Shades of Grey. A Before and After in Lolei Village

Lolei Village is very near Savong’s School in terms of distance from Siem Reap, but is located further North; over the road as it were, with Number 6 Highway cutting its dangerous swathe between Lolei and the Rolous temples of Bakong.

In the heart of the village is the home of teacher Sovannarith who now runs a school of his own, dedicated to teaching English and computer skills to the children of his village. He used to teach at Savong’s School, right back in the days when salaries were a competitive $US45 a month and computer education was not even feasible.

Sovannarith and me

The “before” shot. Some 12 years ago – 2007 – we took this photo in a freshly painted classroom at Savong’s School. Sovannarith hasn’t changed, but since then my hair has adopted a Paul Newman silver.

After teaching at Savong’s School for several years, while he studied hard to complete his arts degree from the internationally recognised Pannasastra University of Cambodia, Sovannarith harbored dreams of running his own school. He wanted something for his own community.  I was keen to see what he had achieved since 2011.

Actually since 2005 I had already been familiar with the local school situation in Lolei thanks to the great work of Schools for Children of Cambodia (SCC), a registered and well-run charity from the UK that focuses on the rural children of Siem Reap province. Like us, I’m sure they must constantly explain that despite the boom town quality of Siem Reap, the rural areas are still desperately poor.  One of the original schools they supported, back in 2005, was in Lolei Village.

Alas and through no fault of SCC the arrangement didn’t work out, and rather than run the school in their prescribed way the then headmaster had a seriously divergent view of how the school ought to run. SCC walked, and soon put their hard earned funds to better use elsewhere. They continue to excellent work.

But from that story, told to me by members of the SCC, I was always aware that Sovannarith’s village had an educational gap whereby the local State School still provided inadequate teaching of English (and computer skills) to children who need both if they wish to proceed into salaried employment or further tertiary education.

Enter Sovannarith who set up Angkor Legacy Academy in April 2011. It is a vibrant place, with high quality volunteers (the one’s I met were a quantum leap from the gangling gap-year ‘Facebook Volunteers’ who often visit these organisations.) and a well equipped computer lab with late-model laptops.  The vibe was happy, busy and thriving.

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The “After” shot. 2019. I turned up unannounced at Sovannarith’s school in Lolei and Rith strode up to the tuk tuk as I alighted – “Greetings stranger!” he announced. “Long time no see!” Comparing the photos, I wonder if he was referring to our mutual need for glasses.

Sovannarith made me feel very welcome, and during our brief chat (I was on the way to Savong’s School,) we reflected on times past. Sovannarith hasn’t changed one bit.  He is still passionate about educating the children of rural Cambodia. But he was kind enough also to say that his time at Savong’s School was what got him started – we gave him a teaching job and in those years he learned a lot about running a classroom and running a school. “Without that experience I wouldn’t be here today running the Angkor Legacy Academy,” he told me.

That made me feel very gratified. In 2004 when we commenced plans to build a school in Bakong, Savong and I never dreamed that his school would help multiply the number of teachers and schools. I can count 9 schools that began in a similar fashion to Sovannarith’s project and owe their start to Savong’s initial vision. If anything, that is the major achievement of the project. I think SCC and other organisations can also claim similar influence.  As I’ve found in business, losing good staff can be sad – but seeing them succeed is a wonderful thing.

Links:

Schools For Cambodian Children

Angkor Legacy Academy

For more on this theme:

Back to school. 2019.

The Great Divide: Life of a Teacher

 

Holidays in Cambodia – 2019

Cambodian Flag

We’ve had Victory Against Genocide Day – how many nations celebrate a day such as that?

Holidays always sneak up on you in Cambodia. I don’t think in 8 visits I’ve ever had 14 days without a holiday in there somewhere.  Early this year I was in Siem Reap for the night on International New Year.  Pub Street was going off in a big way.  Blocks away in my hotel I could hear the DJ – probably at The Temple Bar – roaring to his crowd:  “Are you-u-u-u-u re-e-a-a-a-d-dy-y-y!!!??”  At that moment I was doing my laundry: the glamour of travelling light.  Much as I like a party, I was running out of shirts.

On January 7th I was in Phnom Penh and it was the 40th anniversary of the fall of the Pol Pot Government.  How many nations have a Victory over Genocide day? To be honest, Phnom Penh didn’t seem subdued or in mourning: the roads were as jammed as ever.

These dates below are courtesy of Acleda Bank.

Jan 01 International New Year Day
Jan 07 Victory over Genocide Day
Feb 19 Meak Bochea Day
Mar 08 International Women’s Day
Apr 14, 15, 16 Khmer New Year Day
May 01 International Labor Day
May 13, 14, 15 King’s Birthday, Norodom Sihamoni
May 18 Visak Bochea Day
May 20 National Day of Remembrance
May 22 Royal Plowing Ceremony
Jun 01 International Children Day
Jun 18 King’s Mother Birthday, Norodom Monineath Sihanouk
Sep 24 Constitutional Day
Sep 27, 28, 29 Pchum Ben Day
Oct 15 Commemoration Day of King’s Father, Norodom Sihanouk
Oct 23 Anniversary of the Paris Peace Accord
Oct 29 King’s Coronation Day, Norodom Sihamoni
Nov 09 Independence Day
Nov 10, 11, 12 Water Festival Ceremony
Dec 10 International Human Rights Da

Back to school. 2019.

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We clattered over the footbridge that was scarcely wide enough to take the tuk tuk. I was two minutes away from seeing the school we built in 2005.

The last time I was in Cambodia was October 2015 and it said a lot about the place that it inspired blogs from me well into 2016.  At night I continue to dream about the countryside especially, with the warm fragrance of tropical plants, red dusty roads and delicious wok-cooked food, sizzling on beds of burning charcoal.

My main ambition for this journey in December/January was to go out and visit the school I helped Savong build in 2005  and to do some teaching and to consider how the school may have benefited the children of Bakong.  The photo above is my tuk tuk driver Sothy Leru navigating a pedestrian bridge near the Bakong village on the way to the school. Alas, we couldn’t take the usual road to the school, the one that goes past Bakong temple – the ruins of which are older than Angkor Wat. These days the area comes under the control of the APSARA authority, the managers of the greater Angkor Wat region: the people who quite fairly charge tourists for a1 Day, 2 Day or 5 Day pass.

Over the next few weeks I’ll share the story and review what the current state of play is with the school.  Right now I can say I really enjoyed teaching there and, yet again, I felt as if Cambodia is my second home.

So welcome back to my blog.  Join me as I revisit the school, help release a prisoner from jail, visit another prisoner and play detective as I catch up with old friends.

Marriage and Divorce in Cambodia

A HOUSE DIVIDED

A close friend of mine is heading to a divorce court in Siem Reap in 30 minutes time. This is a sad time both for him and for his wife and both have used SOBBING emojis in recent correspondence. Both are hurting.  They have three sweet children.

How does divorce work in Cambodia?  In fact the laws are reasonably progressive, and while divorce-rates have been extremely low in Cambodia the laws provide reasonable protection to both parties who are generally entitled to half the matrimonial property each.  In fact this is widely understood following an incident in 2008 when an estranged husband sawed their matrimonial homestead in half and carted it away.

For a detailed discussion on the subject: http://cambodialpj.org/article/legal-and-gender-issues-of-marriage-and-divorce-in-cambodia/

Whether the laws are fair or not, women – especially in poor rural areas – are likely to be disadvantaged simply because they cannot afford the expense of seeking legal advice, and because traditions (which frown on divorce,) still over-ride current law.

However my friends are educated, and I hope they both leave on peaceful, fair terms that protect the children too.

Meet Khan Ke -a desire to be an English teacher.

khan-ke

Monasteries have many roles in Cambodian society and while they are centers for spiritual teaching, they also help alleviate families that are struggling – for example poor rural families. A son may live at the monastery and save the family the burden of another mouth to feed.

That’s what Savong did when he was young and it is worthwhile seeing how his story has come full circle. Ke, pictured above shows a keenness to learn English and, at the same time widen his potential prospects.

When I read these stories my own heart goes out to the students. Born into poverty, they face a daunting challenge to break that financial drought.

My name is Ke, 27, a grade 10 student of Rokar Buddhist School, latterly living at Rokar Pagoda.  I was born on the 25 of October, 1990, in Roluos village, Roluos commune, Prasat Bakong district, Siem reap province, Cambodia. I have four siblings; my older sister is a fruit seller, selling fruit at Roluos market. I am the third child in my family.

The living standard of my family is hard up at the moment because of low incomes in the family. Every day my parents can earn a little money to sustain the whole family. My older sister always helps my mother to do house work. Every day I study at Buddhist School. After studying at Buddhist school, I spend my time learning English at Savong School Cambodia. I started to learn English at Savong School Cambodia in 2016.

I like English so much so after complete Buddhist school, I want to be an English teacher. I feel so strongly for them because every day they try to work for the whole family. In my spare time, I like reading books and chanting the dharma; I love my parents so much.

Interviewed by: Vann Salas

Student profile – Savong’s School

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Chai Chun lives at the Rokar Monastery just 1km away from Savong’s School. 

My name is Chun, 26, and I am a grade 9 student of Rokar Buddhist School, staying at Rokar Pagoda currently.

I was born on the 9 of March, 1991 in Donteav village, Roluos commune, Bakong district, Siem Reap province, Cambodia. I have 5 siblings. I am the third child in the family. My older sister has married and she has one child.

My father’s name is Mon Thear, 54, and he is a farmer. My mother is Pheak, 52, a housewife looking after the house and the children. My parents try very hard to earn money for me. My grandparents can earn a little money to support the family but my family is poor because there is too little family income.

Every day I learn at Buddhist school; I really miss my family at times. Besides studying time, I take time to study English at Savong School Cambodia. I like English so much; I want to be an IT teacher. I feel real pity for my parents, supporting and taking care of my siblings.

Sometimes my grandparents call on my parents and me and I also feel sad for them because every day they try so hard to work for the whole family. I like chanting the dharma. I love my parents so much. I want to have a better life in the future.

Thank you Vann Salas for interviewing Chai Chun and translating.