Great progress on childrens home

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Up on the roof. The two new dormitory rooms at the children’s home are almost complete.

Excellent progress has been made on the extensions to Savong’s home for children in the Bakong district near the school. The roofing is nearly completed on the new dormitory rooms, though in the last few days progress has been slow thanks to a dramatic turn in the weather. The wet season seems to have arrived in earnest.

Almost all the required money has been raised – and a big thank you to the Tasmanian connection for raising  $US6980. Funds have also come in from elsewhere, taking our total toward the initial $8500 target – though we can do with more money in order to replace the somewhat leaky tin roofing on the original building.  Got a spare $100 or two?

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How we assisted this dedicated Cambodian student.

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Hey, a big thank you to Nicholas in Singapore for responding to our recent story about Moeuncheat (above) a high school student who lives 50kms from Siem Reap and whose family situation meant that he could not afford to go to high school to extend his education.

Moeuncheat contacted me via friends of friends on Facebook, and I was able to post his story a few weeks ago. The first step: Savong went out to visit the boy and his mother, in order to verify the story and work out how best to help. (We wire the money from the Savong School account – and Savong’s Scholarship Supervisor phones the school and Moeuncheat on a regular basis to track progress at the high school.)

With all the paperwork in place it was gratifying to receive this Facebook message the other day:

“Hi Duncan How are you looking today ? Today i want tell you that i was get money from Savong school ready it’s 40$ .thank you very much that you hilp me.”

I look forward to see where Moeuncheat’s story takes him. I admire his determination and his detective work to find a way through his schooling dilemma. How many thousands of young Cambodians face the same obstacles? That’s why I admire the systems and solutions set up by the likes of Savong’s School, and other NGOs such as the Ponheary Ly Foundation. They are dedicated to helping students overcome the barriers that stand between themselves and their future potential. As Nicholas has demonstrated – any of us can help an individual student. You interested?

Lost city found in Kulen Mountains – Cambodia

Many visitors to Savong’s School and SOC have been on day trips to the Kulen Mountains, 40kms away to enjoy a picnic and swim under the waterfalls. The same range of mountains has recently revealed an ancient lost city which has been rediscovered thanks to an Australian group of archaeologists, working with locals.

These discoveries have come at a good time I think: 100 years ago the lost carvings would have been plundered and shipped to Paris, London or New York. Now they can be considered in their homeland.

This from the Sydney Morning Herald. ImageArchaeologists using revolutionary airborne laser technology have discovered a lost mediaeval city that thrived on a mist-shrouded Cambodian mountain 1200 years ago.

The stunning discovery of the city, Mahendraparvata, includes temples hidden by jungle for centuries – temples that archaeologists believe have never been looted.

An instrument called Lidar strapped to a helicopter which criss-crossed a mountain north of the Angkor Wat complex provided data that matched years of ground research by archaeologists. The research revealed the city that founded the Angkor Empire in 802AD.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/lost-horizons-mediaeval-city-uncovered-20130614-2o9p3.html#ixzz2WL2xsdro

…and so construction begins!

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With money raised for the proposed shift into town now being directed toward building, Savong wasted no time in getting the project started. Here you can see where the extension is heading – out towards the gates. In Cambodia, timber is fiercely expensive, so those beams are like gold.

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When this children’s home was first built in 2008, thanks to a generous American family, the Quills, it was envisaged that the SOC would house less than 20 children. However as soon as it was built, local families expressed interest. Poverty is a problem in rural Siem Reap, and some families find it extremely difficult during hard seasons to adequately support their children.

The annual budget for the SOC has risen over time – in 2012 it came to just over $2500 per month including food, education for the children, staff, transport and the special events that punctuate the yearly calendar. This comes to around $60 per child per month.

The hanging tree. A sudden memory.

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This photo of three children at the SOC looks full of joy, but when I opened it up on my computer  just now I suddenly remembered an incident that happened a few paces from this place: which is on the small cycle track that leads to the entrance gate of the SOC.

It was a suicide, and a local woman had hung herself from a nearby tree. Some of the children told me about this and they had been quite shaken by the event.  What were the circumstances? I have often wondered what might have driven that woman to take her life. It is not a route in any way favoured by the Buddhist religion.

I post this brief blog in response to my previous message. Life in Bakong can be pretty sweet – a daily rhythm governed by the rising and setting of the sun, and backed by a chorus of insects and frogs and rural life.

But Cambodia is never far away from tragedy. Next time I visit the children I plan to ask the older ones about the story and be sure that they have processed the tragedy in a way that leaves no sad, frayed ends in their hearts.

Children’s Home – the plans have changed, for the better.

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I took the photo above in 2011 and it is one of my favourites because it captures life in Roulos near the school and the children’s home run by Savong. The motorbike gets a hard life navigating the local roads, but life looks happy. That wave and smile is what amazes visitors to Cambodia.

A few months ago Savong came to a difficult decision to move the children’s home away from this area, and into Siem Reap. I must admit I felt a pang of regret. A children’s home in town must by definition be walled-in to be secure. There’s less of the rural rhythm and where the children currently know the faces and families of the rural neighborhood; in town they would not be so anchored into a stable community.

The reason for the decision was the regulatory environment that all people in Roulos face: they live in a heritage area, governed by the Apsara authority, and this governing body has the laudable task of helping preserve the heritage status of the region which is the home to the first of the Angkor temples. (Imagine having the Roulos temple just up your street?) But one downside for locals is that progress is very hard to achieve. In Savong’s case they did not permit planned extensions to the existing children’s home which has badly needed extra bedroom space and additional toilets. No way, said Apsara.  So over last December and January Savong began announcing plans to shift into town.  It was going to be expensive.

That was a few months ago, but due to the upcoming Cambodian elections in July there appears to have been a window of opportunity to gain permission for building extensions. I’m not sure how it works in Cambodia, but governing authorities sometimes grant “permission holidays” when things that are not normally permitted get the go-ahead. 

So Savong has moved quickly. This last week he was written to a number of supporters outlining his proposed extensions and setting out a budgetfor the renovations and improvements to the existing children’s home in Roulos – the place we’ve known as the SOC.

These plans look good. They provide for much more bedroom space, with an extra room for boys and and extra room for girls. Each new room would have a toilet facility also.

On the roof, instead or iron – which is oven hot during most of the year – the proposal is to use clay tiles which are durable and a lot more comfortable.

These changes are for the better.  Visitors are sometimes struck by how basic the current resources are, but this is limited purely by funds we can raise overseas for the project. Now there is is some certainty about the direction for the SOC we encourage gifting.

Got a spare $500?  It could do a lot of good giving 40 children some home improvements – while they enjoy the peaceful life of the Roulos countryside.