Monday, February 27, 2012

Building wells....

Over the last 3 days I reached out to friends who have offered to help out financially should I find a project worthwhile to support. Working here in north-east of Cambodia I have found one and got a fantastic response on my eMail. I will publish the donor-list within next week but as for now enclosed the background:

The province I am currently volunteering in is called Ratanakiri and is one of the poorest areas of Cambodia. Mainly because it was heavily bombed during the Vietnam war, the longest ruled by the "Khmer Rouge" and as the population mainly consists of indigenous people who are illiterate and do not speak the official Cambodian language "Khmer" rather their own local tribal languages. Globalization though has not stopped at the doorstep of the indigenous people living in this area and there are many challenges indigenous people who live here are facing: land expropriation to build rubber-plant plantations, deforestation so the valuable wood can be exported to Vietnam and the consequential cutback on their living environment to name only a few.

United World Schools (UWS)
UWS is a small UK based NGO which is focusing on educating indigenous people in Ratanakiri, trying to educate indigenous children, teaching them how to read and write, encouraging their creativity and providing them a safe school environment. Hereby their focus is sustainable education, so it is made sure indigenous people will be educated as teachers, schools are build by indigenous communities themselves and that the Cambodian government is supporting these actions as well. UWS schools are very successful and receive a great respond in the indigenous community.

Whilst traditionally indigenous children would have to help their parents with the farming - parents now are sending them to school realizing the necessity of preparing their children for the future. I have seen classes of 100 children learning to read, write, being creative by drawing, playing with Lego and much more and I was impressed by the work UWS does and by what they achieved. They have build so far 11 schools with the 12th being financed at the moment. UWS is concerned on the size of their project here as they want to keep being effective and have a sustainable size so they will after the 12th school shift their focus on building new schools on Sri Lanka, trying to replicate their successful concept. So if you want to support UWS check out their webpage and I am sure any further donation will be very welcomed.

The Project:
UWS made me aware of three indigenous communities, which have problems accessing water in their area and a great amount of effort is spend every day to transport water. These three communities would significantly benefit from having a well locally available to access water. Also the UWS schools would benefit from having water available as you can imagine a school with around 200-300 children uses a lot of water. Building one well costs 1500$ and I will be financing one by myself. So I reached out to friends of mine to see if we can get another 3000$ together to make a difference in about 1000 indigenous peoples life and the respond is overwelming! Within 24 hours we got the majority of the money together to build the 3 wells.

The schools:
Jong: Jong is the 11th school built by UWS in 2011 in a one of the most remote areas in the Ratanakiri Province. The school has 100 students enrolled in them and 150 families living in the Jong community. (In general a family has an average of 6 family members)

Tien: The school in Tien was built in 2005 and has currently a 115 students enrolled in the school. The Tien community has 150 families.

Takok Phnong: The school in Takok Phnong was buildin 2009 and has 200 students with 110 families living in the community and other communities sending their children.

I will keep everybody up-to-date on the progress of building the wells over the next weeks. 
A big big THANK YOU again to everybody who contributed to this - you guys are great !!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012 is online....

... one of my major tasks here is done - the schools webpage is online since a week. And after checking it all through it looks OK so far so have a look and let me know what you think or if you find any bugs !!!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Cambodia, the land of the short and slim, who want to be tall and fat...

Over the last couple of weeks routine has gotten into my Banlung life. So nothing drastically exciting so this blog-update will be short and sweet. My days by now exist of getting up early in the morning to go running or working out, going to school and helping out with all sorts of challenges people have, researching health-topics for several of our students, building the schools webpage (which is online now) and teaching English. Evenings then often are spent with teachers from the school or playing with my neighbors kids, etc.. So I guess you can say I settled in.

2 years ago
Also there is no day, that I am not getting told "you tall" or "I want fat like you" as everybody thinks I am a giant (in all dimensions I take it). Well and to be fair around here I might come across tall and big as the majority of people is rather short and slim. And while a comment along the line of "I want to be fat like you" is quite offensive in our world - here it is a compliment as people who are "proper" are considered to be healthy and rich. Well I consider myself to be in a shape I haven't been in easily 6-8 years so they should have seen me 2 years ago :-) all healthy and rich - *laugh*.



Friday, February 10, 2012

Today must be one of the happiest days in my life....

Rosica has a hearing problem - that's what I heard about the 6 year old student when I first came to Krou Yeung Centre (the school I am volunteering at the moment). Wanting to meet the girl I went during lessons into her classroom and, as it is tradition in Cambodia, the whole class got up and greeted me with a loud "Hello Teacher, how are you?". Only Rosica was still sitting down as she sits in the first row, was searching her backpack for something and obviously could not hear her surroundings even though she was wearing a hearing aid on her right ear. Rosica hears only very little on her right ear and even less on her left ear explained her teacher and that leaves her nearly deaf, as an outsider, in dangoures situations (e.g. she can't hear traffic approach) but for most it gives her problems to learn how to speak. So with being 6 years old Rosica can not speak properly.

Having a look at the hearing aid she was wearing I was right away convinced that there must be newer and better technology out there to be able to help the little girl to at least gain some of her hearing ability back. After some research I found out about a small NGO in Cambodia called 'All Ears Cambodia' ( who is specifically geared towards Cambodians with hearing problems. With the help of the principal of my school we got an appointment for Rosica with 'All Ears Cambodia' (AEC) in Phnom Penh and her parents went yesterday. The result is following: After a professional ear cleansing and proper hearing-test AEC determined that Rosica has a major hearing loss but no severe one. They measured her ear-channel to have an acustomed ear-piece manufactured overnight and will equip her today with 2 new state-of-the-art hearing aids for her left as well as her right ear (the old one turned out to be 9 years old). According to AEC, this will give Rosica up to 70% of her hearing ability back - which is just fantastic news and makes this day one of the happiest days in my life. Imagine only how much this will change Rosicas life going forward.

Once she is back in school on Monday we will be able to start one-on-one classes with teachers from our school to teach her how to speak properly, AEC is committed to perform ear-channel-measurements every 3 months so that we can ensure that she has proper ear-pieces (which is a major factor of her hearing ability) and we will re-finance her hearing-aid through her parents income so that she will be able to afford new hearing aids in the future. But formost I am just very happy that she will be able to hear which implies for her to be able to speak properly soon.

A bit more background on the above:
- It is important that Rosica has two hearing aids. In the beginning everybody thought that she can only hear on her right ear and not at all on her left - only her teacher realized that she can actually hear on her left ear as well. Apparently children growing up should always be equiped with 2 hearing aids as it can happen that hearing picks-up during growth.
- It is important that Rosica has regular check-ups on her hearing ability and adjustments of her hearing-aid-ear-piece. With her being only 6 years old, Rosica will still grow a lot as well as her ear-channel which then her ear-piece needs to be adjusted to her growth as the earpiece contributes majorly to her hearing ability.
- The 2 hearing-aids will cost together 900$ (incl. warrenty and 1 year of free check-ups and ear-piece adjustments), which is a, by 'All Ears Cambodia', heavily subsidised price as you can spend a fortune on hearing aids (there seem to be no limits but a good hearing aid from market leaders cost around 2,500$ a pop). With an average Cambodian year salary of 550$ her parents will not be able to afford the full 900$ so I will be supporting them financially. Her parents are though able to put some money on the side on a monthly basis, so the school principal and myself are planning to have Rosicas parents "pay back" the given amount on a monthly basis onto an account in Rosicas name. This will enable her to get new hearing aids in the future or have any repair-costs of the current hearing aids covered.

- Having traveled now for a bit and seen a couple of NGOs throughout my volunteering - I have to say that most of them confirm my perception. A lot a NGOs seem to spend money on unnecessary things (such as supreme housings for their employees, supreme office locations, high-end cars, expense benefits which can compete with the financial industry, unneccassary celebrations, and many more) and at the same time seem to have troubles to actually reach the people in need rather than just "talk". 'All Ears Cambodia' makes a different impression on me. It is a small NGO and without knowing the NGO in great detail, I can tell you one thing, it was awefully easy to set-up a appointment and according to the parents everything went very smooth once they got in. It looks like this is a NGO worthwhile to support as it reaches people in need directly and makes a true difference to their life. Just in case if you ever ask yourself where to give money to :-).

I am sure you will hear again about Rosica over the next couple of weeks.
So long...

P.S.: A big Thanks goes out to Ruben, who was supporting me on this and is actually supporting me on another "project" I am working on at the moment - for which we hopefully soon have good news as well !!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

New Layout

Snapshot I took on the streets here
Over the last couple of days the layout of this blog changed and I added a couple of categories to this page. This mainly is the case because I a) have a bit of time at my hand at the moment and b) always wanted to try to provide some of my travel experiences.
Please have a read and let me know your thoughts, suggestions and any additions in the comment section !! 


Monday, February 6, 2012

Settled in...

on the day 4 weeks ago I arrived in Cambodia and I guess one can say I am settled in. As I mentioned before, the people are really making the difference here. Work wise I arrived as well - I am teaching 3 hours a day English, building a homepage for the school (soon to be published) and am trying to help several kids with health issues in this school. More about those projects will follow in the next two weeks when I can hopefully can tell you about some great progress. Other than that, I got a social life going by now so things don't become boring, which is important. Enclosed a couple of snapshots from the school I am working in.....
My desk / Office