Cambodia diary – March 2003

Mick, daughter Michala and our friend from New York Louis Bradbury visited Cambodia from March 2nd to 6th 2003.

It was wonderful to meet most of our old colleagues and friends – including Ung Sereidy and Phalla from the PEO, and Sigurd, Simeth and Nara from Save the Children – although we did miss Sarath on this visit, as he was in Ethiopia. On the other hand, we were very happy to meet Lena Richter, Save’s new Field Office Director for the first time.  This was bittersweet, as since our last visit to Cambodia Ole Bernt Harvold, the previous Director, had suddenly passed away, and we all missed him. His wife and children are now in Norway, and we wish them well.

Setting off early on a very hot and sticky morning in 3 white Landcruisers , we went once more to Anlong Veng and Trapeang Prasat.  But this time we also managed to visit the Dangrek Mountain hideout of the Khmer Rouge. For this first day, we were joined by two Norwegian Journalists, Anne-lise Aakervik and Tone Rønning. Perhaps our most important observations were that the road to Anlong Veng is both increasingly built up with new homesteads along the way, and once more beginning to form many potholes.  We learnt that there were still water shortages, and we witnessed much forest burning and clearing of trees.

In fact it took us over three hours to reach Anlong Veng this time – worse than our ‘best ever’ time of two hours. That said, the road from Anlong to Trapeang was still excellent. At one point we drove past the Government school we saw being built when we were here with Im Sethy – it is now complete, but has no children.  As real estate people say, location, location. Anyway, we arrived at the new school at O Som, 6 kilometres from Trapeang, and were treated to songs from the children in the very hot midday sun. We also enjoyed a most generous lunch hosted by the families of the children, and had an emotional farewell.

We returned to the Trapeang Prasat school, where we learnt that it is now up to grade 6, and we visited the excellent library and new vocational facilities. The school attendance has gone from 449 students in 1998/99 to 1307 in 2002/03, and a nursery school is planned for next school year, as is yet another school building. The Child Friendly environment was very well established, and the school, its staff and the parents well deserve their position as a national model of how to do things.

Unfortunately the Trapeang District Governor (Cheat Chum) was out of town, so we could not catch up with him.

Trapang Prasat March 2003 -43We ended this first day in the Dangrek Mountains, the last refuge of the Khmer Rouge, and the place Pol Pot was under house arrest for a while. Despite its very sad history, we could not help but be impressed by the magnificent views below.

The next day, we visited the Charoka School at Angkor Chum, now in its second full year of operation.  We were pleased to get re-acquainted with many of the parents, and rather amazed at how well settled the school now seemed. It was a lot of fun at the school, and it was great to see a new basketball court (a global phenomenon?) and the continued development of the children’s garden and fishpond. From there, we visited the Beng mini-school, now with a second building, and enjoyed a refreshing coconut juice. Michala and Louis were thoroughly enjoying the experience, and caught on quickly to the instant picture shows possible with digital cameras.

As ever, we all sent pictures back to the children and families, to provide a more permanent reminder.

We then for the first time made it all the way to Varin, as previous trips we had been stopped by time, mud or rain. The roads were very reminiscent of the very first trip we made up north – that is, extremely difficult! We might have been better on dirt bikes,  although it was great fun to ford the river in the Land Cruisers.  In Varin we were again treated to a wonderful lunch, and a show by the students of traditional Cambodian dancing. There was lots of fun and joy in the air, and a great sense of optimism. One of the dances was usually reserved for New Year, but it did allow us all an opportunity to contribute to the village funds.

Michala persuaded some of the children to take her videos for her, which they did with a professionalism and seriousness worthy of great directors. Saying many goodbyes, it was only 19 kilometres from Varin to Sre Noy, but it took us almost one and a half hours of very bumpy track. Somewhere along the way we visited the Angelina Jolie School, built after her encounter with Cambodia making ‘Tomb Raider’, and we finished the official part of the trip with a visit to Sre Noy school.

From Sre Noy it was about 25 kilometres to the Lady Temple’ at Banteay Srei, and a welcome evening beer before driving the final 35 kilometres to Siem Reap.

On the final day we travelled for the first time to the Svay Leu District, which so far has little International attention, even though it is quite close to the town of Siem Reap. First we visited the Samraong school just off the main road. We were impressed to see the life skills programs run by Save the Children. Microcredit allowed children to purchase pigs and both learn the art of husbandry and how to manage money. The kids submit plans to the School Committee, who then choose and help organise training with the assistance of the Agriculture Department. It was also nice to see mums helping the children learn about pigs; entrepreneurship is clearly in many families. And, Mick insisted on having a grandparents picture taken, which amused everyone.

We then travelled along a very dusty and bumpy road to Svay Leu village, stopping on the way at an old watercourse.  No one was quite sure how to date the ruins, but a group of local shopkeepers were happily selling cold drinks to passing tourists. Going into the village, for the third time, we were treated to a lunch with the local people at the school.  We clearly saw the cost to them, but we also realised how important the spirit of hospitality is in Cambodia, whatever the history.  We felt blessed.

After lunch we visited the communal garden area, and an old temple dating way back.  Again, very difficult to decide when it was built. The kids were running around and posing for photos during their lunch break. And then it was time to return to Siem Reap, once more.

Far too soon we once more had to leave Cambodia.

This trip gave a real sense of accomplishment from the efforts of the last three / four years, and we are incredibly proud of what Save the Children and the Provincial Education Office have achieved. It is a terrific team, that is simply going from strength to strength.  Long may that continue.

Here is a report Yates Cambodia Report 1999-2002 (Acrobat PDF) that gives a summary of results from the 1999 – 2002 cooperation between the Provincial Education Office in Siem Reap (PEO), Save the Children Norway, Cambodia Office (SCN-CO), and the Yates family.

The intention is to provide a summary of facts and figures to supplement the knowledge of the project gained by the regular field visits and on-line diaries, rather than provide a detailed explanation. Therefore, this report contain mainly tables and maps, with minimal description and interpretation added. the report was authored by Save the Children (Norway).