Sunday, 24 June 2012

Our Street and good news / bad news

Our Street

To give you a glimpse of urban Cambodia, we thought we would show you what our street looks like.  It's an eclectic mix of Khmer and western houses, some quite well off but most incredibly poor.

Here are two photo's of a large pond across the road from our apartment,

Father & Son gathering plants from the pond

Wife (mother) in amongst it !

where locals gather edible and medicinal plants for use.  Those of you in Grafton might like to try the same thing in the pond at the front of the Tourist Information Centre near Macdonalds in South Grafton. I bet you would get a few stares !   You can see some of the shacks in the background and on the roofline, the top of the Kampong Som casino, a glitzy neon affair that caters to foreigners as Khmer aren't allowed on the gaming floors of the Casinos in Cambodia, except to work.

Here's two photos out the back window showing our rear neighbours houses

Out the back window of our apartment

Out the back window of our apartment

and this is the neighbour to the south, looking from the street

southern neighbour

and we have vendors go up and down selling things, food included, as well as buying things like tin cans for recycling (we give them ours but most khmer collect and sell them)

This, I think,  is one of the most iconic though, a guy with a bicycle BBQ, selling BBQ pork on a stick. Awesome ingenuity !

BBQ Vendor on a bicycle !
Notice the "tin" to stop the heat melting the rear wheel

Local kids playing in the rain

If you are receiving this by email rather then reading it on the blog, you will have to click this link to watch the video

I'll post some more photo's next time

Kitchen Upgrade

and now for some good news and bad news, which do you want first ?

The good news

The kitchen you guys in Nymboida helped fund (you can read more of that here) has come along nicely !  Some great work has been done and it was close to being completed when....

Kitchen construction well under way

the bad news

the father fell off the roof after a long day, fell across rocks and hit his head, knocking him unconscious.  They took him to the local medical clinic on the back of a scooter (yes, a scooter ) while still unconscious, where he was partly patched up. He initially could not move his arms or urinate but can now do both. The worrying thing is he can't walk.  So the family decided to bundle him into the back of a taxi (yes a taxi !) and head to Phnom Penh, we'll keep you updated.  We decided to pay $65 from the Donations Account to help with the $165 cost of  treatment at the local clinic.

We'll keep  you guys updated.  Poor education and poor access to  health care really are the two basic things a society needs.  They can't move forward with either of those two as lacking as they are.

Friday, 15 June 2012

TEDx and Desks


The best way to ensure the kids of the community centre are engaged by the staff is to make sure the staff themselves are engaged, so we recently took the staff of the Goodwill Center on a staff development day to TEDx in Phnom Penh. The Goodwill Center paid for some of it and your donations helped pay for the rest. While costs are low, for example $9 for a return busfare but that's 1/2 a weeks wage for some locals.

is about spreading ideas, and the localised version allows the same concept to spread out amongst the developing world with TEDx to help them engage their citizens.  There was even some intrigue, with the finale being cancelled due to concerns of the political nature of the content and who it might be offend.  That aside, it was a good event, the staff enjoyed themselves and more importantly listened to both Khmer and foreign speakers on how things could be different, and the importance of education and they got to use networking to ensure ideas could be spread further.

Goodwill Center staff

This was the first time many of them had been to their nations capital, and before the bus arrived to take us all back to Sihanoukville, they managed to to tour their national museum and royal palace to view some of the Khmer history.

Romdual School

General Sok Romdual
Ever since a few local ex-pats got together with a Khmer Army General at Ream River to open a school for the rural kids who lived there, the demand from the locals to send their kids to school has been incredible. They managed to finance the construction of two new classrooms and have asked us to help out with supplying desks, whiteboard and consumables to allow them to employ another teacher for the extra  kids.  We are busily getting quotes to have some desks built, once we know the cost, we will see if the donations  you guys have made can help out.  The school is only there at the General's behest, it's on his land and he helps out personally with lots of the expenses.

Power Outages

The power outages have become worse recently, making it really hard to run evening classes. No lights, no power, no computer classes and the evening English classes are made more difficult.  Surety of electricity is something we in the West mostly take for granted. We are lucky to go a day and not have the power out for many number of hours here.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

more happenings...

Two New Looks

The blog site's "new" look

For those of you who receive an email of the blog posting, you won't have noticed but we have completely redesigned the site. This allows us to be more "viewer" friendly for those of you with mobile devices like Android phones & tablets and iEverythings as well as make the site a little more modern and "funky" (can I use the word funky at my age ? )  We may add a twitter feed in the future, so we too can be a bunch of "twits" :)

The other thing you missed by receiving the email is the video of the kids "dancing", I would encourage you to visit the blog site and watch the video, it's wonderful to see the kids imitate the traditional Khmer dancing they see on television.  

You can visit the blog site by clicking the link here (and bookmarking us) to see the new layout.  You can play around with different layouts to find the one that suits you by clicking the Sidebar tag at the top left, links on the right had side will "pop out" as you run your mouse over the think black strip of the sidebar and various pages can be browsed to in the header at the top of the page.

Toni's "new" look

I was invited to my first Khmer wedding the other week and like every woman on the planet, I didn't have anything to wear and I fretted about my hair.  I decried make-up, as 2 minutes of sweating in the humidity makes you look like a zombie if you're not used to the heat .  Eventually, I went across the road to a little shop that has a Khmer hairdresser and with much gesticulating, laughing, head shaking and a phone call to a Khmer friend who could translate, I had my hair done in the traditional style over here, all for $3.  Trevor insisted on taking a photo

"Dolled up", a guest at my first Khmer wedding

The weddings are an interesting affair. I had no idea who the Bride and Groom were and the weddings are  a huge, elaborate event, like they often are in the West, with a few confronting differences.  The wedding is inevitably outdoors under a marquis, on a dirt floor; dogs running in and out grabbing discarded morsels, the poorest of the poor stand around the outside looking in hungrily and little kids darting in to collect empty beer cans they can sell to the metal recycler for a few cents.  I wondered later why the bride didn't seem particularly happy, I assumed the stress of organising such a big event. It was confronting to find out later it was an arranged marriage and she didn't want to get married at all.

Groom (L) Bride (R) and bridal party

Another interesting difference is the event is supposed to be a money making affair, to help the new bride and groom for the future. Something that seems very sensible when you think about it and why they are such HUGE affairs.


First off a big thank you to Trevor's sister, Andrea, in Brisbane.  She has been helping a young local artist over here in Cambodia by purchasing and mailing him art supplies.  She has paid for it out of her own pocket (postage is very expensive) and it's incredibly generous of her.  He is a young teen age boy and he makes a living for his family selling cheesy art to tourists but has aspirations of attending art school, producing quality work and bettering himself, exactly the sort of person we love helping.  We are going to commission him to do a couple of pieces on our behalf.

We want to thank all the people in Australia who have helped out. If you do want to make a small donation please visit our donations page and follow the instruction there.  Just a reminder, donations via Paypal have a small admin fee taken out by pay pal, so anyone living in Aus should use the direct deposit bank account details listed.


One of the oddities that we have observed is that people will often donate money to a "project". We see it regularly, with lots of great work being done and then there is no follow up on how to keep the project running.  For example, it seems senseless to spend money to build a school if there are no funds to run it... so there are many projects that struggle to stay alive for a lack of funds after the initial good deeds have been done.  Of course paying local teachers wages is not as sexy as building a school but is possibly even more vital as it allows the teachers, who are local people in their communities, to earn enough money to feed themselves and their family.  A good wage for a teacher over here is $150 a MONTH... yes, you read that correctly, a MONTH...  One of the commitments I made to the Goodwill Centre prior to taking the position of Operations Manager was to pay the wages of the Khmer staff for two months, we did that last month and covered it in this blog post here.  This month the staff did a little sign up to show their appreciation. 

Goodwill Center staff saying thank you !

The kitchen

The other project we paid for was to help rebuild a kitchen of a villager.  This is the same family with 'Dunstan Dunny'. You may remember we were invited during Khmer New Year to their place for lunch and the kitchen itself seemed on its last legs even then.  Since then we have had some torrential rain and the dilapidated shed that was the kitchen has given up, so we paid $135 to supply all the materials to help them rebuild.  Here is what it used to look like from the door

The kitchen

Construction is well underway to stabilise the floor from collapsing.  The rocks were harvested from the hill behind the house, the concrete, galvanised iron sheets, sand, nails and concrete were paid for by the donations fund.  We'll post an update after construction is complete !

Some nice rock & brick work !

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Insights and observations

If you receive these updates by email, don't forget you can click through to the blog itself, where  you can read older posts, find out more information if you want to help further and see more photo's and video's, click this link to go to the blog itself.


One of the good things about riding the mountain bike is being able to get off the beaten track a little more as well as take it a little slower. This allows us to see more of rural Cambodia and we get to interact with the locals. They often come out and say "Su Sa Dey !" (hello) as we ride past.  For someone from Australia, it's incredibly interesting to be able to see the farmers use buffalo hitched to a plow, plowing their fields.  For tiny village shops to sell a variety of interesting produce and pigs, chicken, cattle and buffalo on the small rural roads in front of us.

Oxen pulling a cart in Kampot province

The rural areas tend to work nearly exclusively in the national currency (Reil) which is about R4,000 to $1USD  Even though our Khmer is poor, we have always been interested in language and linguistics and we are learning as we go.  We stopped at a tiny village store, to get bananas and a pineapple, so we knew when she said "Bram bee roi" (7000) when we had asked "tly phon mahn ?", (how much money is this) .  It feels much  better to buy from the village stores than the supermarkets in town. Much like farmers markets back home in that respect, though there is the perception that being rich (after all we could afford an air ticket to get over here, we must be rich) they will often put the price up for a westerner.

Thinking Big

I also get to observe some of the bigger organisations trying to do big projects, often ending badly.  Recently AusAID poured millions of dollars into a project to get rail back up and running in Cambodia, by getting an Australian company, TOLL Group, to work with a local company of dubious provenance (ROYAL Group), and the project fell over.  Helping fund a Cambodian Billionaires construction dreams with Aid money seems quite odd to me...  I was immediately reminded of the TED Talk,

big projects big money big disappointments and wonder if there isn't a better way with the micro models I see all around giving positive outcomes every day

Rumdual School

Here is another great project we have been involved with. As well as helping out with volunteer work in the past, we have used small amounts of the donations money for a couple of the small projects they have had and we have been helping them develop a website.  So far we're happy and most importantly they're happy with the site.

Click on this link to go to the Romdual School website

here's a thumbnail of the site, click to open the site itself

Friday, 1 June 2012

Starting at Goodwill Centre

Helping Smaller Cambodian NGO's

Just a reminder to other small Cambodian NGO's, we are still keen to work with them if we can help with funding from the money we have raised in Australia.  One small NGO assumed because Toni was now working as the Operations Manager (more on this later) at the Goodwill Centre, that all of the funds would be directed there.  On the contrary, most of Toni's time will be directed there but only a small portion of the funds. They are to help the children and communities of all of Cambodia, so don't hesitate to read what you need to do to meet our funding criteria, and make an application if you think you comply.

Goodwill Centre

Through a serendipitous chain of events, I was recently offered the position as the Operations Manager of the Goodwill Centre.

Goodwill Centre

The Goodwill Centre is a project of the Help the Cambodian Children English based charity. They are  working in conjunction with the founder, Henrik Ollson, a Swedish ex-pat and business owner who with his Khmer wife, now calls Sihanoukville home.  Between the charitable trust in the UK, Henrik in Sihanoukville and Sabine the German Operations Manger at the centre, the Khmer staff and now the help of an Australian, the whole gamut of international relations is happening right here, on the ground.  No need for the cumbersome bureaucracy of the United Nations I say, here is international co-operation, working !

For the last four years, Sabine has been working tirelessly on the Goodwill Centre, doing an incredible job

Sabine, hard at "work" after being 'caked'
I can follow on from the wonderful work she has done and the bedrock she has laid.  To paraphrase Sir Issac Newton; what little I may achieve, will only be because I can stand on the shoulders of giants who have come before me.

The Goodwill Centre serves a local village (we would probably use the term suburb in the west as it's within the city of Sihanoukville).  It works to help improve the education of the local Khmer children by supplementing the state provided education (which is very lacking) as well as providing a safe area for the children to play,  for continuing education in English and Computer literacy after hours for teenagers and adults in the local area.  There are a staff of four local Khmer and myself.   Some of the education in Cambodia is provided as a commercial enterprise but the people who use our centre are comparatively poor.

As part of my work at the centre, I will be continuing the wonderful blog Sabine started here if people are interested.

Every day at the centre provides me with an opportunity to be grounded in perspective as to how well off we in the West really are.  The Children make me laugh, smile and cry, often all at the same time.  This little boy,
He borrowed my sunglasses, to look "cool" 

who shall remain nameless to protect  his privacy, has HIV from his mother. His mother is too ill to look after him and is being raised by his Aunt .  He has on a pair of shorts that were donated, about four sizes too big, practising a traditional Khmer dance routine that those of you who are familiar with may recognise.... what chance has he for a bright future ? and yet he is so full of happiness, joy and wonder...

On that introspective note, I shall sign off.