Sorya’s Blogspot: Telling Stories from Cambodia

My day with the "Safe Drinking Water Project"

December 2012

I awake early in the cool of the morning. The first rays of sun creep over the slopes of Phnom Chiso. My moto takes me by dusty roads to the building site in the village of Kandal. Here we are - the cement builders, a pile of sand, bags of cement, casting moulds - and I, Sim Thoeun, the project manager of the 'Safe Drinking Water Project'. What do we want to achieve? Safe drinking water for 1,050 people by building 210 rainwater tanks. Those harvest rainwater and store it for the dry season. Thus diseases and cost of medical treatment are reduced considerably for the people of the villages.
Our cement builders are highly motivated and work very hard at the sun-drenched sites in the countryside. Now the koyun of Sorya has arrived to drive the casted rings to the ground of a recipient family. The foundation from crushed gravel is already prepared - it has to stand more than 1.5 tons (when the tank is filled). But before the cement rings become a rainwater tank, we have to roll these along narrow paths to the house. We set up a hand block and tackle to pull the rings at a height of 2,50 meters. Pipes are connected to the gutter of the roof and to the 'first flash diverter'. When it starts raining the first flush of contaminated water from the roof is diverted into that overflow-pipe to prevent the debris of dirt in the tank. In total these works take one to two days to finish.
At noon I drive back to Sorya's school at Tropang Trea. With our teachers I look into the first successes of our students who have posted their opinions on the project on the donation platform of 'betterplace'. They had searched online about background details of betterplace. But more important, they grabbed the chance to improve their English skills. And indeed, they have trigged donations for the project.
In the afternoon the recipient families of the Kandal village gather for the hygiene workshop. I teach how to use and to maintain their tanks. The families have paid goodly contributions according to their financial situation - and own THEIR tank. Finally each family gets a ceramic filter. Its ceramic pot retains turbidity and bacteria when filled up with water from the tank - resulting safe drinking water.
"Lucky me! We have rainwater container. We have enough water to use. We can drink it, need no time to boil because it is safe drinking water. It save time and money and bring good health", thanks a happy woman from Kandal village.

The sun is setting behind the trees, when I come back home and to see my family again. Looking back, it was a proud day for the Sorya development organisation - for the cement builders, the people from the villages, for our students and  for our teachers. On a day like today the beliefs and values of Sorya - honesty, liberty, friendship, happiness – come together to unite a community, the home of Sorya.

Tropangsdock to Angkor

3. September 2007

The ACS Conversation class visit to Siem Reap
We were sitting in a hot minibus, packed
with students, teachers and volunteers all the way to Siem Reap. This was our first introduction to some of the Alysha Chan School team. This was the first trip to the Temples of Angkor funded by the Sorya organisation. We were joining the conversation class students of Tropangsdockvillage on their first experience of not only Cambodia’s most famous icon but for many their first time away from home.
The students had previously been learning about the history of the Angkor Wat complex as part of conversation lessons everyday with Miss Kim Nget, who organised the trip. The group consisted of twenty four students varying in age from sixteen to their mid twenties, Miss Kim Nget, Mr Sal, an enthusiastic English teacher from the school, Shirin, a Swiss volunteer and ourselves, 2 volunteers from England.
With people sharing seats and falling asleep on shoulders we arrived at the guesthouse where we would stay for the 3 nights of our Angkor trip. Our first night, we were serenaded with singing from some of the students we had made friends with during the 7 hour journey.  

Due to a problem starting the minibus our exploration of the temples began a day late. The first site we visited was Phnom Kulen, a mountain-temple, where King Jayavarman II declared independence from Java in 802.This is considered the most sacred mountain in Cambodia by Buddhist Khmers, therefore it was an exciting first pilgrimage for the students, most of whom are Buddhist. The views were spectacular, especially from the Wat where a small platform and steep wooden stairs are surrounded by the dense Cambodian jungle. By far the most entertaining aspect of this day for us, however, was interacting with the students with our limited knowledge of Khmer. Even through the baking heat their interest and enthusiasm to keep us going. After Phnom Kulen we visited the nearby waterfalls and temple ruins, where we ate our lunch of rice. The cool water provided us with much needed relief from the heat and was the scenic backdrop to many photos. The long journey back to the guesthouse set us up for a coke and beer fuelled night.

The Angkor day started early to allow plenty of time to walk around the temples. The first and most impressive temple was the infamous Angkor Wat. This unique and breathtaking structure, seemed to capture everyone’s attention and spark the student’s sense of curiosity. We explored the series of intricate bas-reliefs depicting epic battles, many Gods and Demons in the carving of ‘the Churning of the Ocean of Milk’ and over 3000 apsara (heavenly dancers). Only the bravest of the group climbed the incredibly steep steps to the central sanctuary, representing the struggle to reach the Kingdom of Gods. Everyone posed on the causeway for their photographs and seemed to be relishing the moment they visited the place they’d learnt so much about.

Following Angkor Wat, we ascended the Bayon with its collection of Gothic towers adorned with haunting faces of Avalokiteshvara. This temple left every-one in awe of the majestic Jayavarman VII. Next we discovered the sandstone Baphuon and the famous atmospheric Ta Prohm. Here, the shade of the trees that once engulfed the temple provided a cool retreat for the students and us to sit and absorb the experience. Finally, with the students still beaming with excitement we climbed the hill to Phnom Bakheng.   
We made it up the five tiers to the summit, where the views of the Cambodian jungle landscape and surrounding
temples where certainly worth the long haul up the hill.
We waited for the sunset view and then began our descent back down to the minibus.  

Our last night at the guesthouse, everyone seemed sad that the experience was soon to be over. We were given an informal Khmer lesson on the balcony with Mr Sal and some of the students who weren’t watching the much enjoyed wrestling on TV. We ate our last meal at the roadside cafe we had been to each morning and evening, and spoke about everything we had seen and done in the past three days. We were glad to have been invited on the trip to Angkor by the Sorya team as it was a perfect way to see Cambodia’s most famous attraction. But the experience was made all the more special seeing the students discovering an important part of their country’s heritage that they probably would have only ever dreamed of visiting. To witness their excitement and curiosity of the Cambodia outside of Tropangsdockvillage was an extraordinary thing to share with them. It confirmed that the trip was a success and should be something that is repeated in the future for these deserving students. That night we went to sleep feeling more like friends than volunteers.
The journey back to Takeo province started early in the morning, with loud Khmer music blasting from the minibus speakers and everyone chatting to us in confident English. We were full of apprehension to arrive back at the school to give our first English lessons, but were excited to meet everyone in the village and more students that were so keen to learn.

Since our return we have given many
lessons, seen a growing confidence in speaking English and an improvement in pronounciation. Our experience in Cambodia’s rural village of Tropangsdock has been enlightening and rewarding, so much so that we extended our 4 week stay to three months and have made friendships and memories we will keep forever.


3. March 2007

Coming back from Phnom Penh at 9 in the morning I see many people in front of Sorya school. They are here since 6 o’clock in the morning, waiting for the eye care mission. Young and old, women and men, all together speaking, drinking tea and glad that Sorya together with the opticians team from Berlin will give them the possibility of checking their eyes and getting new glasses for half the price.

Since 2003 9–14 students of the TFH Berlin (Optics studies) travel to Cambodia and together with two Cambodian doctors visit every day the eyes of at least 200 Cambodian villagers. Last year they came also to our village and the experience was so good that this year we want to repeat it.

At 9:30 the jeep arrives and I  feel better because there are many people waiting and I am worried that we don’t have enough time for visiting everybody. However the German team is surprisingly quick in transforming our schoolroom into an optician laboratory. It is the last day of their Cambodian experience and everybody knows what he has to do.

In the meanwhile the villagers have received waiting numbers and after a first check  outside enter the classroom with their medical  certificate and a number in the hand, shy but with a big smile. Many of them say “Akhon” (thanks) to me, I feel a little bit confused because actually I am not doing much, but it is wonderful to see them smile and  have the feeling that somehow I am a part of such an useful initiative.

The villagers get a first visit from the doctors, who write down the prognosis and direct them to the German team who will provide the glasses. It is wonderful to see how happy they are with their new glasses and I would like to take a picture of every single person.

The German team also plays with the children and gives them games and sun glasses, everybody is laughing, looking at each other with the new sun glasses.  

Not everything is running smoothly. A villager would like to replace his broken glasses, but the doctors tell him that he has cataract and in his case new glasses wouldn’t help. He should be operated and if he doesn’t the eyes will get worse and worse but he doesn’t want to understand, he just wants his new glasses. He tries to convince himself that the problem are the broken glasses, probably he is afraid of an operation. At the end we give him the new glasses and he is very happy. Now I am still thinking of him and hoping that the new glasses will make the miracle, but I am afraid it is not going to work.

I am convinced that anyway people will become more and more conscious of the importance of taking care of themselves and their health. In the villages it is not easy because life conditions are very difficult and often families don’t have enough money for caring about their health as they should.
I am extremely glad to the German team and the Cambodian doctors who afford such a  difficult journey with the aim of helping people and after hours of work by 40 degrees still have the power of smiling and encouraging the villagers.

I hope that the pictures below will give you a better understanding of the wonderful experience I have done.

I would like to thank the Sorya Team:
Kung-khea, Mister Sal, Mister Ny, Mister Vibol and Mister Thoeun
and the German team:
Ulrike, Steffi, Peter, Axel, Anett, Anne, Sina, Frederick, Judith and the Cambodian Doctors Horm Piseth and Chea Seita

Kim Nget

22nd August 2006

Koy Kim Nget, High School graduate, teacher at Alysha Chan School and scholarship holder of the Mithona godparenthood program. (click&zoom)
Family Koy lives just across the street of Alysha Chan School. Two men, four boys and seven women between two and fifty-five years of age. They are godsisters and sisters, cousins and grandchildren, but above all they are friends. The family’s home is place for cooking, dinner invitations and sometimes they also give our volunteers cooking classes. There, they prepare silk for colouring, study and sing songs.
In the small shop of the village where Kim Cheng works you can buy sweets, washing powder and other small items and there is always lots of laughter around the house. One of these women who sparkle with vitality is Kim Nget who works as youngest and only woman for Sorya. She is twenty years old and currently she is in the middle of preparations for her final exams. Like students everywhere in the world she is struggling with mathematical problems and at the same time she is looking forward to celebrate passing her exams together with her girlfriends. Noone except her doubts that she will pass her exams. Kim Nget is smart, incredibly hardworking and has an inner strength which is simply admirable. Still, it’s difficult for her to accept compliments and questions about her qualities she doesn’t like to answer and replies that she is actually in nothing really good except for eating. At the same time her smile gives you the feeling that she knows what she can, what she wants and who she is.

She kept teaching at Alysha Chan school almost until the beginnings of her exams, she attended public school and also never missed additional English classes at Alysha Chan School. Together with the computer course which she attended on the weekends her week was completely booked. Only on Sunday mornings she sometimes had some free time but then there was washing, cooking or studying to be done. When you ask her if all that is sometimes a bit too much for her she admits that sometimes she does have only little free time, but that above all this gives her hope. The high school as she hopes to get good grades in her exams, the computer course because it could help her with a future job or university studies and the work with her students she simply enjoyes and currently it helps her to finance her own studies. She appreciates being the first one of the family to finish school. Kim Nget’s sister Kim Cheng quit school when she was 15 years old. She had to find work but although she came already back after one week, she was too ashamed to face her teachers again because she had missed  their classes. Her parents also couldn’t convince her to continue her studies even though it is important to them that their children receive good education.

Kim Nget’s mother herself grew up at a time when girls weren’t allowed to attend school. It was forbidden for them to learn how to read and write because these skills would have enabled them to read the boy’s loveletters. And still, Ju can read a little. She sneaked to the schoolgrounds when classes were taking place and hid outside near the window to pick up as much as possible.

Her mother passed on her strength and her courage to Kim Nget. Not without reason her nickname is “Fighting Chicken”. She doesn’t like skirts, just feels better in pants and always wears them, except to school, where that isn’t allowed. Then she grins and tells how she dared to go there in pants and just sat down hidden in the back of the classroom. She doesn’t want to buy new pants, and also her other nickname which means something like boy doesn’t impress her much. If she had the chance to go studying, it would be a weekend course in Phnom Penh where she would be allowed to wear pants. Her eyes brighten when she imagines this small liberty.

For sure, studying at university would be her greatest wish at the moment but studying is expensive. Kim Nget still doesn’t know that this dream will come true thanks to the sponsors of the godparenthood program.
I just wish I could be there when this little young woman who is full of humour and such special wisdom, sympathy and still has a strong will, experiences that some miracles come true.

Djum riab sua friends of the sun!

11th June 2006

Yes, yes 4:2 for Germany and Tropang Sdock was part of it!! The antennae bought especially for this event does her duty in a minimalistic kind of way. Of the five channels we should be able to receive, we manage to get in two – but the most important channel is one of them. We receive it with clear sound and vision. The first is only of minor importance because it is in Khmer and we don’t understand, but the cheering of the German fans in the background is enough to create a World Cup feeling – and a homelike atmosphere.

It was late, just before 23.00 o’clock. That is a time over here which usually marks the beginning of the deep sleep phase. Also the evening of the opening game wouldn’t have been an exeption, if not the vibrating clock of the mobile phone set on extra-loud would have stopped us. The atmosphere was cheerful and jubilant. We (and also the Khmer)  wore the German jerseys with pride and the Mexican Taccos with Hot Salsa Dip imported from Phnom Penh went well with the ice-cold Angkor beer.
Who would have thought that Germany would feel so close in the five months of my stay… the whole world in a state of exemption… A toast to the initiator of the Soccer World Cup and to our team who showed us a condign prelude even without their capitan.