A rainy day in the April heat of Cambodia. An old school photo.

A rainy day in the April heat of Cambodia. An old school photo.

I was going through some 2011 photos today and found this rainy day shot of Buntheourn. He is now an auto-mechanic but at the time, two and half years ago was still at high school.

Buntheourn has always been modest, helpful – everyone’s idea of the perfect son. Today he is on the brink of being an independent adult, but he remains much loved by the younger children at Savong’s children’s home: the SOC. It made me very happy to speak to him briefly on Christmas day and to learn that he was going to the big party out there.

That brief conversation made me realise how supporters and sponsors of the SOC students will forever have a bond with adult citizens of Cambodia: people we come to know first as students, and then to form bonds as adults, even simple bonds through Skype or Facebook.

Christmas Day – 2013, Savong’s children’s home Cambodia

Christmas Party 2013 SOC

We hope you had a great get together with friends and family over Christmas. At the SOC the children hosted a visit from Happy Sunshine home for children (based in Siem Reap) as well as the older students supported by Savong – and together they enjoyed a feast and a big Christmas Party. Photo by Buntheourn.

Learning through play.

Learning through play.

One of the delights of working with children in Cambodia is seeing them develop their skills at play. Many children are completely under-resourced in this department. They may be from families too poor to have toys, or too time-poor to give children the play time they really need. Children go through distinct stages of play development when they move from merely reacting to objects – to employing these objects in acts of imagination. Later children enjoy playing alone, but in groups, and still later – around age 6 or 8 – in groups. That simple game of Uno is actually a sophisticated interplay of intellect and social skills.

Of course children don’t just learn academically: play is a vital ingredient. But toys are not enough. Many adults think that somehow children will spontaneously “get it” when they see a pile of blocks. Actually they need to be shown – and getting on the floor, interacting with the child, and showing how blocks can be used to make things is the trigger: a simple trigger, that gets them going. In the photo above little Nuon seemed a bit lost in the play room. He was too young to play cards and he didn’t seem to get involved with the blocks. So I lay on the floor and together we made houses and vehicles and soon he was grabbing the wheels (a scarce commodity) to make his particular inventions.

I love those moments. Sometimes an educational advance is that simple: a few minutes of attention on a playroom floor.

New developments in Cambodian child care. Click here.

The tiger on my desk.

The tiger on my desk.

This tiger lives on my desk. He’s a mascot for the Korean football team but I think he was made in Cambodia. Well that’s one explanation for his provenance. Somehow, he ended up in Cambodia. Or more precisely in the hands of a young high school student in Bakong, a rural community 14kms east of Siem Reap.

The student gave me the Tiger as a gift, back in 2011, and this is one of a handful of sentimental objects in my life. A soft-toy packed with emotion.

I had been teaching for a few days at Savong’s School and the student and his sister had asked me how long I would be in Bakong for. “Just a few days,” I replied, “though I think of the school every day of my life.”

On my last day of teaching the boy had a gift for me: the tiger. And he was anxious for me to accept his offering, though I was reluctant. Whatever it cost his family was too much, surely, for this westerner. But the young student looked at me proudly. “I want to say thank you.” he said.

The gift meant more to me than he might have guessed. In 2011 I was suffering what some fund-raisers call “donor-fatigue” where I felt various frustrations with the project: short term frets and worries. The Tiger grounded me and reminded me that the project, above all, is about the students. They boy’s generosity with his thank-you gift answered a question that any NGO supporter is bound to ask: ‘is this all worth it?’

This year, when I returned to the School I arrived during enrolment week, so the classrooms were mostly empty and most of the action was around the noticeboard where exam results were posted.

I looked out for my friend, the boy with the Tiger because I wanted to show him photos I had taken – showing the tiger in various parts of my life in New Zealand. But the boy was not there. I would love to meet him again one day. His heartfelt gift has travelled half way around the world: the boy deserves to go even further.

An Unexpected Moment

Learning through play. A little moment on the playroom floor.

The library at Savong’s School: A place for children to enjoy their imaginations.

The library at Savong's School: A place for children to enjoy their imaginations.

My earliest reading experiences go back to when I was 4 years old and I was taken to the library in Brown’s Line, Etobicoke Toronto. The librarian would read us stories and the first story I recall was Madeleine – the girl in the post-war Parisian orphanage. The library was a place of wonder. I was reminded of this on my recent trip to Savong’s School when I saw children making themselves at home in the library. In village life there is really no space for children: no place where they can let their imaginations soar and take them to foreign lands, or to ancient times with dinosaurs, or to enjoy worlds of fantasy.

The library is such a place, and it fulfills the very same purpose as the Browns Line library did for me, 54 years ago. Sometimes a school is delivering best when it chooses to be silent and to listen – carefully – to the voices we hear in books.

A short piece about the two supporters who built the library – sight unseen. Two heroes.

Here’s a direct way you can change a life in Cambodia.


The young man photographed above comes from a poor rural community where family incomes of less than $US50 dollars per month are not uncommon. With this background no matter how bright the student is at high school, university is out of reach. In a real sense, poverty is passed on from generation to generation.

Well, for this student the cycle has been broken thanks to a simply managed realistic university scholarship run by a local school in Bakong, Cambodia and supported by sponsors overseas – practical people who commit what adds up to ‘coffee money’ to ensure bright students can reach their potential. Once these students win a good graduate job (in Cambodia less than 3% of adults have a degree – compared with 26% in the USA) then they will help their family. Your gift keeps on  giving.

If you would like to sponsor a University Scholarship student to cover enrolment, living allowance, transport this costs just $US80 a month, and we have set up a SPONSOR arrangement that will bill you automatically each month for this amount – with a limit of 24 months. (For your security.)

You have the right, of course, to cancel donations if your circumstances change – but this is a great way to set up a significant support system for a rural student in Cambodia.

Click on the Logo to take yourself through to PayPal and the $US80 per month, ongoing subscription.
Click on the Logo to take yourself through to PayPal and the $US80 per month, ongoing subscription.
  • For further information feel free to write to me: Duncan Stuart at duncan@kudos-dynamics.com
  • All donations are receipted – they are lodged into the registered New Zealand charity Cambodian Rural Schools Trust
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  • All funds, apart from a small transfer fee, go to the project. We do not incur marketing or admin expenses.