GAYE MILLER: CAMBODIAN STORY PART ONE
September / October 2003
set off from
set off from Melbourne with a
container completely full of donated things for the children of Cambodia.
She came into contact with us via the 'net, and we were so impressed with
her story we asked permission to print it....
are the newsletters from her trip, part one.
NEWSLETTER NUMBER ONE
It's wonderful to be back
in Siem Reap. On my arrival, driving from the airport into town, it felt
like returning home. I spent my first few days
organizing long term accommodation and just unwinding. It's been a very busy
year for me with the first 6 months studying for a teaching qualification.
The following three months were spent packing all the donations.
Every night and every
weekend I spent in my freezing Melbourne garage, sorting and packing goods. I am enjoying the extreme
climate change from Melbourne's winter to Cambodia's wet season, even with
all the tropical downpours. I was offered cut price,
luxury, long term accommodation with a rare [for Cambodia] swimming pool.
This was on condition that I gave staff English lessons. In reality, this
meant translating business letters for the French manager. A fair exchange
that we were both happy with.
After a few days of
settling in, I went out to the orphanage that is my priority. His orphanage
is set in a monastery in the grounds of Angkor Wat. Its home to 30 boys aged
between 7 and 20. The monastery is spread over approx. 15 acres of partially
cleared jungle. When I arrived on a motorbike taxi, the boys ran out from
all over the place to greet me. It was a very emotional
reunion for all of us. I was amazed at how much some of the boys had grown.
I noticed they were still wearing the shoes that I bought them last year.
I made arrangements to
commence teaching the following day.
I learnt the older boys
were away doing work experience at the Childrenís Hospital. This meant
cycling the 12 kms to and from the hospital every day to earn US$1 a day
plus lunch. Later in the week I visited the Children's Hospital to discuss
the medical and surgical donations. Whilst there, I heard laughter and soft
calls. I turned around to see the older boys all running towards me. We had
lots of respect bowing, hugs and hand shaking. I
started teaching the older boys the following week when they had finished
their hospital cleaning jobs.
NEWSLETTER NUMBER TWO
Thanks for all the emails.
It's great to receive encouragement from home.
Teaching the younger boys
was more of a challenge than I remembered. I thought they had a better
understanding of English. I bought the requested exercise books, pens and
'Lets Go 2' course book. The children found it quite difficult to
understand. I felt that they were reading the course books from memory
without actually understanding the meaning. I introduced a lot of physical
games which took us out of the classroom and into the sunshine. They seemed
to enjoy this lot more whilst at the same time learning new vocabulary. The
size of this class varied between 15 and 25 students aged between 7-16.
One day it was so hot, that
after all the energetic games, I organized for a man on a push bike,
dragging an ice chest of ice cream, to serve all the children. It cost less
than $3 for about 25 ice-creams. I was amused by the first lesson I taught
the older boys as it was the same first lesson I had taught for my CELTA
certificate. This was from New Headway.
I was intrigued by the lone
girl that attended class, as I remembered her from last year. Only males
stay in a monastery, but I discovered this girl stayed with some nuns. I had
an opportunity to really make a difference to the life of this girl. I knew
a school that had sponsors willing to pay for her education, which would
lead onto employment within the tourist industry. In this country, boys get
all the opportunities and girls get overlooked and left behind. I arranged
for the girl and the school's representative to meet. Unfortunately the girl
wasn't interested. It would have been a great opportunity for her as her
English language skills were strong.
In this older group I teach
about 10-12 students including some monks. They are aged between 15 and 22.
They have been very well taught and understand verb tenses, although we do
have some problems with American and English spelling. The boys are as
fascinated by my lifestyle as I am about theirs. We exchanged a daily
routine. This is theirs:
4.30 Get up
6.30 Breakfast with
7.30 Cook rice, this
is supplemented by daily food offerings to the monks. Find and collect
firewood in the jungle
10.30 Do personal
laundry. Take cold water open air shower
12.30 Cycle to school
1.00 School starts
5.00 School finishes
In Cambodia, half of the
children attend school in the morning, half in the afternoon. I asked the
boys what they needed and they replied that they wanted nothing, that they
had enough rice. They know I'm bringing thousands of books to set up a
library for them. I have to make arrangements to have the bookcases made. At
two o'clock yesterday it was too dark to read the text books, it was very
humid, with a lot of biting mosquitoes.
As soon as I got on the
motorbike for the return trip home, the heavens opened and by the time I got
back to my hotel, I was drenched to the skin despite wearing a raincoat. All
the reception staff thought it was hilarious when I squelched across the
foyer. I feel like a local now as when riding on the back of a motorbike, my
mobile phone rang and there I was coolly chatting on a mobile phone just
like everyone else. I'm having a little two part competition with myself. 1.
To see the maximum amount of people on one bike. The record so far is; 4
people on a push bike, 6 on a motorbike. This is in addition to chickens,
pigs, bales of wood, sacks of rice etc. 2. To see how many different things
a pillion passenger can do.
Talking on a mobile phone
is commonplace. I've seen eating, drinking, reading, writing, sewing even
breastfeeding and holding up an umbrella as protection against the rain or
sun. Of course nobody wears a crash helmet. There are no road laws, right of
way, driverís tests or minimum age limit. It's quite an Adrenalin rush or a
death wish taking a moto-dorp.
On my last trip I visited the trio of orphanages in town. I
became involved in one that had about 8 teenage girls upstairs and maybe 8
teenage boys downstairs.
Last year I had the plumbing fixed so the three faulty
showers worked and the girls could have theirs separately from the boys. I
also put in a new well and bought some furniture for them. I returned to
visit two girls in particular. Nothing had changed. The girls still lived in
a spartan dormitory, furnished only with slatted beds with rush mats as
mattresses. The only adornment is one ceiling fan in the centre of the room
which had no effect on the beds. They have very few personal possessions. I
left messages that I had returned and wanted to see the girls.
They eventually saw me walking along the street. There were
many tears of happiness and tight hugs. I escorted them back to their home
and we arranged that I would pick them up for dinner the following night. I
wasn't sure of their food preference so I chose a restaurant that served
western and Khmer food. My Khmer speaking friend Sheila came to help with
We learnt about their background. Mophay and Proling are
17yr. old cousins from the same village. They have been in the orphanage for 10 years..
Both girls take daily English classes. They are bright, intelligent and
attractive girls. Mophay has a deformed, withered leg, from the after
effects of Polio, and walks with a pronounced limp.
Proling is training to become a classical dancer performing
the centuries old traditional dances that the Khmer Rouge almost succeeded
in wiping out. Unfortunately this career path isn't open to Mophay. She is
working in a very basic hairdressing shop in the market, hoping to learn the
trade. She works from 8-4 everyday for no wages, just to get some
Mophay has a very bright, bubbly personality and could do
well with some help. The girls invited me to watch a traditional dance
performance the following day.
Due to a mix-up in times, I arrived 90 minutes early. This
was a lucky chance for me, as I was privileged to see the girls and boys
prepare, dress and make-up backstage. The band, singers, principal dancers
and all the male and female dancers were orphans or very poor children.
Whilst retaining their modesty, the boys helped the girls into their outer
costumes. The costumes were in fact just metres of expensive, gold threaded
brocade. This was wrapped, tied and sewn onto the dancers.
Mophay patiently put stage make-up on all the girls. I also
saw the boys put on lipstick and paint on false moustaches to make
themselves look older. After two hours of preparation, the 90 minute show
Mophay took her place beside the band who played traditional
Khmer instruments that I couldn't begin to describe. The first intricate
dance was exquisitely performed by the two principal dancers, Proling and
another girl. They must be very strong to hold some of the poses balancing
on just one leg. Just the hand and finger movements alone would have taken
so long to memorize.
It brought tears to my eyes when I thought of the
disadvantaged background that these children had come from. They are
struggling against all odds to climb out of their poverty trap.
Throughout all the dances, Mophay accompanied the band in a
sharp soulful voice that perfectly complimented the dancers movements.
Whilst Proling looked very serious, Mophay kept looking at me and giving me
huge, cheesy grins. She hasn't got an ounce of self pity, understandable I
suppose when they are so many much worse off. People with a missing limb
are commonplace, due to all the landmines still everywhere.
I'm hoping to get some information on an organisation that
only employs victims of landmines and Polio. I need to talk to Mophay to see
what career path she would like, get some typing lessons organized for her
and arrange sponsorship for her.
finally received the call I'd been waiting such a long time for, informing
me that the container would arrive in the capital, Phnom Penh within days. I
hurriedly organized a flight and flew down to P.P. the same day. Then I
settled in for the long wait for the next phone call. When I
first arrived I was advised to buy a mobile phone. At times like this, it
was invaluable, as it meant that I wasn't stuck in the hotel room waiting by
the time to visit the company that offered training and employment to
handicapped people [with Mophay in mind] I managed to map read and direct
my motor bike driver to the correct address. I'd forgotten how much traffic
there was and the terrifying speed that they travel in the capital. I
finally located the business and was led through a busy room filled with
disabled, young people working on computers. I noticed several wheelchairs
a long chat with the director and learnt that Mophay would be eligible for
help on two counts, with her disadvantaged background and handicap.
Unfortunately the organisation doesn't operate in Siem Reap, so it would all
be too difficult to arrange for Mophay.
third day of waiting, I received the call that the container had arrived at
the dry dock and to meet the shipping agent there. Many people had told me
horror stories on what to expect at the docks. I expected to be kept hours
filling in documents, greasing palms, seeing boxes of goods disappear, even
waiting days for the goods to be released.
Incredibly, it took just two hours for the documentation to be completed,
container broken open, brief customs check and truck to be loaded. I think
this would be exceptionally quick in any country. The
agent said this was a record for the quickest and easiest time he'd known
for a clearance. I had expected a lot of fat cat officials, as I'd been told
the customs officers are the most corrupt in the country. They can hold
containers indefinitely and keep charging extra fees.
officials were all overweight, [remember this is in a country where so many
are starving] and had diamond and gold jewellery dripping off every digit. I
noticed the staff car park contained mostly land cruisers.
ached from the constant smiling and numerous thank you's. I think it helped
that a few officials had families in Australia so we could have a limited,
could see several OOCL containers but they were all too big to be mine. I
was finally led to mine which fortunately was on ground level and not
stacked up high like some of them. The agent had forgotten to bring the key,
so I told them not to worry, just to use the bolt cutters. The
doors swung open to reveal.................................. the interior
looking exactly the same as when I had last seen it outside my home in
Melbourne. Nothing was missing, not a box out of place, nothing had moved or
friend Alf had packed it so tightly and wedged it all in, so it would
survive even rough seas. The customs official poked into three boxes and
found they were medical supplies and that was it! We were free to start
loading the truck. It was a very hot and dangerous place to be with all the
cranes swinging containers over our heads.
the container was about half unloaded, the same English speaking officer
came by again and started to empty a box of toys. He pulled out a spinning
top and asked me if he could keep it.
Silently I said '' keep your thieving hands off the children's toys, you
maggot''. Instead I smiled and said ''of course, no problem, how many
children do you have?''
I realised how lucky that I only had to part with one toy and boxes of goods
or even the whole container. I
exchanged business cards with the spinning top official and think he would
O.K. to work with if I'm crazy enough to do this again.
dry dock part of the jigsaw completed.
set off from
It has been a very busy,
difficult and successful fortnight. Iíve almost finished all the jobs I
originally set out to do. To
continue on from the container arrival in Phnom PenhÖÖ..
so good to fly back into Siem Reap and arrive Ďhomeí. The truck containing
all the donations finally arrived at the childrenís hospital at 8.30. The
HALO Trust guys were with me to help transfer all the boxes onto their truck
and drive them back to the secure HALO headquarters. It was hot and dirty
work, with everyone sweating profusely in the high humidity. After leaving
the medical and surgical donations in the hospital store room, I followed
the truck back to HALO. I noticed one guy perched up high on the pile of
boxes making sure that nothing fell off. Once again we unloaded the truck
and put all the donations into a warehouse and padlocked the door.
many times have I shifted these boxes now? After
a very long day, which had started in Phnom Penh, I finally drove home to
HALO guys were fantastic. They organized, interpreted and did all the work.
I canít praise them enough considering they had given up their Saturday
night to help me.
long discussions with Save the Children Norway, it was decided to take three
trips to distribute the goods to six needy areas. I knew the first trip
would be the hardest as I had traveled to the area before.
Meanwhile, I had arranged for Mophay to start a computer course covering
typing and various Window applications. I dropped into the computer school
at 7.15am one day to check that she was attending. I neednít have worried,
she was so absorbed in her work, she didnít even notice me. Sheís a quick
learner. Her daily routine is:
the orphans have one thing in common. They are all tired because they donít
waste one minute. Poor Mophay caught a cold, so I took her to the pharmacy
to get some medication and had a restaurant make up a lemon and honey drink
for her. She works so hard and is very run down.
arranged for Pruling to have an interview at the school for tourism and she
was offered a scholarship. She will commence restaurant and bar studies in
November. The school is highly regarded and has no problem in finding
employment for their graduates. So if both girls continue to study, they
should find themselves good jobs.
taken them out for meals during which we try to teach each other our
respective languages. There are a lot of misunderstandings, they laugh at my
pathetic attempts to speak a few words of Khmer.
supplied me with a truck and driver to deliver all the boxes to the boyís
orphanage. I have a terrific photo of the boys unloading the truck in the
pouring rain. They put all the boxes of books to one side and I told them
they could open all the other boxes. They were so excited pulling out
clothes and toys. They loved all the soft cuddly toys.
the library is almost completed. It started off as a dark, empty little
room. I bought white paint to lighten it a little, which the boys
enthusiastically slapped on everywhere. I bought lengths of wood which was
transported by a trailer on the back of a motorbike and organized a
carpenter to work daily to construct the bookshelves. I also bought a
battery operated light.
covered one wall in bright posters. Every time I started working and
arranging the books, the boys and monks would wander in, select a book and
plonk themselves on a bench or the floor for a good read. The
only books they have ever seen are school text books. They love all the
pictures and the variety of books, particularly the pop-up ones.
intended to have an opening ceremony. The monks were keen to have a big
party and to invite local dignitaries and police. With the language
problems, this is just too time consuming and energy draining to organize.
Iíd rather spend the money on the children, not all the hangers on, so Iím
hiring a vehicle and taking them out for the day.
given all the financial donations to the HALO Trust on the understanding
that they will build several wells in Varin. This is one of the poorest
areas in Cambodia. In the dry season the children get up at 4.30 to walk
5kms to fetch water. One of the wells will be built next to a minefield.
Each well will cost approx. US$150. After
completion, I will receive a report and photos.
are so many worthwhile causes I could give money to, but I like the idea of
providing essential water close to residential areas, plus the fact that
HALO give receipts and account for all monies spent. They also know that I
will be back to check up.
would have liked to have provided a cow, buffalo, pigs, chickens and fish
for an orphanage that is providing an agricultural education for needy
children. Some of these children have been bought as sex slaves and other
illegal crimes. As you can imagine, they are very traumatized from their
previous lifestyle. Maybe next time I can offer some help, unless anybody
has any cattle they donít need!
to part two
Cambodian tragedy - why Anlong
Anlong Veng project - what is
- March 2000
Reap diary - June 2000
Penh diary - November 2000
Prasat diary - June 2001
Chum diary - June 2001
Penh & Tuol Sleng - March 2002
Prasat diary - April 2002
Chum diary - April 2002
Diary - March 2003
Year Project Report - May 2003
Veng, Preah Vihear & Kulen District - February 2004
Veng, Trapang Prasat & Preah Vihear
- March 2009
Sarath's Journal - Anlong Veng to Preah Vihear
- March 2009
Warren's Times Educational Article
Miller's story - a container from Melbourne 1
- September 2003
Miller's story - a container from Melbourne 2
- October 2003
Aakervik's project - children taking photographs - February 2004
Miller's story continued 1 - April/May 2005
Miller's story continued 2 - April/May 2005
Presentation to King Edward's School, Bath
- November 2002
photos - March 2000
Veng photos - March 2000
Prasat photos - March 2000
Prasat photos - November 2000
photos - June 2001
Prasat photos - June 2001
Chum photos - June 2001
Penh photos - March 2002
Sleng (S-21) photos - March 2002
Prasat photos - April 2002
Chum photos - April 2002
Veng & Trapang Prasat photos - March 3 2003
Chum & Varin photos - March 4 2003
Leu photos - March 5 2003
Reap / Artisans d'Angkor - February 20 2004
Veng & Trapang Prasat
- February 21 2004
Mountains & Preah Vihear
Temple - February
District & Koh Ker Temple - February 23 2004
Veng, Trapang Prasat & Preah Vihear
- March 2009
us if you would like to help.
© yates family 2009
No content may be copied without the author's permission.