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Of inspirational people, creating photo-story books and eating lots of popcorn

March 13, 2015


I have been home in New Zealand since two days now. The journey here was long and tiresome, as always. Thankfully I do not suffer from jetlag, and so it is straight back to work to write the last blog about this trip.


Back in Battambang after our trip to Bech Khlok we had almost no time to get some rest. On Thursday we took the bus to Siem Reap, and upon arrival were cordially welcomed by Youchheng, General Manager for Opportunity Cambodia.

To get to know each other a little, and to discuss the schedule for the next day, we met in a small café at first. We were especially interested in the Safe Water Project which Opportunity Cambodia runs. The contaminated water in Bech Khlok is our biggest concern and we would like to understand how other Organisations approach that problem. We are well aware that there are no standard solutions, and that the problem has to be approached thoughtfully.


Should you want to learn more about the impact of contaminated water to a community, you can look here on Wikipedia under Waterborne diseases: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterborne_diseases


After this first short meeting we did a bit of sightseeing in Siem Reap and we visited several markets.

Early the next morning we were collected by Youchheng and an accompanying employee and drove to a village around 70km from Siem Reap. We saw the beautiful Education Centre and Boarding Home of the Organisation, where 30 girls and boys from poor families live during the week, and from where they can go to the schools in the near vicinity. They go back to their families for the weekends. The Centre also offers an additional educational program in the afternoons (because of an imminent lack of teachers in public schools there are only half-day classes in Cambodia). This service is also available to 20 children of the village who do not live in the Centre. Then we drove to a very poor part of the village. Most huts were in a shabby condition, and the whole area is flooded during the rainy season, and almost impossible to access. Many of the children in the Centre come from this area.

Opportunity Cambodia has already provided rainwater tanks to some families and has added sandfilters to those to prevent contamination as best as possible. It will take much more though to sustainably improve the hygienic conditions and the health of the community. To do this, families have to be seen in person, and have to be educated and helped to understand the correlation between bad water and diseases. Since many generations this had not been understood, and so the community is used to the wrong ways of dealing with the problem, or to not dealing with it at all. Training, counselling and control are therefore crucial to any sustainable success. If even the youngest children would hear about this in school every day, and water tanks, filters and toilets are readily available, progress can be made. OC also plans to build a pre-school and to fund a large pond, so that water is available during the dry season.


                                            Opportunity Cambodia's boarding house and education centre



                                         Early in the morning - most of the children are at the public school


                                               One of the watertanks donated by Opportunity Cambodia


Youchheng then showed us a hut with a large water tank and a toilet in front of it. He explained how both had been donated by World Vision, and how he cannot understand why one would spend money on a water flushed toilet, when water is only available during one half of the year (the rainy season). The water tank cannot store enough water to provide for a whole year. A compost toilet would have been the right solution there and would have been less expensive, too.


                                                                      The questionable water toilet


After a delicious lunch in the Centre we drove back to Siem Reap to meet Australian Brian Hammond. Brian volunteers for the Organisation (OC) periodically and his expertise is mainly the Safe Water project. The meeting with Brian was very inspirational and the exchange of thoughts exciting and fruitful. We are very grateful to Opportunity Cambodia for their time and for organising this trip for us. The insight we have gained will be very valuable to Seed. I hope we can return the favour and do something for them in the future!

In the afternoon we were so tired that we decided to take a taxi back to Battambang, thus shortening the journey by some two hours.


The last week in Cambodia was dedicated to the Countryside Class. We had organised to do a photo-story workshop with the students, we split into two project groups and Florian kindly took the lead over one group. I think he had not expected this to be so much work, but he looked like he was thoroughly enjoying the experience! Two weeks ago I had introduced the students to “how to write a story” and asked the two groups to think of a story, which could happen in their neighbourhood, and there were no further boundaries to the task. I was surprised to hear what the younger group had come up with, and it made me sad and concerned. The story clearly shows how much brutality and violence exists in some of these children’s lives. A very harsh reality indeed had presented itself to us. The group with the slightly older children had written a rather complicated story about protecting the environment from contamination.


                                                       First day of the workshop, discussing the story


                                                         Florian and I had to draw rough storyboards


The photo shooting of all the scenes from the stories was a lot of fun for the kids and for us. The whole project was a huge success and the children are very proud of the end results. The teachers of the school plan on producing several more books as soon as the library has officially been opened and is operational.




                                                 Looking for the right speech bubbles with Florian's group...


                                                                       ...and same with my group


                                                          Everybody is excited about the final book


                                          The stars of the production! My group in front of the classroom ...


                                                              ... and Florian's group at the pig farm






                                                      The book of the younger students:



                                         Early morning, the poor family is having breakfast ...