Six winners of Savong School university scholarships announced – can you help?

Six winners of Savong School university scholarships announced - can you help?

I support a school in rural Cambodia that serves more than 500 high-school students. The focus is to help their employability and to give them the opportunities they lack due to the poverty gap. Following recent examinations at Savong’s School six university scholarships have been announced. Winners receive at least 4 years support through university (1 year intermediate followed by 3 years Bachelors degree) in the form of their annual fees being covered, a laptop computer presented – to enable study – as well as daily transport from Bakong to Angkor University (14 kms away) and a modest living allowance to cover the costs of being a student. For westerners this works out at $US1,000 per annum over four years. For these students the opportunity is a golden ticket out of poor rural conditions, and a chance to reach their potential. Contact me if in some way you’d like to support one, or some of these students. $20 a week, coffee money, can totally change a life and that of their family. duncan@kudos-dynamics.com

More details: click here.

A happy/sad punchline with a pair of maimed feet.

A happy/sad punchline with a pair of maimed feet.

One of the standing jokes I have with the SOC students in Cambodia is how I mysteriously lost two toes on my right foot. I offer all kinds of explanations (tigers, sharks, crocodiles) but none of the students ever believe me. “You lie!” they laugh at  me. “Tell us what really happened.”

One day I met the parents of one of the students – on the left – and his father showed me the scars he suffered as a 16 year old when Pol Pot came to power. A bullet wound had fractured his wrist, while sniper fire had ripped a scar across a calf muscle. And even his right foot bore the marks of the conflict – a landmine I think – because his big toe was missing. The student and his friends urged me to show his dad my foot – so I took off my sandal and revealed my own tragic right foot. The two of us men laughed in recognition (he’s almost the same age as me) then we stopped laughing as if on cue. Clouds gathered over our cross-cultural “snap!” moment. They were the clouds of war, and of terror and of bitter memories. On the surface our wounds were similar, but mine were superficial, while his went right back to his heart.

Prize Giving – 8 years ago. First prize a bicycle.

Prize Giving - 8 years ago. First prize a bicycle.

Savong in white – 2005. This was his first prize giving ceremony a director of Savong’s School. Today he has 20 times the school roll compared to 8 years ago.

The photo was taken on a film camera and developed poorly so it has the ancient Kodachrome look about it, but this scene is at Savong’s father’s house 2005 when Savong held his first prize-giving for students at his original classroom. That year the school in Bakong was currently under construction (it would open 3 months later) so this is truly an “old school” photo. The prize for the top student was a bicycle – a gesture that gave that put that student on the road to personal advancement. I wonder what happened to that student. Where is he today? I do know this: back then there were 25 in the class. Today Savong’s School has more than 500 students enrolled.

Pepsi and Coca-Cola, the new blood sugar

Coke has pledged to use only ethical sugar – so they’ll be under strict watch in Cambodia where farmers have been unlawfully evicted to make way for large sugar companies.

Land of the Blind

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About a year ago we were reminded in a blog by David Pred of IDI, “Before you reach for that Tate and Lyle sugar packet to sweeten your coffee, you might want to think twice.  While most Tate and Lyle sugar packets carry the Fair Trade label, Cambodian farmers who were displaced and dispossessed by their suppliers say that if you are buying this product, you are buying their blood.” Now, you can officially say the same about Pepsi and Coca-Cola.

The blood sugar campaign continued after hundreds of farmers in Cambodia were forcibly evicted to make way for agro-industrial sugar cane plantations, run by key Pepsi and Coke suppliers. Thanks to the ongoing activism of these farmers, supported by Oxfam and other civil society organizations, these corporations were finally called out for the atrocities occurring within their supply chain.

In Cambodia, sugar provides a major industry with exports at…

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Alex – farewell for now

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Alex Brkljacic is an Australian volunteer who has never been afraid of rolling her sleeves up and getting stuck in. Alas, her bowl didn’t quite make it – but she is an indelible part of the SOC story.

Alex Brkljacic is the model volunteer, and has been pure gold for the last five months in Cambodia.  Don’t ask how to pronounce that surname, it involves consonants mixed liberally with phlegm, so it is no wonder that everyone just calls her Alex. Visitors, staff members in Savong’s organisation and the kids – the children of the SOC who adore Alex for her patience, her engagement, her humour and energy. She is their big sister.

Alex first came to Cambodia a few years back with a Melbourne family, the Palti clan, who arrived in a blizzard of activity and helped really energise the whole project. Their influence is felt to this day, and among other things the Palti family instituted the first day trips and longer for the SOC children – taking them on excursions that have marked their shared stories. Kulen Mountains, a great water fall swimming spot, and further afield.

Alex, who was a teenager at the time, was seduced by Cambodia. She has since returned multiple times. On her recent stay Alex has primarily served as a volunteer co-ordinator for the SOC, though that’s a rather drab title for the sheer value she has given the organisation. Co-ordinator, communicator, facilitator – she has been a kind of social glue who has bonded dozens of visitors with the NGO.

I only met legendary Alex for the first time just a month ago and was struck by her sharp observations, her quiet ‘let’s nudge this forward’ way of operating and her real humility. I have to say this (and this is hard for a Kiwi) but Alex personifies everything that’s great about Australians – the bigness of their hearts, their optimism, their egalitarian outlook and their generous helping of energy.

She is adored by the children, and it is fitting that on her last weekend in Siem Reap (she’s taking a short break in Thailand,) Alex shared her Sunday with the SOC students on a journey to Kulen Mountains. It is a great ritual: the drive, the hike to see the Buddha, the picnic and then the swim in those deliciously cool waterfalls – and this journey was punctuated by a flat tyre on the way home and a long wait in the heat. It was a feast for the tiger mosquitoes.

Alex’s blog remains cheerful as ever. She’s going to be missed for sure, but the Melbourne Cup bookies are already taking bets about how soon she’ll be back.  Alex is studying for a psychology degree – she has a wise head on her shoulders – but Cambodia keeps calling.  Alex is in no unnecessary hurry to finish uni and join the rat race. Not yet.

Follow her blog. LOVE IN CAMBODIA

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