Up on the roof. The two new dormitory rooms at the children’s home are almost complete.
Excellent progress has been made on the extensions to Savong’s home for children in the Bakong district near the school. The roofing is nearly completed on the new dormitory rooms, though in the last few days progress has been slow thanks to a dramatic turn in the weather. The wet season seems to have arrived in earnest.
Almost all the required money has been raised – and a big thank you to the Tasmanian connection for raising $US6980. Funds have also come in from elsewhere, taking our total toward the initial $8500 target – though we can do with more money in order to replace the somewhat leaky tin roofing on the original building. Got a spare $100 or two?
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With money raised for the proposed shift into town now being directed toward building, Savong wasted no time in getting the project started. Here you can see where the extension is heading – out towards the gates. In Cambodia, timber is fiercely expensive, so those beams are like gold.
When this children’s home was first built in 2008, thanks to a generous American family, the Quills, it was envisaged that the SOC would house less than 20 children. However as soon as it was built, local families expressed interest. Poverty is a problem in rural Siem Reap, and some families find it extremely difficult during hard seasons to adequately support their children.
The annual budget for the SOC has risen over time – in 2012 it came to just over $2500 per month including food, education for the children, staff, transport and the special events that punctuate the yearly calendar. This comes to around $60 per child per month.
Children at Savong’s home, (SHEC) are eagerly looking forward to a big picnic this New Year. They will meet up with counterparts who live in West Baray, and with children also from the Happy Sunshine home in Siem Reap. Much preparation has been involved including food preparation, transport, and – so nobody gets lost – nametages for all the children.
New Year is the major celebration on the Cambodian calendar, and a time to look forward. In the Cambodian countryside, for the two-week period, the air is alive with the sound of music (those thunderous speaker systems) and ceremonies.
It is a break between seasons: a time of hope.
One of the most moving moments in a trip I made to Cambodia in 2009 was when I spoke with a woman at the marketplace out on Highway Number 6. She had staked her claim to a fairly prominent spot near the road, and she was selling herbs and vegetables.
That morning she had set out from Bakong at 3:00am by bicycle in order to arrive at the market early enough to get a good position, but when I spoke to her near midday sales had been slow and the vegetables were wilting in the April heat. Today she would make less than 4000 riel, or less than a dollar for her effort.
Cambodian farmers live in a knife edge between self-sufficiency and disaster. Savong noticed an uptick in demand for places at his residential home for children SHEC (formerly SOC) after flooding wiped out rice crops during the most recent monsoon season, late last year. One event like that can render all hope of putting enough food into the mouths of the family.
Fishing is also a staple part of local agriculture, and the lifeblood of Cambodia (as it is in neighbouring countries) is the Mekong River which descends from China and defines much of the SE Asian delta. In Cambodia it indirectly feeds the Tonle Sap lake when, during the dry season the river out of the lake changes direction, and the Mekong flows inland.
But fishing on the Mekong is under threat thanks to hydro schemes in neighbouring nations, schemes that will stop the migration and breeding of fish, as well as from intensification of fishing including banned practices such as dynamiting.
This attached article features discussion about the river, and about recent films – made by Cambodians – that document the changing course of the river’s influence in modern Cambodia.
Between climate change and human impact, the outlook for agriculture in Cambodia is getting no safer, no more reliable than before. In some respects the recipe is forming for an economic catastrophe.