… nuts…

The staff at the B&B prepared a wonderful birthday cake for me at lunch. It was a dark chocolate cake, with rich chocolate frosting and even more frosting within the cake. Without a doubt, they are some of the most kind people I have met in a very long time.

Today, teaching at the temple went well. I enjoy reading the students “Oliver Twist.” We’ve just reached the middle part of chapter two (page 9) – it’s slow going, but I read the book, make the students repeat what I say, then we go over the complicated vocabulary. Today Vincent had to demonstrate what “clumsy” meant… it was a good time.

Tonight I’m going out to celebrate my birthday. John recommended a Cambodian BBQ place that we’re all going to. I hope to survive tonight’s festivities.

25 July 2007

Yesterday morning I biked six kilometers to a small village with my companions and our guide. Though we set off early in the morning, the weather quickly became warm and I had a thin layer of sweat after the first kilometer. We biked over roads that lacked any sort of maintenance or upkeep: there were pot-holes larger than my bike and more than two feet deep, no organization to how or where people drove, and of course… no restriction to the number of people that could ride on a single motorcycle. I like to think of traveling on any Cambodian street is an adventure in itself. Quite literally, you will never see the same thing twice when you travel on these roads – from upside-down pigs on bikes, to dozens of chickens hanging, to a family of five on a small motorcycle… its simply amazing to watch.

Nevertheless we eventually reached the village where our guide lived. As with most of the area surrounding Siem Reap, the homes were raised off the ground and all the fields had rice. The only roads nearby were dirt trails which were both sandy and not maintained. When we came up to the house, the simply construction of the home became apparent. The walls of the structure were either sheet metal or a layering of palm leaves. The roof also made use of palm leaves. Chickens lived under the home and a small rice field nearby provided food for the family. When we asked our guide about the home, he informed us that the home was built in a single day with the help of family and friends.

After our brief visit at the house, we traveled on our bikes to a nearby lake and proceeded to load the bikes onto a small boat which took us to the lake’s center island. This island had the ruins of, what I’m guessing was, an incomplete temple. As we expected, with any temple there are vendors and after spending time with these locals, we again boarded the boat and went across the lake to the opposite end from where we started. At this end, we thanked the boatman and drank fresh coconuts before beginning the trek back.

Following the bike rides, our next task was to teach English. As always, I love teaching my students – they are some of the most dedicated, good-natured, and agreeable people I’ve ever met. Though I am saddened at the thought of leaving them next week, I am reassured that this group of dedicated individuals will do well in the future as long as they stay focused, determined, and goal-oriented.

Finally, if someone ever makes it their wish to come and visit Cambodia… bring plenty of Pepto-Bismol… that stuff is a life saver.

West Point Volunteers - Zach

Describing a week in Cambodia teaching at a free school for area children and living in the heart of what was once dense jungle is a mountainous task in itself. As an American college student who has never traveled remotely near Southeast Asia before this, I hadn’t really anticipated just how much I would’ve seen and accomplished in such a brief time.

Teaching at Wat Chork and Wat Thmei has been eye opening to say the very least. The range of ages alone (of the students) has surprised me: we have very small boys and girls and men and women older than my ripe young age of twenty-one. What unites them all is their striking willingness to learn as much as they possibly can: planning to end early on a Friday, I said goodbye to the class only to watch as they all remained in their seats. This is partly due to the ever-present Khmer-English communication barrier, but it is symbolic of the students’ selfless attitude. In America students would be out the door at the slightest hint that class was to end for the day.

I’ve experienced quite a bit outside of class as well. Journeying to temples such as Angkor Wat, Banteay Srei, and Bang Mealea has been quite fulfilling and undoubtedly adventurous. A simple tuk-tuk ride by the different communities that make up Siem Reap is an education to foreign eyes.

I look forward to our continued time in this amazing country.

July 31

To sum up my experience in Cambodia during this month is to put together a mosaic of remarkably different experiences. The day-to-day responsibility of teaching in area schools was both inspiring and highly personal, and the same can be said for the work Kevin and I did with Angkor Hospital for Children. Cambodia is a country stuck in the old world but continually making strides toward the new. Our visit to Phnom Penh was a microcosm of this: spending time in the Central Market with its main building that reminded me somewhat of Grand Central Station in New York was coupled with strolling through walkways covered only by plastic garbage bags to keep the rain out.

What constantly impressed me about this country were its hardworking, dedicated, selfless, and caring people. For the most part, all of the Cambodians we worked with were unflinching in their wish to learn as much as possible, to get a job to support their family and themselves, and to improve their knowledge of the wider world that is slowly reaching them.

Tourism continues to be the most important industry here, and many of the teachers and guides we worked with rightfully took advantage of this by majoring in tourism and hospitality at area universities. Several of these people surprised me not only by their excellent English, but also by their dedication to their jobs. This especially lies with the teachers, as our interviews with the JWOC scholarship students revealed that education remains the single largest impediment and stepping stone to a successful career in their country.

To close, it’s been a whirlwind. I’ll miss many parts of Cambodia, not the least of which will be our group of bright students. I think that someday I’ll come back.

West Point Volunteers - Vincent

Since my arrival to Journey’s Within’ Bed and Breakfast, I have only been treated with the utmost respect and hospitality. The facilities are extremely nice and homely. The staff is warming and treats their guest like a close family. Throughout my stay, I have been afforded the opportunity to teach English, basic typing skills, Microsoft Word, and Excel to eager and underprivileged Cambodians. My volunteer work has been extremely rewarding. Siem Reap is also a nice place for visit and nightlife. I have gone out with the group that I am traveling with twice to enjoy Cambodian restaurants and lounges. The prices are extremely affordable for quality service.

11 July 2007

My arrival to Siem Reap, Cambodia was met with great hospitality through the warming staff of Journey’s Within. Our volunteer coordinator, John, briefed us on what we can expect to be doing over the next few weeks. Today was the first day that we taught at our respective schools as volunteers. My partner, Kevin, and I taught computer basic skills through Microsoft Excel, Word, Power Point, and basic typing skills. Currently, the students are utilizing a program named Mario typing as a means to enhance their abilities. Kevin and I have begun to evaluate the computers located at the school in order to recommend improvements and upgrades. Being around so many eager students is more than rewarding and I look forward to my stay.

13 July 2007

Since my stay in Cambodia, Kevin and I have been able to establish goals, standards, and general direction for our teaching plan with the students at our volunteer school. Once we teach a few of the students the basics to various skills (home keys for typing, spreadsheets for Excel, etc) they continually practice and improve on their own. We are able to provide a lot of hands on guidance as they learn these basic tasks and skills.

15 July 2007

This past weekend we visited the famous temples of Cambodia in Siem Reap. They were extremely fascinating and culturally enhancing. It is amazing to see the work of men from ages ago, especially considering that they did not possess the type of technology that we have today. There were many poor children around the temples that sold various items as a means to pay for their schooling needs. They were extremely aggressive and it was heartbreaking to see children have to work at such a young age just to get by. I made a habit of giving out a dollar or so at almost every site.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Night out to Dinner

By Brett Briard

Last summer, I spent 18 days in Cambodia as a volunteer at an English school. Traveling by myself, and being so far away from my parents was a little scary, but I had a really good time. The school I taught at was just a single room with some beat up desks, and some old, donated computers. I thought it was really neat that the school was adjacent to a Buddhist monastery and some of the students were actually monks, complete with the orange robes and shaved heads. To say the least, I had several amazing experiences throughout my stay, but one night stands out in particular. One of the students invited me and the other teacher, Sela, to her house for dinner. From a single meal, I learned that I could be happy without all these material things that we all think we need as long I’m with those that I care about.

The first adventure of the night was finding the house we were to have dinner at. We were speeding through the balmy air on what seemed like the only paved road in Cambodia, which happens to connect the airport and all the hotels. I was clutching onto Sela’s shoulders as he turned the moped onto a little dirt path. On a normal day, most Americans wouldn’t consider this “road” fit for a motor vehicle, but this evening was especially bad. It had been pouring a couple hours before, and each pothole looked like a little lake. I held on for dear life as we navigated through a minefield of water on our way to the little village where we’d find our dinner. We finally reach this village, but it seems my trusty guide can’t quite remember which house belongs to the student we’re meeting for dinner. This wouldn’t be so bad, but I’m starting to feel a little awkward because not only am I the only white person in sight, but also I’m wearing a big rain poncho and we must have passed through the same intersection like ten times. At one point the road actually floods with cows. Amazingly, Sela just navigates his moped through the herd, completely unphased. Eventually, after several calls on his cell phone, Sela believes he knows where the house is.

So finally we had reached the house. We were greeted by smiling faces and the smell of cooking. I was slightly apprehensive about the food, but it smelled good enough and I figured Sela wouldn’t let me eat anything that might get me sick. At this point, it’s probably important to describe the house. This is one of the better off families I’ve seen, but it’s tiny by our standards. To my surprise, I learn that it’s occupied by seven people. They had a little cooking fire going, and there were dogs and chickens running around everywhere. At this point, I’m really starting to appreciate my big air-conditioned house, with running water and electricity. Despite not having all these comforts we may see as necessities, the family looked as happy as can be. Like most middle-class Americans, I usually find myself worrying about keeping up with newest trend and having the latest and greatest, but these people seemed content to just have each other. Seriously, I rarely saw any facial expression other than a smile the entire night.

The dinner itself was a real cultural eye opener. It seemed like I was the guest of honor, I guess it’s not every day an American comes to dinner. I was sat at the head of the table and was served first. It seemed to me like half of the food was piled on my plate. I felt kind of bad, not wanting to eat all their food, but at the same time I was terrified of somehow insulting my host by refusing anything. Also, it felt weird to be the youngest one at the table, and yet get all this special attention. One of the men even stayed home from work to come to the dinner! As the night wore on, not only was I struggling to finish all of my food, but my bladder was about to burst as I was served my third fresh coconut to drink. I didn’t see a bathroom and, and for some reason I felt a little awkward in asking. So, I just decided to wait until I returned to my hotel. Despite my slight discomfort, I really enjoyed watching the family talk and laugh. Of course, I had no idea what they were saying, but it was fun to just watch them have a good time. They really reminded of how important my friends and family are, and actually made me quite homesick.

My trip to Cambodia was full of many exciting adventures, but that night will stay with me forever. I saw firsthand how even though someone may not have all the things a lot of us think we need, they can be perfectly happy by just being around those they care about. Maybe people think that’s just something that’s said in sappy movies, but I witnessed it personally. Although I may still forget to fully appreciate my family from time to time, I definitely have a different outlook on what’s important in life after my dinner in Cambodia.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Reservoir of Good Will, Well-Digging Visitors Part of Growing Trend: Volunteer Tourism

January 14, 2007

SIEM REAP, Cambodia – P. Sopany, an entrepreneurial woman in a squatter’s village near here, peers into the opening of a shallow, dug well.

“Water from here is not beautiful,” she says.

The well is flush with the ground, framed by weathered boards. An irregular sheet of corrugated metal serves as a cover. Looking into the well, the water is grayish brown with bubbles on the surface. There are mosquito larvae and tadpoles.

Not beautiful indeed.

Sopany and her neighbors estimate that drinking water from this well sickens adults ten to fifteen times a year, the children more often. But it is convenient, accessible and free; it’s what they have.

We are in her village today to offer what we hope is a better alternative.

I’ve volunteered to help bring clean water to this small village in northwest Cambodia, one of the 20 poorest countries on Earth. My role was funding the well – they cost $100 each. A local crew, I was told, would handle the labor. But I might be allowed to help.

This is called “volunteer tourism,” a growing segment of the tourism market, fueled primarily by well off Baby Boomers like me. We want to visit poor countries like Cambodia, but are uneasy about vacations in Third World countries that feature luxuries and amenities far beyond the reach of local citizens.

So we volunteer. Some teach, like Debra McDonough, a business software project manager from Ottawa, who was staying at the same B&B. Debra has been teaching English at two local schools, mornings and afternoons, for three weeks.

Others, like me, help with “infrastructure projects,” like clean water.

(Critical thinking alert: Yes, I know, the cost of this halfway-around-the-world trip could fund 50 wells. But in that event, I couldn’t go. And, yes, I only worked on this project for a few days, what one might call “volunteer tourism lite.”)

I chose clean water for a handful of reasons: First, one in three Asians lacks access to clean drinking water. Second, the lack of access to clean drinking water is linked to 80 percent of Asia’s health problems. Third, simple and inexpensive technology is available to fix the problem. And, fourth, no other intervention contributes as much to national development and public health.

I chose this part of Cambodia because of the opportunity to work with Journeys Within Our Community, an American-led, Siem Reap-based, nonprofit whose approach to village-level work appealed to me: “See a problem, Solve a problem,” they say.

A Californian named John Walsh leads Journeys. A former UC Davis lacrosse player, John ditched a restaurant management career in San Francisco in order to do this work. Journeys drill 10 wells a month, among other projects.

Over the next few days, I’d be working with John, other Journeys staffers and their local well crews to locate and drill a well that would bring clean water to Sopany’s village.

That village is Teak Sen Tborng, a squatter village of perhaps a dozen families. Families of six to eight adults and children live in open-air huts constructed of bamboo, corrugated metal, palm leaves and thatch. The huts, spaced a dozen or so feet apart, sit along a public, hardpan lane.

I met Sopany the first day. We were walking the village, talking with the women (most of the men are day laborers and were away) about where to locate the well.
Sopany is well known to the Journeys staff. She is a customer of its micro-lending program. She borrowed $100 a few months ago to equip and supply a dry goods shop for the village.

Elegant – if still relatively poor – Sopany on this morning wore a knit top, a traditional, full-length skirt, and gold earrings. The shop is in front. She keeps hogs and chickens in the back.

Her shop sells dried palm juice – a local sweet – as well as eggs, soy sauce, soaps, Coke, cigarettes and ginseng wine. Electricity powers a single, fluorescent bulb.

Sopany wanted the well drilled across the lane in front of her shop. That made sense to the Journeys staff, so long as she understood it was the village’s well, not hers alone. She understood.

“Just build me one,” she said.

Its central location would make it convenient and accessible to other families.

We told Sopany the crew would arrive the next day.

The three-man crew arrived on an old Honda motorbike pulling a narrow, two-wheel trailer. They unload their tools, the self-priming hand pump, and about 100 feet of pipe. The well must run to that depth to assure it’s reaching clean water, according to World Health Organization standards.

(A word about the technology. Nothing space-age here. Cast iron and brass, requiring no maintenance, the pump delivers a rope-like stream of water from the first crank. In nearby Vietnam, a nongovernmental organization is experimenting with a NASA-designed pump that disinfects water by passing it through a bed of iodinated resin known as MCV, or microbial check valve resin. Progress is slow. Sometimes, innovation means looking backward, in this case to the 19th century.)

They drill by hand. The drill bit is at the end of a 7/8ths-inch diameter pipe. Water pumped from a nearby open-pit well courses through the pipe to loosen the soil and bubble it to the surface. The driller punches the bit into the soil, then twists it 45 degrees. He punches the bit an inch or so deeper and twists again. Punch and twist, punch and twist – by my count, about 36 times a minute.

The first hour goes well. But at 30 feet down, with 70 feet to go, the drilling stalls. The driller, a slender, experienced Cambodian man, speculates he has hit a rock. Can he break it or wedge past it, we ask. The driller punches and twists for 50 more minutes, but no progress. This hole, as they used to say in the Oklahoma oil fields, is a duster.

The driller decides to start a new hole 10 feet away. It, too, stalls at 30 feet. The rock, he now figures, is a layer of rock.

Another duster.

That’s it for today: two holes, both stalled at 30 feet. Several hours of punching and twisting in 90-degree, full-sun December heat. The driller is frustrated and tired. Sopany’s hope fades for a well in front of her shop.We try not to show our disappointment.

We agree to find a new site in the village. The crew will return tomorrow.

At the end of the lane is another customer of Journey’s micro-lending program. She is Meas Mardy, who borrowed $100 to expand her bread business. Early each morning, she buys loaves of bread for 350 Riel (about nine U.S. cents) from a local bakery. She sells the loaves for 450 to 500 Riel in the nearby fishing market.

Business is good. Meas Mardy wants to pay off her loan early, get another larger loan, and expand.

She had spoken with John earlier the first day about drilling a well at her end of the lane. It looked like a good site for a second well to the Journeys staff. John told Meas Mardy they’d be back in touch. With the Sopany site now a duster, Meas Mardy was about to get that well.

A new crew started to drill the next morning. No rock, no problem. The well was in before noon. All that was left was to prepare, pour and finish the concrete base. And it looked like I was about the get my hands dirty.

The base is a layer of dirt, followed by a layer of gravel, followed by a layer of cement. Rin, a 21-year-old member of the crew, let me place good-size rocks on the dirt. Then he busted them up with a short handle, five-pound sledge hammer.

“Making gravel Cambodian style,” John said.

All that afternoon, we were watched over by another woman in the lane, Tet Marpp, and her toddler daughter, Nary. Tet Marpp placed chairs in the shade for us to sit on. Unaccustomed to tall, Western men, Nary eyed us suspiciously.

As Rin and the crew finished up, Tet Marpp was putting Nary down for an afternoon nap in a wooden and string hammock. She hummed what Rin described as a traditional Cambodian lullaby.

With the concrete base finished and clean water now a hand crank away, we took pains to leave quietly, lest we wake Nary.

“Orskun,” Tet Marpp whispered. In her language, thank you.


Greenman is a professor of journalism at the University of Georgia and a former president and publisher of the Ledger-Enquirer. Graduate student Melanie Jarrett contributed reporting for this story.


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