Holiday in Cambodia – 2014

Many visitors to Cambodia are caught out by unexpected holidays.  Not many westerners expect New Year to be celebrated in…er…mid April, and the Khmer calendar is peppered with a number of traditional Buddhist holidays, days that mark the turning of seasons (wet season to dry season) as well as days of political significance.

When you plan to go to Cambodia don’t be surprised if you come across an unexpected holiday or two. Cambodians love their holidays, and Siem Reap locals enjoy three versions of New Years day:  January 1st, then Chinese New Year, then in April Khmer New Year. Western festivals are not really observed, though don’t be surprised if you see Santa motifs in December.

List of Public Holidays in Cambodia for year 2014

Public holidays in Cambodia are mostly made of traditional festivals and Buddhist holidays. Most festivals and holidays are based on lunar calendar, thus the dates of Cambodia holidays change from year to year in Gregorian calendar.

International New Year’s Day
First day of the year in Western/Gregorian Calendar
not a public holiday, yet many businesses and offices are closed.
New Year’s Day 2014

  • Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Victory over Genocide Day
Commemorates the end of Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia after their defeat to Vietnam troops in 1979.

Meak Bochea Day Commemorates Buddha’s preaching to gathering monks.

  • Friday, 14 February 2014

International Women’s Day Commemorates women’s bravery and achievement all over the world.

  • Saturday, 8 March 2014

Cambodian Khmer New Year / Chaul Chnam Thmey. Commonly referred as the most important holiday in Cambodia. The holidays may last for 3 days.

  • Monday, 14 April 2014
  • Tuesday, 15 April 2014
  • Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Labor Day / May Day. Celebrates workers’ economic and social achievement in Cambodia.

  • Thursday, 1 May 2014

Royal Plowing Ceremony. Also known as Pithi Chrat Preah Neangkol, correspond to the start of planting season.

  • Monday, 5 May 2014

HM King Sihamoni’s Birthday. Celebrates the birth of His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni. It is usually celebrated for 3 days.

  • Tuesday, 13 May 2014
  • Wednesday, 14 May 2014
  • Thursday, 15 May 2014

Visakha Bochea / Visaka Buja Day. Commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and passing to the nirvana of the Buddha.

  • Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Children’s Day. Celebrates childhood and wishes the children happiness and a good life.

  • Sunday, 1 June 2014

HM the Queen Mother’s Birthday. Celebrates the birth of Her Majesty the Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk.

  • Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Pchum Ben Day. A festival to respect the ancestors by cooking food and giving offerings to the monks.

  • Tuesday, 14 October 2014
  • Wednesday, 15 October 2014
  • Thursday, 16 October 2014

Commemoration Day of King’s Father Norodom Sihanouk. A homage to the late King’s Father Norodom Sihanouk. Public holiday since 2013. Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Paris Peace Agreement Day. Commemorates the signing of peace treaty in Paris on October 23, 1991.
Thursday, 23 October 2014

Cambodia Coronation Day. Celebrates the anniversary of the coronation of current King Norodom Sihamoni.

  • Saturday, 25 October 2014

Cambodia Independence Day. Celebrates the country’s independence from France in 1953.

  • Sunday, 9 November 2014

Water Festival / Bon Om Thook. Celebrate the end of monsoon season in Cambodia. It marks the changing course of Mekong river and Tonle sap river.

  • Thursday, 27 November 2014
  • Friday, 28 November 2014
  • Saturday, 29 November 2014

Human Rights Day. Commemorates the adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

  • Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Credit to PublicHoliday.Org for these notes. PublicHoliday.Org is a great website for anyone planning travel to foreign places and we’ve borrowed our notes for this page from them.

If you are thinking of visiting Cambodia and are wondering about volunteering – here are some useful guidelines.

For more about life in Cambodia, click here to sample the Best of this Blog. Thanks for visiting!

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A change in the fundraising structure at Savong’s School and SOC

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This year Savong has been working hard on several facets of the organisation – fund raising and supervising renovations to the children’s home in Bakong, but also setting a system for fundraising of the SOC that is locally run.

The need to do this comes in part for a desire for self-sufficiency by the organisation which is inspired by surrounding NGOs that have western style system sin places.  The other motivator has come from the financial pressure I’ve been under – personally – with the continued growth of the SOC and school and scholarships program.

Somehow I ended up as underwriter for the whole project, when my resources were committed to the school and scholarship program. After the SOC was built there has always been a shortage of sponsorship money and I’ve tended to make up the shortfall. Between inflation and the growth of the project I’ve been unable to meet the rising demand, out of my own pocket. Something had to change.

So with the assistance of Alex, a young Australian (she has been in Cambodia several months this year) Savong has been setting up a new sponsorship arrangement for the children at SOC – handling the search for sponsors, the regular communications and the handling of donations from Cambodia. I will continue to focus on the school and scholarships exactly as I committed to do in 2004.

The best way anyone can help Savong and the project is to offer certainty and commitment. We’ve always tried to offer that not only to the children we teach or care for, but also for the teachers and scholarship winners. So right now as Savong transitions from one system to another – and this time operates without an underwriter who’s there to pick up any slack – he deserves plenty of commitment from supporters and sponsors.

See also a November 2013 piece about a new visitor rule: a minimum donation.

And if you are interested in making a donation: click here.

Savong’s School reaches 8th birthday.

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On September 18th September 2005 the opening of Savong’s School, newly constructed, was celebrated with a traditional Cambodian ceremony. That 8 years has gone by quickly, and the little three room school has grown dramatically since then, with more classrooms and the addition of computer teaching.  I think more significantly, the professionalism of the school has also grown. 

When we started teaching training had scarcely got underway in Cambodia’s reconstruction, so no teachers, anywhere, were particularly well-trained.  But now our teachers have been completing their university degrees, and have also picked up many skills both from each other and from the volunteers, including many experienced teachers, we’ve had pass through the doors of the school.

To me, the school is a tribute to the children who attend voluntarily and who continue to show a real desire to better themselves and to lift their prospects.

I remember a little moment in 2011 when I hitched a ride from my Guest House into town, and a young guy offered me a ride on the back of his Honda. We talked a lot and I complimented him on his good conversational English. “I learned at Savong’s School,” he beamed.

For me, that was a golden moment. He didn’t know I had anything to do with the school, so to hear unvarnished pride (and great language skills) like that was a really good thing indeed.

To Savong, to the staff and to the students – today I wish you a happy birthday.

 

Thoughts on heading back to Cambodia

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To visit Cambodia is to confront the deepest of life’s questions

I wrote this in September 2013.

This October I head back to Siem Reap some 28 months after I last visited, and 9 years since I first visited. I head back with mixed feelings this time because if anything the journey will be accompanied with more emotional baggage and greater responsibility.

When I first landed in Siem Reap one hot sunny afternoon in 2004 I was immediately uplifted by a sense of freedom and the exhilaration of being somewhere totally new for me: the beginning of an adventure.  Over the years that feeling has diminished as the project I’ve been involved with has grown in scope and become more complex for the same reason. The first impression most visitors get in Cambodia is that of the delightful smiles of the locals – but these days I ponder more often the complicated layers (cultural, interpersonal) in dealing with Cambodia.  Deep down I try to keep a perspective on my own motivations and my own ability to make a positive difference.

The truth is, the project sometimes breaks my spirit, as it did in 2011, when I saw Savong’s school and childrens home both in good heart, but in need of systems: in need of stronger day to day management. The organisation had grown to the point where the existing systems were not keeping up. How I wanted to implement this and suggest that, but in my two week sojourn I met resistance and I was deeply hurt that Savong seemed to be fobbing off these discussions. Tomorrow brother, tomorrow.  And tomorrow finally arrived, just 12 hours before my flight out.

In hindsight I didn’t handle the situation particularly well. It didn’t help that I was very ill and at one stage slept for something like 30 hours straight.

When we finally made the time to have the business discussion I realised that my approach – my didactic style of “you have to do this! you need to do that!” was a serious affront to Savong who is, after all, the Director of the project. I’m well aware of cultural differences and how they affect management styles, so I’d walked into a trap of my own making, alas.

Since then we have both discussed our communication styles and we have also restated, as we do in most conversations, our commitment to the children of Bakong, just east of Siem Reap: the children at the school and the children’s home.

Even so I look forward to our next meetings about as eagerly as a new recruit looks forward to their first-ever 6-monthly review.  The agenda this time includes those things I wanted to raise 2 years ago: the systems and procedures that the NGO requires to keep all stakeholders happy.  In fact Savong has raised these items and these days he’s making concerted efforts to constantly improve the project. For me the meetings will involve a little bit of letting-go because the project is now too large for me to keep underwriting – making up any shortfall we might have in fundraising. Some months the gap is too big for me to manage alone. So we have some serious thinking and planning to undertake together, especially now I’m approaching retirement age.

So that’s my baggage and my burden. What I look forward to, quite apart from seeing my friend – my brother – Savong once more, is the prospect of meeting the school students once again, and the children at the SOC. Whenever I’m feeling down, my thoughts turn to them and I realise that, excepting for my wife Susanna, these children give me the heart, the courage and the life-meaning I need to get by.

In some ways that’s why I feel trepidation about this particular journey next month. Once more I’m coming face to face with my own doubts and depressions. Once more I’m confronting the question we all consider: who am I?

Since writing this I’ve been on the trip and found my fears unwarranted. Here’s a first reaction on that journey.

The search is on for a student sponsor. $20 a week to put a student through University.

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With October rolling around schools in Cambodia wrap-up the academic year with exams prior to the annual Pchum Ben holiday which marks a time of thanksgiving to one’s ancestors, and also the change of seasons. This time of year produces trepidation for local students as well: it is exam time.

For the past three years we have awarded the top Grade 12 students at Savong’s School a full scholarship to University in town, 14 kms away. The scholarship is well designed to respect the real needs and realities facing university students from the rural community.

They normally face four significant barriers to taking part in university courses.

  1. The barrier of money. Enrolment fees (around $450 per annum over 4 years,) are actually higher than some families manager to earn over 12 months. By providing fees and a required laptop, we overcome the primary hurdles.
  2. Transport into town each day. Fuel and transport are relatively costly in Cambodia and so we provide the scholarship students from Bakong a daily ride into University and home again. For some families this frees up the family 50cc motorbike so it can be used for other duties.
  3. Living allowance. Enrolment fees alone don’t adequately support a university student throughout the year, and so we pay a modest $45-50 per month to help cover living expenses and to ensure the student isn’t draining resources from their family. By being self-sufficient they are under much less pressure at home in terms of ‘pulling their weight.’
  4. Structure and support. Cambodian students are highly motivated, but homes are not well designed for the needs of a student who needs access to wifi, and space to quietly study. Our scholarships ensure that the students have access to the school facilities – study space – as well as the support of their peers and predecessors. The Bakong scholarship students get on well and support each other.

University studies take place in the mornings in Siem Reap, and in the afternoons the students travel back to Savong’s School where they undertake duties including some teaching. Their presence provides an element of mentorship for the younger students.  Also their progress is tracked, and we we keep an eye out for any health issues (for example one student needed glasses which we paid for.)

Now here’s where you can assist. Averaged out over a four year period (the minimum under the Cambodian degree system) the scholarship adds up, in western terms, to that classic measure: one take-out coffee per day or $US 20 per week.

We are looking for 5 additional sponsors to help support the latest scholarship winners whose names will be announced shortly. This is a tremendous opportunity to give effectively and to ensure that your gift really does get results. Armed with a degree, these students will be able to transform the lives of their families. Your gift has a real multiplier effect.

You’d like to find out more. Contact me: duncan@kudos-dynamics.com