Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Hopes and Dreams......

'Without aspirations, we will lack a sense of hope; without a sense of hope we can not achieve'

When I was in Siem Reap last year, I visited Prosh's School and was impressed to hear his story of how his school had begun. 

While I was in Siem Reap, I met an extraordinary man, Prosh, who started teaching english to children in his community in his living room. They came in flocks. Soon his house was no longer big enough for all the enthusiastic children, so he invested his money and raised funds to build several buildings that have now become a small community school. The children come from far and wide and their smiles reveal how excited they are to be there in the classrooms, learning and believing that they have hope for the future.

This time on my visit to Prosh's school I was impressed and overwhelmed by how much the school has developed and achieved over 6 months since I was here.

Firstly, Prosh is a forward thinker and a man with a mind for business. His goal is to make his school sustainable and self sufficient, no longer needing funds to help keep it running and to pay the teacher's wages which seems to always be a stressful financial problem for him at the moment. So with his business sense and financial assistance from the KICK funds, he invested in some pigs as a way to generate income. The community built the pig pens on the school grounds and there are now several healthy and fat pigs being well looked after and ready for sale in a months time.

I was also happy to see that another classroom had been built and the plans was to turn this building into a music/arts room and textiles room. I was so delighted to see how much building had been added to the growing school.

I was even more excited to hear about how an Australian company, 'Three Monkeys,' donated $7,000 worth of solar panels and equipment to the school. What a generous contribution given by an extremely charitable company. Once these panels are installed, they will provide the school with all the power it needs plus more. Therefore, Prosh will no longer have to pay electrical bills and then the money can go towards paying teacher wages instead. A brilliant solution to alleviate the financial strain made possible by noble and generous people.

Currently, Prosh is also working with the local women in the village on a textiles project. They are designing and making boxes from bamboo and Palm leaves that will be sold to a supplier who has expressed an interest in buying a certain number of these boxes from Prosh each month. Again another brilliant business initiative to provide funds for the school and I admire Prosh's vision to get the whole community involved so they too can benefit from production and profit. He hopes to invest in a couple of sewing machines so garments can also be made and sold. Of course these projects are in their initial stages and require funding to start them off, but in time if managed well, these business initiatives will help provide crucial funds for the school.

This weekend, there will be a working bee at the school to create a vegetable garden where vegies can be grown which can be eaten by the children. There will also be a chicken coup to build and chickens to buy. Having chickens in the school will provide eggs and hence food so that the children will have something to eat. Often these children come to school hungry and hence their fatigue and lack of concentration can affect their learning.
At the moment the generous and caring Barb and Chris provide watermelon or an egg for each child donated by them from their own money.

Most of all, I was happy to hear that previous students that Prosh had taught at his original school in his home are now being sponsoring to go to Uni to become teachers themselves. Several of them are now teaching in the school. A wonderful example of how a school can eventually reap the fruits of its labor. It's lovely to see that these now educated young men have chosen to come back and teach and share their skills with the students.

When I revisit Siem Reap in the future, I can only imagine what these schools we have sponsored will be like. With continued support they will grow and become sustainable and self sufficient. A wonderful reward for all.

This will be my last blog regarding my visit to Siem Reap and the schools we are sponsoring with the KICK fund and projects. Of course Barb and Chris will continue to follow up on the progress of the projects and continue to oversee the schools and mentor them through their journey. We look forward to their updates and progress.

Thank you all for your contributions to the KICK fundraiser fund and for your support. I have seen first hand the difference your kindness and generosity has made to the lives of these people and we all are grateful to you and your kindness.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

If pigs could fly........

'If we can regard others' happiness as our own, then ours will be the richest and most satisfying life.......' 

How many people can say that they have been part of the negotiations of the purchase of pigs? Well I can tell you that it was a humorous and respectful affair, here in a village 20km out of Siem Reap.

Today I had the honor of spending the morning with Da, who so kindly invited us to share in his milestone of purchasing pigs for a business plan he has constructed and of which will fund his vision to own his own business in the future.

We all piled into Chris' army jeep, which I have come to adore...yes adore and headed out to Da's village.

Upon arrival in the village we were swept away by the array of colour and bustle of activity. Women sprawled out on the ground scaling and gutting fish, an assortment of both familiar and foreign foods, fruits and vegies of all colours, shapes and sizes and there in a stall tucked away was Da's mum, sitting so elegantly behind her sewing machine. Her livelihood is dependent on sewing garments and making alterations.

At first glance, I was taken a back. Da's mum was not what I expected her to be. At 50 years of age, she looked more like a 30 year old, with soft flawless skin and no evidence of wrinkles. Her hair was elegantly pulled back and she sat behind her machine with poise worthy of a princess. She stood up with an air of confidence and wisdom, there was no sign of the hardships she faces, a woman who is a widow, bringing up 3 boys. It was a pleasure to have made her acquaintance, a humble and modest woman.

Today's outing involved us all going on an 'adventure' to purchase pigs for Da. Part of the money raised from the KICK fundraiser, will be used to give Da a micro loan for the pigs. As soon as he sells a few, he will begin to invest the money to pay the remainder of the loan off their home and then eventually to start his own business. He will also be committed to paying back the loan so that it can then be given to another  enthusiastic entrepreneur. He is also committed to going back to his home village and starting up a business there, whereby the community would benefit from and one that would provide educational opportunities for the people who live there. Hearing Da speak about his 'dream' with such passion and conviction brings tears to my eyes. This young man is by no means selfish and all he can think about is becoming successful so that he could then give back to his village and family. Such motivation, so selfless and so humble.

The pig negotiations were a privilege to be part of. All negotiation was carried out by the women, with a couple of phone calls to the seller's husband to confer. Chris and I took a back seat approached, remaining serious but chuckling at the scene before us, all at the same time.
Negotians proceeded. another phone call, pause......some idle chatter....calm respectful voices....more chatter...more waiting....another phone call...finally....SOLD!!

Finally the deal was done, sealed and pigs to be delivered at a later date after they have been vaccinated. Of course Da was jubilant and his smile would have lightened up any dark room. His was over joyed and couldn't stop hugging us. Of course all of the way home Da was as proud as punch and we couldn't wipe the grin or the joy from his face. Again a tear jerking moment.
Here is a perfect example of a young man, from a poor village, determined to be successful and more determined to make positive changes to  the lives of others in his village. Who would have thought 5 piglets could have brought so much joy to the hearts of all of us that ordinary Saturday in June, well not so ordinary now.

Well it doesn't stop there folks. I hadn't had time to dry my eyes and I was soon in tears once again.

On our way back from buying the pigs we stopped to visit another inspiring local. Sohing is a young woman of 28 years old. She lives down the road from Da in the same village and they are very very close friends. This woman is petite and shy yet she is solid and determined. She is too proud to ask for support or financial support and prefers to try and get things done by herself, at a cost to herself.

Sohing is a remarkable role model for any woman, well any person for that matter. Again Sohing comes from a poor family, she hasn't had any formal tertiary education and she knows first hand what it's like to do it tough. However, despite her own family's struggles she has decided to shoulder those of the community.

6 months ago Sohing started a small school for the children in her village to learn english so that they would have a chance of a brighter future. Her house is built on stilts so she used the space under the house as a make shift classroom. Barb and Chris heard of her plight and invested funds from the KICK fundraiser to purchase a whiteboard and 4 desks. Today we visited her and 6 months later her classroom is now home to 15 or so children. Not only is Sohing educating these children she has also built a community of enthusiastic children who have the confidence and spirit to aspire to whatever their dreams maybe.

It was Saturday when we visited, and to our delight most of the children were present at the home. Not for class or to learn but to just 'hang out' with eachother. It was evident Sohing had built a community where children feel loved, safe and accepted. A place where they are free to play, be social or just to lay back and enjoy eachother's company.

This spirited woman, with a zest to achieve, was also an entrepreneur and she too was building a pig pen in the hope of investing in the business of pig breeding which would become one way to fund her school. Sohing has a dream to build 2 classrooms on her land so that she can have 2 functioning classrooms for the children in the village. She also hopes to go to Uni and graduate to become a teacher. For now she works tirelessly at her full time job, taking care of her family and running her school.

We always look towards sports heroes, celebrities, politicians etc as role models to inspire and evoke change but these unsung heroes are the role models worth getting to know .......I dare you too because if you make the effort, I can guarantee that your heart will be brimming with emotion, gratitude, humbleness and awe..................I am honored to have met them and to be part of their lives, to journey alongside them as they conquer the challenges faced to making their dreams a reality.
My life is so much fuller for doing so.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015


Today I had the pleasure of heading out to the village where David lived.

David is an 18 year old man. When you are introduced to him you'd be forgiven for mistaking him for a 12 year old school boy. David may have a small stature but he has a mighty heart, strong bearing shoulders and let's not forget that broad affectionate smile that warms your heart and leaves you smiling like a chester cat.

Many years ago, David's father abandoned the family and no one knows where he is. Since then, David has taken care of his 6 siblings, his mother and grandmother. He works every day, traveling around 30km on his bike to get to and from work and still finds time to study and learn english. He is an intelligent man with a real zest for life and for learning and he hopes to go to University to study Law in the future.

A few weeks ago, a destructive storm hit Siem Reap and left certain villages in disarray. It was during this storm that David's home was destroyed. Basically the home collapsed like a a deck of cards and the family was left homeless.

There is often a a genuine spirit of community in these villages and David's neighbors have allowed him and his family to live temporarily in the space under their home that is built on stilts.
Word about David's situation soon reached the ears of Barb and Chris and they immediately went out to the village to inspect the damage. It was apparent that something had to be done for this family.

So with funds raised through the KICK program, Barb and Chris helped David purchase some bricks and concrete. Soon a working bee was organised and over the weekend just passed, the initial stages of the building went up. Of course imagine trying to build the house in the hot humid weather and with basic tools and hard manual labor, a slow process but efficient.

Today, 4 days later since the commencement of the building, we went back to check in with David and his family. We were amazed to see the progress of construction and the house was definitely on it's way to having all the walls up in no time at all.
He was excited and proud to show me his plans of the house he had drawn, complete with accurate costs, a financial budget and estimates of future costs for the roof. An intelligent man with determination and motivation.

I was also humbled by David's gratitude. I was referred to as the girl who ran the crazy distance of 200km. David was extremely grateful and thankful for the funds he received to help him and his family build their new home.

We were also impressed with his business sense and over the past couple of weeks he has been able to raise some funds and seek some financial assistance himself.

We will be back in a few more days to see how David is going, but he is an enthusiastic, hard working, educated young man who has the commitment to get things done.

David and his family thank you all for your generous donations that have help assist him and his family build a new home.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Being needed by others and having the ability to serve is what makes our lives truly blessed.....

Today we piled into Chris' jeep and headed out to Wat Kok Chork Language School, one of the school programs the the KICK (Kids In Cambodia Kickstart) Programs supports and funds.

The school was established in 2006 by Daro Keb, a monk, who wanted to provide the local children (unable to pay state school fees) with a free education. The schools main goal/vision is to provide these poor children with an education that will equip them with the necessary skills and knowledge required to break the cycle of poverty and to give them hope for a brighter future.

I had the honor to spend some time chatting with Daro and to hear about how far the school has progressed since 2006, the challenges and implications faced at present and his vision and aspirations for the future of the school. This is a man with great vision but many political and financial obstacles to overcome.

Daro hopes to build a school community that will be able to provide quality lessons and education, dormitories for orphaned students, a medical centre for the community, playing/sports fields and an Arts education centre.  His dedication and passion for achieving this vision is strong and evident as he speaks about it and shows us his plans. His dedication to the children and to is dream is overpowering and I am struck with admiration and respect for this petite man  who has the strength to carry the futures of these children on his back.

We hope to mentor and support Daro in numerous ways. We hope to show him how he can develop financial schemes that will help him fund his school and it's expenses as well as assist him in the future development of his school. By showing Daro ways he can create a consistent financial income is a priority for us and we hope to see him and his school become independent, self sufficient and sustainable. Of course this will require patience, hard work and commitment by all involved but overtime we believe it will be possible to see that Daro's vision becomes a successful reality that the community as a whole will benefit from.

As we toured the school today, we discovered that the water pump had malfunctioned. So we organised a new pump for the water pump that had broken down. This was a necessity and we didn't want the school to be without water for too much longer.

I was also very pleased to see how successful the Arts lessons have become at the school. The children were enthusiastic, motivated, confident and eager to please. Over the past month Barb and Tansy had initiated and developed a a unique program to teach children english through the arts and what a success it's been. Both Barb and Tansy are passionate about their programs and it's obvious how much their hard work has help to create a community of learners that are enthusiastic, motivated and appreciative of the art lessons.

The children evidently enjoy experimenting with materials and techniques that they have never seen before, such as paints, water colours crayons etc. The smiles and their enthusiasm was overwhelming and evident as they exhibited their joy for learning. They beamed with pride and affectionately expressed their love for their teachers through drawings on the whiteboard, hugs and high 5s.

We will be back on Friday for another day of Art lessons and hopefully all the students will turn up. Of course another challenge is regular attendance at these lessons. Of course parents would much prefer their children work, collect garbage for money and help out in the family home rather than go to school. We hope to change this cycle.

So from the children, the teachers and from Daro we give thanks and gratitude to your donations to our fund, today your generosity touched the hearts of many appreciative and over joyed children in a small village not too out from the city of Siem Reap.