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 :-)