Monday, 22 September 2014

SCAO Football Team

Thanks for reading! Its been awhile since I posted here and I'm already feeling nostalgic!!

So as many of you know I worked as a volunteer development officer for the SCOOP Foundation in their Cambodian partner organisation, SCAO, from January to August in 2012.

It was an incredible experience and I have continued to stay in touch with SCAO. I recently heard that they have created a new football team in their second school, where I lived and worked. They now need some football equipment and kit for the team and I have offered to fundraise for them. The community were extremely friendly, hospitable, and generous to me (and all the volunteers) and I would love to give something back.

The kids are football crazy and I know they would feel an immense pride in representing their school and community every time they put on this new football kit, while also having great fun in the process. See a message from the guys in SCAO below.

I hope you can make this happen by donating to this cause. Jerseys, shorts, socks, balls, and runners are mainly needed and they have sourced the items locally. To kit out the 15 kids aged 11-14 it will cost €250.

Please contact me on eric, for more info or if you want to donate.

Also check out and for more info on SCAO and SCOOP

Many thanks,

"Kids all over the world love football. But especially here in Cambodia, a country where people still live in extremely poor conditions and which is still feeling the effects of years of repression and civil war, practising a sport might be more than a simple hobby or break from the daily routine.

"Som Roung is a poor rural village located 20 km north of Phnom Penh. The village is mainly composed by children and young adults aged 0-25. Since S.C.A.O. school was built in 2011 the vast majority of children in the village found a safe a place where receive not only education and vocational trainings but where have fun, making new friends or watch a movie together.

"In this context the idea of creating an official football team of the school has been enthusiastically embraced by our team and particularly by the kids of the village. Thanks to teacher Daro's support a team made of 15 kids aged 11-14 has been shortly put together and with permission of the local school an open space of 50 square meters is currently used for training and matches.

                                               Cheun (13) and Sompous (13) playing football

"Started over a month ago, S.C.A.O. football team is regularly training 2 days a week. The kids are improving day by day and they are reaching an outstanding level of synergy and team spirit. They really love playing football and being part of a team means a lot to the kids in terms of personal development and relationships.

                                                  Piseth (14) and Sen (12) during training

"Soon a friendly game with the local school team will take place. On this occasion the kids will have a chance to play in a real competition, testing their preparation and physical form. One of our future goal is to take part as a team to the Human Rights Football Tournament organised by “CIA FIRST International school” an international school based in Phnom Penh which every year host the tournament.

                                     Sok peah (13), Vottanak (13) and Sen (12) during a game

"Now the biggest challenge faced by the team is finding a sponsor and get some football equipment. T-shirts, shorts, socks, balls, and shoes are the main items needed, although playing without shoes and equipments has not stopped the kids playing football so far!"

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Cambodian New Year and Travelling

Firstly sorry for the delay in writing a new blog, it has been a busy few weeks.

Secondly, thanks for all the birthday wishes 2 and a half weeks ago. It was my first birthday away from home, so was lovely to get some birthday messages. And don’t worry I still managed to sneak in a few bottles of Guinness ;-)!

Anyway we had 2 weeks holidays from work from the 8th of April for Cambodian (Khmer) New Year so I was finally able to do some travelling around Cambodia. Luckily my friend from Ireland who I was in Kenya with, Aisling Phelan, also visited Cambodia at this time, so I had a travelling buddy. We began our trip by first visiting the SCOOP school, one of the two schools of the organization I work for, SCAO. There was no school because of the holidays, but the school in located in a scenic rural area 20km north of Phnom Penh, so we were able to go for a relaxed cycle around the area and meet the extremely friendly local people. However two hours in the intense Cambodian sun meant we our Irish skins were a lot redder when we returned.

 The next morning we set off for Kampot. A small sea and riverside town based in the south-west of Cambodia. It was originally a holiday resort for the colonial French and its 19th and early 20th architecture, as well as its sleepy and relaxed atmosphere, gave it a unique charm.We explored some of the town on our first day, but there is not much to see so we decided to hire motorbikes for the next day, so that we could drive to and explore Bokor National Park which is only 8km from the town. After some initial test drives around the town, we were ready to hit the main road and the park. The park has an illustrious list of flora and fauna, but at the moment it is half a national park and half a construction site. The Cambodian government has actually sold off some of the land to a Chinese company to build a massive 5 star hotel and casino, to primarily cater for rich Asian businessmen… All within the grounds of one of its major national parks!  This is not an isolated case of the destruction of Cambodia’s beautiful and fragile environment in pursuit of corrupt dollars, many of you might of heard at the end of April the most high profile Cambodian environmental activists, Chut Wutty, was shot dead by military police (click here for more information ).
However the park is still impressive and once you drive the 50 odd km to the top of the mountain there are some fantastic views, accompanied with an abandoned colonial French hill top resort. It was also the scene of vicious between the Khmer Rouge and the invading Vietnamese military trying to topple the despotic regime.

After our trip to the mountain we decided to explore some of the caves the lie just outside Kampot. We didn’t know what to expect and thought we would just wander about. But as soon as we pulled up two very friendly local teenage boys offered to show us around the caves. The caves where dotted with religious iconography and many of the rock formations have formed into shapes which accurately depict animals. They said it happened naturally, but Ais and I are less sure.

The caves also acted as a safe haven for innocent people to hide during the Khmer Rouge autocracy. In fact, the grandparents of one of the boys only survived the regime because they could hide in the cave and eat whatever small animals and insects made their way into the cave. After showing us around they told us we could climb to the top where there would be splendid views of the surrounding area. They weren’t wrong about the views, but the climb was certainly a hair raising experience! They also told us about ‘secret lake’ which is a beautiful lake surround by mountains on all sides. We could have swum, but it was getting late, and driving unfamiliar and unkempt roads in Cambodia  at night isn’t the best idea.

The next day we headed off to Kep which was originally the main seaside resort in Cambodia, until Sihanoukville was built in late 1950s. The beaches definitely leave a lot to be desired, but we weren’t staying there long as we were catching a 30 minute boat to the isolated and white sanded Rabbit Island, where my friend from SCAO Alexis was staying.

Rabbit Island is definitely a great spot for rest and relaxation and just what I needed to recharge the batteries. Kep is famous for its crab so one of us definitely had to order it for lunch!!

We headed back to Kampot and meet some Irish friends of mine for a party, which went into the wee hours of the morning, as usually happens. After a couple of hours of sleep we headed off to Sihanoukville. Sihanoukville is basically Cambodia’s version of Thailand; full of western tourists and all about the beaches and partying. It was now Friday and the Khmer New celebrations were in full swing. Aisling’s friend Camilla also just arrived in Cambodia and came down to see us in S’ville, as well as Gaia, a friend of mine from Phnom Penh. So after a bit of rest on the beach we chose to check out the nightlife, which didn’t disappoint. I even got an ice bucket full of a mixture of sprits for $10… the rest is, as they say, history. After another day in S’ville it was time to leave a head back home to Phnom Penh, were I spent the next week working in a different school as a substitute teacher.

We are defiantly back into the swing of things at the moment in SCAO, with some very exciting projects in the pipeline, with everything from hairdressing training for the community, to a health fund for the school children, and increasing are usage of solar panels. We are also extremely short on volunteers at the moment so I have been back doing some teaching. So anybody looking to come to volunteer in Cambodia, now is the time J! I also bought a moto for myself so it’s a lot easier getting between the two schools and centre, as well as in and out of Phnom Penh. And it is also great fun to drive!

Sin é! 
Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The Khmer Rouge

Its impossible to escape the legacy of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. It is an extremely dark and disturbing history, which reminds of us how cruel humans can be to their fellow humans. In general Cambodians are an extremely friendly and hospitable people who are rarely seen without a smile on their face, which makes the Khmer Rouge era more confusing.

The Khmer Rouge regime came to power in 1975 after the Lon Nol regime, which overthrew the post-colonial monarchical government of Sihanouk. Sihanouk was quite a popular king so his overthrow in a military coup by Lon Nol, was not popularly supported and Sihanouk took exile in China. A lot of the Khmer Rouge leadership were educated in France and this was where they were introduced to communism. On their return they joined the Communist Party of Cambodia, nicknamed the Khmer Rouge, which was aiming to seize power through a Maoist revolution and a rurally led guerilla war.

Their power base was among poor rural peasants and they held their own in some rural areas, but never really threatened the central power base of the government. However this mostly changed in 1973 when Sihanouk seen the Khmer Rouge as his best route back to power, and probably because Chinese persuasion, he felt that he could control the Khmer Rouge when they took power. Thus he broadcasted a message over the radio where he encouraged Cambodians to join the revolution and fight for the Khmer Rouge.

Acting on this message people began flooding into the ranks of the Khmer Rouge and they went on an offensive against the government. Another major recruiting tool for the Khmer Rouge was the heavy bombing of eastern Cambodia by the American army, who were attempting to disrupt supply lines to Viet Cong fighting in southern Vietnam. However, the bombing largely failed and only served to heap massive destruction on a poor, rural and innocent population. Recently released American military files show that America dropped over 2.7 million tons worth of explosives on Cambodian territory. To put that in perspective, the Allies dropped just over 2 million tons worth of explosives in ALL of world war two!! The Khmer Rouge had a strong anti-imperialist and anti-western ideology, and thus became increasing popular after Cambodians seen their fellow citizens coldly butchered by the American army.

Initially when the Khmer Rouge conquered Phnom Penh and seized power people were celebrating in streets, primarily because it was the end of the long bloody civil war. But soon the Khmer Rouge turned on the citizens, particularly educated urban people. First it evacuated everyone from Phnom Penh, telling them that the Americans were going bomb the city and they would go back in a couple of days when it was safe. In reality everyone was sent to work and ‘education camps’. While here everyone was stripped of their clothes and everyone had to wear identical pajama like clothes. They were forced to work incredibly long hours doing agricultural work, particularly in rice fields. However they were fed very little and most died from hunger, exhaustion, or disease or all three.

They were informed that it was now Year 0 and all the history that preceded this day didn’t matter and they were building a new more equal society, when in fact it was a type of social engineering. In order to do this the leadership decided to kill all formally educated Cambodians. So all doctors, teachers, artists etc. were executed, even if you spoke English or French, or had glasses it was enough to raise the suspicion of the Khmer Rouge organization, and this always meant death. The Khmer Rouge taught that love was unnecessary and separated couples, they performed forced marriages only so people could produce children for the revolution. The Khmer Rouge knew children could be more easily indoctrinated and controlled, and thus used them to spy on their parents and torture prisoners.

Two of the darkest places under the Khmer Rouge were the Killing Fields and S-21 prison. The Killing Fields was where thousands upon thousands of Cambodians were brought to be brutally murdered and dumped into mass graves, most just beaten to death with blunt instruments. Having visited S-21 I can attest to its disturbing and revolting past. Here over 21,000 people were locked up in the most inhuman conditions imaginable and tortured with the most brutal of instruments. Some died under the torture and others were randomly transported to fields and beaten to death. The conditions were so bad in S-21 that they placed barbered wire over the front of the three story buildings so that people could not jump from the top and commit suicide. Of the over 21,000 men, woman and children that entered S-21 only 7 survived and only 2 are still alive today.

I met one of these survivors on my visit, his name is Bou Meng. He originally joined the Khmer Rouge because of King Sihanouk's radio message. He soon became disenfranchised with the Khmer Rouge after the took power but kept his head down and worked hard at odd jobs in order to survive. One day Bou Meng, his wife and two children were rounded up and thrown into S-21. He never seen his wife and children again, and it is believed they were brutally murdered soon after entering. He was placed in the disgusting and inhumane prison, and tortured so much he lost consciousness many times and nearly died. This was all done to try force him to sign ludicrous confessions that he worked for the CIA and KGB to try overthrow the Khmer Rouge. In reality he was just working in a engineering school and as an artist.

One day he was dragged into the office of Duch, the man who ran S-21 and has just received a life sentence for his crimes, and asked to draw a painting of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader. Bou Meng was a very talented artist but he was told that if he didn’t draw the picture well enough he would be killed. He done a good job and after this he was moved to better living quarters and was kept alive so he could continue to draw iconic pictures of the Khmer Rouge leaders. He stayed there long enough so that when the Vietnamese attacked Phnom Penh to overthrow the Khmer Rouge regime he was transported away with guards and could soon escape. Today he earns very little on a state pension and travels to S-21 nearly every day to tell his story to visitors and sell his autobiography, as well as to visit the photo of his wife in the museum and kiss and touch it.

Bou Meng’s story is harrowing but not uncommon. During the Khmer Rouge regime 2 million people died from murder, starvation, exhaustion, and preventable diseases, and this was one-quarter of the population. Every family experienced massive tragedy and some had to go through harrowing experiences to survive. This has created a massive loss of trust between Cambodian people and many psychological problems within the population which has never been treated.

All this happened while the west sat back and done nothing. It took the intervention of the Vietnamese to overthrow the despicable Khmer Rouge, both because of their crimes and no doubt for their own benefit. The Khmer Rouge were not totally defeated and fled to countryside to continue a civil war until the 1990s. While they continued to attack and murder people, western countries used their influence in the UN to insure the disposed Khmer Rouge leadership maintained Cambodia’s seat in the UN and not the new government installed by the Vietnamese. While one can appreciate the Vietnamese for their intervention they continued to colonalise Cambodian for 10 years until 1989, but keeping the UN seat for the Khmer Rouge is a ludicrous act.

Most of Cambodia’s population is under 25 and haven’t lived under the demented Khmer Rouge regime, but the legacy of a lack of trust as well as the reality that most of the leaders of the Khmer Rouge were never brought to trial still hurts. In Ireland we talk a lot about An Gorta Mor and the legacy it left. That genocide (not a famine as there was enough food in the country) killed 1 million and forced 1 million to emigrate, also one quarter of our population. But this happened over 160 years ago and under a brutal colonial regime so it is easy to explain. For Cambodians it is extremely difficult for them to explain how their fellow Cambodians, who were overwhelmingly the same ethnicity, who had the same religion and who spoke the same language decided to brutally exterminate about one quarter of their population just over 30 years ago. Most crimes against humanity occur by whipping up a hatred of other ethnic or linguistic groups, nationalities and/or religious groups. While obviously still a brutal act its explanation as radical racism/sectarianism can give some sort of closure after peace and reconciliation programmes. Cambodians can't get this type of closure and no such peace and reconciliation programmes were initiated. 

Thanks for reading.


Saturday, 18 February 2012

Settling In And Starting Work

So I am well settled into Cambodian life by now. Its actually not that hard eating rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And the weather has been a lovely 34 degrees and sunny almost everyday. However my phone got pick-pocketed and at the moment I’m not feeling great, have a bit of a vomiting bug. But overall its been amazing.

The organisation I am working for SCAO, was basically set-up by Mr. and Mrs. Samith who both really wanted to help impoverished and orphaned children from Cambodia. It got its official government charity licence in 2004 and opened a SCAO centre and school in 2007, about 7km from Phnom Penh, but quite remote. There are 17 children living in the centre at present and they come from all over Cambodia. Only a small minority are orphans, most have at least one living parent, but their families are unable to provide adequately for the children. Thus they come to the warm and loving atmosphere of the SCAO centre, where they get food, clothing, shelter, and of course access to education.

The SCAO school is located a stones throw from the centre and here over 240 children from the local area receive free English classes to supplement and improve on the education they receive in the government schools. It is extremely difficult to underestimate just how important English is to the future of these children, whether they go on to study in university, get a trade or move into Phnom Penh looking for work. At the moment in the centre there are 11 classes ranging from kindergarten to advanced and conversional English. These classes are thought by 1 former child of the centre, 2 current young adults from the centre, and volunteers from all around the world. The children of the centre also rely on overseas donations to further their studies after secondary school.

In July 2011 the SCAO opened   a new school about 22km from Phnom Penh. This school is a fantastic 3 story building with two well-equipped classrooms and 5 rooms for volunteers to sleep in, with up to 10 beds overall. No students live in the centre but almost 450 disadvantaged children come to school daily to receive free English classes, also to supplement what they learn in the government schools. This school was heavily funded by the SCOOP foundation, who sent me here, and is known in the SCAO as the SCOOP school. The children here are taught by volunteers as well as 2 local Cambodians. There is also 11 classes ranging from kindergarten to advanced and conversional English.

Basically my job here is to help the SCAO plan and develop sustainable. It is totally dependent on private donations and has reached  a point where it can attract fantastic donations from people worldwide. But obviously it needs an organisational plan put in place in order to receive this money and grow sustainable, reaching out to more children. I am also in charge of organising new learning workshops for the children and adult community based on everything from HIV/AIDS to road safety, and gambling to domestic violence, and much more. So the plan is to build on contacts the SCAO has with other NGOs that work in these fields and see can they deliver workshops in the Khmer language in both schools. I will also be assisting in helping to spread the computer learning and sowing classes which started in the SCAO school to the SCOOP school, as well as possiblely developing barbering/hairdressing classes as well.  Lastly I will be acting as a volunteer manager for SCAO, as we get lots of volunteers visiting the centre for varying lengths of time and with quite different previous volunteering experience. At the moment we are a bit short on volunteers in the SCOOP school so I have been mostly just teaching, but I am here for 9 months so plenty of time left :-)

Have also seen some of the sites linked to the Khmer Rouge, which were very disturbing, will update on that next.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Arrival

So I have finally arrived safe and sound in Cambodia, albeit via a marathon journey and an epic last minute fundraising night. Thanks to everyone who came down to Mac's in Trim on Friday night. It was a legendary night and we raised 1,700 euro, which will go a really really long way in helping me complete my work here!! So thanks a million to Mark Brady, Paul Carroll and Paul Genockey who organized everything on the night, to everyone who got their head shaved (I'm still getting used to having my hair this short), and everyone who contributed on the night. It really was so heart warming and humbling for me.

The marathon journey began with a near perfect flight from Dublin to Abu Dhabi (AD) until we began our descent and were then told that we could not land in AD because of heavy fog, which had made one plane have a minor crash, and so we had to land in Doha and wait for clearance. I had only two hours of a change over in AD to get to my Bangkok flight, but was told I should still make this as no flights could leave the airport. However when we landed and I entered the airport I seen the bedlam that the closure had caused! It took 3 hours of "queuing" (basically wrestling) to even talk to someone. She told me I could get 5pm flight (it was now 1pm) to Bangkok and I could catch a flight to Phnom Penh from there but I had to go to through immigration and to another Etihad desk to get my boarding pass for this flight.

Two hours of queuing later and I got my boarding pass, just to get pass security and find the flight was delayed till 9.30pm, I would now miss the Phnom Penh transfer from Bangkok! That wasn't too much of a problem, what really messed thing up was when I was checking which gate I was boarding from an hour before the flight and it flashed up that the flight was delayed till 9.30am... I marched off to a wee quiet corner to rest my head for the night. I finally made it Bangkok and had just enough time to get my flight to Phnom Penh, however chances were my bag wouldn't make it.

43 hours since I set off from Dublin I arrived in Phnom Penh at 11pm, bag less, but relived to be here. Was a lovely balmy night and outside I meet my contact Andre. He is a German man who lectures in Cambodia and is on the board of the organization I will be working for, the SCAO. They are a partner organization of the SCOOP foundation who have sent me here. I have left links to both of these organizations on the right of the page.

He brought me from the airport along two pristine and immaculate roads, with massive buildings either side. I was surprised and taken aback by this until I was informed that all the buildings were government ministries and thus government officials travel along these roads everyday, thus there perfect condition. The massive government corruption I had read about was plain to be seen. Down all the side streets one seen the masses of make shaft shacks and uncollected rubbish. The real Cambodia for a lot of its citizens.

We stopped for a beer, the local dark stout because I am Irish :-), and then  headed to the guesthouse/hostel were I stayed last night. I am meeting Andre tonight for dinner and a long chat and will then head out to the SCAO school and community centre in the morning with one of the volunteers, where I will stay for the rest of my time here. Will update the blog once I have visited the centre and got more details on my job.

Thanks for reading (will keep it shorter next time!)
Eric :-)

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

And so it begins...

Have finally set up this blog after some serious procrastination on the issue! The role of the blog is basically just to update family and friends on my work during my 9 month placement in Cambodia, as well as my adventures and experiences. I also think it will be a good way for me to catalogue what will hopefully be a very exciting and memorable year for me, and to put into writing my meandering thoughts and reflections during the trip.

I will post again just before I go and then I aim to post an entry at least every 2 weeks while in Cambodia. Would love to hear any feedback after posts so feel free to comment below. You can also subscribe to the blog by putting your e-mail in the bar below. This feature insures that you will receive an e-mail when I have updated the blog.

Thats all for now.

Sláinte mhaith,