Samach’s story.

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His ID Photo is the classic Cambodian ID.  A serious young man in a small passport-sized photo that looks badly developed and almost hand-retouched. He wears a formal jacket and tie (this is an official ID) despite the heat on the day the photo was taken. The young man’s name is Chuon Samach. Chuon is his family’s name.

Samach is 22, and he is a Year 3 student at Angkor University as well as a part time teacher at Savong’s School in Bakong, 12kms east of Siem Reap.  By day he studies until noon and then he gets a tuktuik ride back to Bakong in order to teach until sunset which is almost always at 6:00pm, here near the equator. The days are long for Samach, the commute to and from University adds an hour to his commitments and at night he must prepare lessons and complete his assignments. He’s not complaining – but from an outsider’s point of view his life is hard.

Yet in some respects he is lucky also.

Samach is the seventh of nine children and while four siblings have got married and moved away, Samach and four others are supported by their parents, farmers who are typical of Bakong farmers: very poor because land plots are small, and the area is prone to devastating floods – or droughts. The father is 63 and the mother is 55 (both old enough to have lived through the worst of the Pol Pot years and the famine that followed. “Every day they try so hard to sustain the family,” says Samach. “I feel sorry for them.”

Samach studied well as a child, doing well at Prasat Bakong Primary School and then studying to Grade 12 at Hun Sen Prasat Bakong High School – the large area state school in the district. He was also in touch with Savong’s School from where he was awarded a university scholarship because of his excellent grades and in respect of his family’s low income.  “It has been great support,” he says. “With the aid of Savong School I am capable of continuing to study at university. I can’t believe I’ve had this opportunity.”

He studies for a Bachelor’s degree in Tourism, and is planning to gain a Masters degree as well – a rare achievement in rural Cambodia.

He’s determined. “Travelling is difficult and sometimes there are family problems, but I still don’t pack my study in.”

The scholarship has made a big difference – the difference between being able to study at University or not – and in the medium term it will help Samach pursue a well-paid career and enable him to fulfil his own dream of supporting his family. “My family will rely on me, down the road,” he says.

The University scholarship covers annual enrolment fees, a very basic salary, and daily transport into town as well as a laptop: an essential item for University.

As with the other scholarship winners, Samach gives back – by teaching younger children at the school – and inspiring other students to set high goals. “I would like to show my deep appreciation for your support,” he told Salas, who took the notes for this story. “To Savong Organisation Cambodia and supporters I wish you longevity, nobility, health and strength.”

 

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Latest from Cambodia’s “Corrupt Files”

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Yeah right – a fair system for everyone in Cambodia.

Today the newspaper Cambodia Daily published Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which was released on Wednesday and – who would have guessed?- promptly dismissed by the country’s anti-graft chief.

Link here: https://www.cambodiadaily.com/news/cambodia-perceived-as-most-corrupt-in-region-106639/

While other SE Asian nations have been slowly dealing, inch by stubborn inch, with endemic corruption, the score for Cambodia has scarcely budged in 10 years and the nation is now ranked bottom of all SE Asian nations.

To quote Phnom Penh Post today:

Anti-Corruption Unit chief Om Yentieng yesterday questioned TI’s data-collection method, claiming the information was “biased”, discredited and did not reflect reality. Opposition CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay, an anti-corruption crusader, called the results troubling. “If we don’t improve our fight against corruption, investors will be afraid of coming to Cambodia,” he said.

Phare Cambodia Circus – Siem Reap

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Last October I was in Siem Reap during Pchm Ben holidays and enjoyed a relaxed two weeks catching up with Savong and many of the students. I also caught up with Kimleng and his family – people I’d first met in Auckland – and found they had a deep connection with many of the students we support. They come from the same village 60kms east of Siem Reap.

On my last night I wanted to thank Kimleng for all his help transporting me and students back to their families in Kampong Kdei for Pchum Ben. The journey is worth another story or two.

I decided to shout them a night at the Phare Circus of which I had read glowing reviews. We enjoyed dinner first, seven of us including 3 students, and then we drove through the balmy evening to the big tent.

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I’d forgotten what a cool effect the big top has as you wend your way to the entrance. It was like a red shroud that enveloped a deep mystery. Expectations ran high – the students had no idea what they were in for.

We were seated and before the show we learned of the organisation behind Phare Circus: a self-funding association that runs a school and teaches performance skills to young Cambodians, and steeps them in the global traditions of circus. After all, many of the acts – of balancing, juggling and mime date back centuries and were shared along the silk road between Asia and Europe.

Then the show began: a 75 minute tour de force that told a folk story of a peasant who journeys on his way to find respect. His adventures are told in a series of set pieces that each show off tightrope walking, fire juggling, acrobatics and choreographed fights as well as a funny act involving a barefoot climb up a coconut tree: one of the steel poles that hold up the tent. All this was set to the propulsive Khmer music – drums, horns and strings – that added to the unique experience.

I had the utter joy of sitting next to the three students and watching their gasps of awe as the show unfolded. They have phones these days, and were taking photos to capture the event to show their friends. They loved the spectacle of the fire work, and applauded the acrobats as they jumped up on the shoulders of their physically amazing performance colleagues. The ensemble, mostly guys stripped to the waist, were absolutely lean and ripped.

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When the show came to a close the ensemble invited the audience down to take selfies with the artists and to talk about their work: a great touch that rounded off a perfect night.

Well just about. After the show we rolled up to Lucky Mall and enjoyed an ice-cream and talked excitedly about the spectacle we’d just seen. I told the students that next year they would be expected to be experts at fire juggling. Somehow they didn’t believe me.

If you’re going to Siem Reap add Phare Circus to your list of must-do activities. The show is world-class (I think they are touring France/USA this year) and the $18 admission is a bargain for a memorable, joyous experience.

Their website: http://pharecircus.org/

I  want to take more students next time.