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Goodbye Siem Reap :(

sunny 27 °C

Goodbye to Siem Reap!
Our last week at school went well, and we both really felt like we’d got in the swing of it. The change of topic, from the ridiculous religion one to a (slightly) more sensible one of ‘Past and Future’ helped, as we both felt we were teaching the kids things that they’d actually find useful! John completely blew his kids minds by using a piece of string to show the history of the universe, whilst Susie stuck to the slightly more straightforward ‘Tomorrow is...’, ‘Yesterday was...’, etc!
Our last lessons, on arts and crafts Thursday, were both lovely. Susie’s class finished making octopus mobiles, that look really great hanging up the classroom (even if they are completely unrelated to the topics in hand, and only happened because we studied shapes, and octopus is like octagon!). John’s class made birthday cards for Grace House, as the school celebrated its 2 year anniversary on our last day. The cards are so sweet, and some of the things that the kids wrote about the school make you want to cry!
One of Johns cards
Some of Susie's octopuses

Then Friday was birthday party day! It was a really nice thing to end on. The party started with an hour of free choice – there were computers, arts and crafts, football, board games, and Khmer party games on offer, and the kids just wandered round doing what they wanted to. Susie spent her time making origami and bracelets in the arts and crafts room, whilst John split his time between computers, football and Khmer games.
Making bracelets
John's football crew

It was then break time, where the kids all got a snack of an orange, a cake/bag of crisps, and a juice drink. After they’d eaten we all joined together where they were given a sparkler each, since the day coincided with Bonfire Night. Not a good idea as it turned out, since none of the kids knew what to do with sparklers, and a few of them got burnt. Oops! There was then a little treasure hunt, where all the kids got a little something, like a bouncy ball or a hair clip. There was then about 30minutes of mad Khmer dancing, for which it is apparently very important to have a ROUND table WITH FLOWERS. Then some songs you dance round the table, and some you dance next to it! Obviously we joined in, John more enthusiastically it has to be said, but we really came into our own during the macerena, being the only two people there who knew it perfectly!!
We then said our goodbyes to all the kids as they went home. It was really sad, but it’s good to know that we’ll be back to say hello in a few weeks, and we both like the volunteers who are teaching our classes for the next 8 weeks, so we feel like we’ve left them in safe hands. The kids were really sweet with their goodbyes, with all of them who spoke enough English telling us to come back soon, and with lots of them giving us drawings they’d done and bracelets they’d made. I don’t think either of us are going to forget the kids at Grace House in a hurry, and we definitely want to keep helping them out somehow, as and when we can. We’ve just got to work out how!
All the kids bundle into a photo!

Then on Friday evening, we went out, which we’ve already written about.

On Saturday we had a really nice last day with the volunteers that we’ve gotten to know best. We went for breakfast with Jenny, Flic, Natasha and Tamara, to Soria Moria, which is our favourite ‘treat yourself’ breakfast place. For just $3, you get all you can eat of various cooked breakfast bits, ranging from pancakes to poached eggs to noodles, as well as fruit and drinks. Yum! We stuffed ourselves, which helped ward off the hangover, and then went back and tackled the mountain of packing we had to do.

After a failed attempt (we actually just watched ‘Australia’!), we went swimming, which again we’ve already written about. Then during swimming, we all realised that although we had no right to be hungry, we actually all wanted a burger! First we had to go back and skype to our mothers, since we didn’t know when we’d be able to again, and then we met Natasha and Flic at Soria Moria once more for lunch. It was very yummy, and the four of us had a really nice chat over our burgers! Very full, we went back and packed more successfully, before heading out to Green Cafe for our last dinner. We were meeting all the staff from school for the adults birthday celebration, which was really nice. We tried a variety of different dishes, but we were both too full to do them the justice they deserved! We did both try frog though! After goodbyes to the staff, we went to meet Flic and Natasha for some goodbye drinks. We also bought some popcorn from Angkor Famous for our bus journey the day after, and said a fond farewell to Tombraider, our favourite tuk-tuk driver! When the four of us got back (with a pancake stop for Susie and Natasha, and an ice-cream stop for Flic that ended with Susie and Natasha losing John and Flic and everyone being confused), we bundled into our room, swapped photos and took some more stupid ones!
"Into the Pride" - Natasha's favourite show!

We’re going to miss Flic and Natasha, all the kids, and everyone else at Globalteer and Grace House, but we’re excited to be setting out on new adventures!

Posted by Susiep539 19:09 Archived in Cambodia Tagged siem_reap globalteer grace_house soria_moria Comments (0)

The Life of Grace House children

sunny 30 °C

Since we've now been at school for 5 weeks, we thought it was about time that we told you a bit more about it, and about the children we're teaching.

All the children come from 2 villages around the school, called Kor Krahn and Trithick (they're probably not spelled right but you get the idea!). The villages are very poor generally, and the children come from a mix of income levels of home within the villages. Both of us have been on house visits this week, to two very different homes. John went first, to the home of a orphan teenager who the school are trying to enroll in their new electricians course, but isn't coming. His home was basically a bamboo box on stilts - it had holes in the walls and floor and very few posessions at all, other than a bamboo mat to sleep on, a table covered in rubbish (at present he's working as a rubbish collector) and very little else. The land isn't his, and the landlord lets him live their rent free, but in theory he could be turned out at any time. This is about as poor as families get in this area, but from all accounts there are quite a few who are at this sort of level. In a lot of cases, the problem is magnified by large families, and apparently alcoholism and gambling, which are supposedly rife among some of the poorer families. I guess when you're at home all day with nothing else to do, it's easy to fall into that kind of way of life. However, neither of us has personally seen any evidence of this, so we're only going on what we've been told by other people at Grace House.

Susie visited a very different home with one of the children the day after. All the families have their homes surveyed periodically, to see what they need, and to see how they feel about Grace House. They are asked questions about the children they have, their jobs, whether they are able to feed their families, debts they have, what they have available as a support network, and so on. All of these they answer surprisingly frankly, but I suppose when you have very little, you tell the truth in the hope you get help.

Anyway, Susie went on one of these surveys, and it turned out it was to one of the best off families in the school. Piseth, the Khmer member of staff who took her, said that there are only 2 or 3 families in the school, out of 100+ who have a house as good as she saw. This house was on a fairly large plot of land, maybe 100m ish square. The house itself was raised up maybe 70cm, had a stone foundations to about 1.5m, and then was built out of wood with a metal roof. When you went in, there was a sitting area, with a television, electric lighting, and a few plastic chairs and one folding deckchair. There were also 2 bedrooms, with raised beds, with thin futon like mattresses on, a kitchen, which included a fridge, and a small bathroom. There were photos of the family up on the walls, and books around, and although the house would have felt a very bare, small one by English standards, it would by no means be a complete shock compared to poorer areas of England (obviously the style was very different, but I mean the size and possessions). The family had borrowed $5000 from a friend in order to build the house, which they'd only built a few months previously, and were paying back $200 a month which by Cambodian standards is a lot. Mortgages don't exist here - most people rent, or inherit, or have to save until they can buy outright. The dad worked as a mechanic, so the family had a car and a motorbike, but it was when we had a walk round the garden that it became apparent how he makes his money. They have 24 chickens, which they breed for cock fighting. This is technically illegal in Cambodia, but according to him as long as you keep the gathering small, and pay the police a little bribe, you can get away with it! But if the gathering gets too big then the police will sometimes come, and try to take $300, or just somebodies moto if there isn't enough money there! It was very interesting to see what 'rich' in the terms of these villagers was.

Food wise, apparently none of the kids are starving in an actual sense - they all get (just about) enough rice (with the help of some hand outs from Grace House), but a lot of them, especially from the poorer families, get very little in the way of nutrients or protein, so their bodies definitely aren't getting all they need. Another issue is that they also think that a large percentage of children in Cambodia are abused - beating is still seem as an appropriate punishment for misbehaviour, neglect seems to be almost standard, and Grace House has in the past taken children to hospital, and been told that they have suffered some form of sexual abuse. Grace House finds this almost impossible to deal with; if they raise concerns then it's likely the parents will stop the child coming to school, and if the child was taken off the family there isn't anywhere safer for them to go anyway - as we're here there's someone from an orphanage somewhere in Siem Reap being accused of abusing the children in his care. Further, a lot of parents have to work so hard just to keep their heads above water, that the children are used a lot to help out, by doing the shopping, caring for younger siblings, helping with farming and so on. When they already attend Grace House 2 hours a day and state school for 4+ hours a day, that makes for a lot of work for kids.

So there are a lot of issues that affect the kids at home, and the way this affects them at school is really mixed. On one hand, they are tired and hungry a great amount of the time, which must make it hard to concentrate, especially when we're asking them to do it in a language they don't understand very well. However, on the other hand, the kids all know that they are lucky to have Grace House as a safe place to go, and that the stuff they're learning there is really useful to them. They are all so so keen and enthusiastic and lovely all of the time - they could give English kids a brilliant lesson in valuing what you have and making the most of things.

It's amazing the things that are so exciting to them that we in the west would just take as a matter of course. Things like me giving them a piggy back during break time, or letting them use my camera to take a photo, or seeing a photo of themselves, or being allowed to write the answer to a question on the board, or just answering a question correctly, or being told their work is good and getting a smiley face drawn on it, or playing a little game in class, or a hundred other little things just excite them so much, and really seem to make them so happy. It's really rewarding how much difference you can make by doing so little. Then there's slightly bigger things, like them spending a lesson using the computers. Only 3 kids out of my class of 30 had ever used a computer before last week, and even though they only have one old laptop between 4 of them, they love their computer lessons and work so hard at them. I've never seen a group of children more excited than when I taught my class how to change the colour and size of text in Microsoft Word. It really does melt your heart.
Having fun in computer class

Playing a shapes board game

We had an even bigger event for some of John's class last thursday night. A very posh hotel, called Hotel De La Paix, in Siem Reap regularly runs art exhibitions of Cambodian art. They're aimed at rich tourists, but thursday was the first night of a new event and since it was art done by children who are disabled (either from birth or as the result of accidents - mainly due to landmines), they invited some of the children from local NGO schools. Lots were drawn, and 20 of the students from John's class went (since they're the oldest). They got a rusty open topped truck, which drew up to this spectacularly posh hotel (a hilarious juxtaposition) and after a very patronising talk from the man in charge of the event, they were allowed in. They were all amazed at the building, the room (everything really), and they especially enjoyed the free food, free drinks, and the performance that a group of children from a local Orphanage gave of bokator, a traditional dance/martial art, a little like capoeira. All of them were a little overwhelmed, but it was such a lovely, lovely night, and obviously meant a huge amount to all of them. They were absolutely buzzing with it the next day, and I'm sure they all will be for a while to come. We both just hope that the hotel feels the night was a success, and invites them again.
Outside the hotel
John and his students

So that's some information about the kids at school, and means we've posted two blog posts in one day. Wow! We only have one more week left here now - we're both going to be so so sad to leave here. We've altered our plans slightly now though - we're off to Laos next for 4 weeks, then to Vietnam for 2, before heading back to Cambodia for Christmas. This has many advantages, but the main ones are that we can see more of Laos off the beaten track, which we both really want to do, and can do it fully so we don't need to go back or miss things out, travel round a bit more of Cambodia when we come back, go to the Grace House Christmas party, leave some things here so we don't have to lug all our stuff around with us the whole time, and be with some people we know, and in an area we know we like for Christmas. Maybe we'll actually stick to this plan, although those of you who know us best know that that's never a guaranteed thing!!

Posted by Susiep539 07:24 Archived in Cambodia Tagged globalteer grace_house hotel_de_la_paix Comments (0)

Settling into School

all seasons in one day 33 °C

After our first two days of settling in, we got stuck into our volunteering. As we mentioned in our last post, we didn't have too much to do during our first week really because Susie had another volunteer in her classroom (an annoying German guy who wasn't able to teach anything which made it quite painful to sit through the lessons!), and John's Khmer teacher was teaching his classes about Pchum Ben, the Cambodian festival that took place the 2nd week we were here (more about that later!). So we had quite a chilled, but slightly frustrating first week. We both wanted to get stuck into things, but there wasn't much chance to really.

The school is very well resourced, but there doesn't seem to be much help for the Khmer teachers, and the English lessons are variable at best! There's a lot of parroting, and read and repeat, and the student's aren't encouraged to use their brains very much. Their knowledge of English vocabulary is therefore pretty good really, and they can translate all manner of English words, but they are pretty incapable of answering simple questions or making sentences themselves! At the start of every lesson, all the students stand up and say "Good morning teacher" in chorus. You then have to respond "Good morning, how are you today?", and they all reply "I'm fine thank you (well they actually say sank you!)and you?". But they reply like that no matter what question you ask before, so if you asked them what they did last night, they'd reply the same. It's really cute for the first couple of days, but soon you're willing them to tell you how they really are!

That said, they are all really really keen to learn, and they all want to give you the answer or read out the sentence that needs reading or whatever. They don't call you by your name - partly because it's more respectful in Cambodia not to use names, but also partly because they have a lot of volunteers and they probably can't remember them all - so they all call you "'char", which is their shortened version of teacher, and you have continual shouts of 'char, char' whenever the kids need help or attention. They all try their very hardest all the time and so they are great to teach. We're teaching them their 'topic' classes, which means two lessons on the topic of the month (while we're here we've got 'The World around Us', 'Religions and celebrations around the World' and 'Past and Future' as our topics), one arts and craft lesson, one maths and science lesson and one games session per week. Arts and Crafts and Games are fun but language is definitely an issue for the other lessons! Oh well, I'm sure some of it will go into their brains somewhere!

Our trips to and from school are pretty manic too! We've been cycling it everyday. It's about 5km to school, and Cycling here is a real experience anyway - to start with they drive on the right, so that's confusion number one - I'm mostly dealing with it OK, but every now and again I get confused - especially on roundabouts! It also doesn't help when people drive on the wrong side of the road, if they can't cross the traffic to the correct side! Luckily it's mostly mopeds and bikes on the roads, rather than cars, so nothing moves too fast! I'm going to film my bike ride to school one morning though, because it's impossible to describe the mayhem!

Our first week went by pretty quickly, with settling in and getting to know our way round and about. Then the second week was a funny one because the school was closed all week because of Pchum Ben. We had to go in on Monday and Tuesday to do some cleaning/maintenance work, but that was all. John was feeling pretty ill on those two days (and the weekend before) so he didn't come into school, but left Susie to brave it alone! The work consisted of lots of scrubbing the classrooms clean, painting some benches (2 weeks later now Susie still has paint in her hair!) and entertaining the kids that came along to "help"! They weren't the most fun two days, but I suppose they were necessary for the school! Susie did have a fun hour or so though when one of the dinner ladies taught her how to make her a little bird model out of palm leaves!
Susie's beautiful bird :)

Then this third week, we've actually got stuck into teaching. We're teaching religions. Susie's class spent 2 days learning about the religious buildings and symbols of 3 religions, 1 day learning about the water cycle (it's rained a lot here so she thought that'd be appropriate!) and 1 day making Buddhist wheels, in the same way you make snowflakes out of paper at Christmas! John's class spent two days learning about Buddhism and Hinduism (which confused them entirely since the religion here is really a combination of the two, plus some animism!), and then had it (supposedly) easy for two days while his class had some computer lessons. The school has gradually accumulated about 8-10 laptops which they are starting to use to teach the students basic computer skills. However John was helping on their first lesson, so he had quite a hard time trying to explain what a mouse was and how to use it!

All this week has had the extra added difficulty of the fact that we had some pretty torrential rain on tuesday night, and so a lot of Siem Reap is flooded.
The view from our room of the road outside

We biked to work on tuesday morning, but it was through nearly knee depth water most of the way there and back!
Which is the river, which is the road??

All the kids, and most of the teachers, have flooded houses. Some of them are apparently waist deep, and all the areas around their houses are really flooded too. This has meant that the kids are pretty exhausted, as none of them are really getting any sleep, and also that our numbers are pretty flexible, since some kids are coming morning and afternoon because their state schools are closed, and some aren't coming at all because they're having too much fun swimming in the swimming pools they've suddenly gained by their houses!!
On a walk to see some of the kids homes

On wednesday and thursday we got a lift into school and back by landrover, because the floods are getting deeper - not because we've had more rain but because our journey to school is alongside the river, and the river has burst its banks, and more and more is flowing down! Then on friday school was cancelled because the guy who drives the landrover had to go away and so nobody could get there.

Anyway, that's a vague update on our lives in school. We've been up to a lot else outside of school, but that'll have to wait for another post!

Posted by Susiep539 02:57 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia siem_reap globalteer grace_house Comments (1)

Arrival in Siem Reap

all seasons in one day 30 °C

We successfully managed to get to the airport in Kuala Lumpur. The panic about what we had printed off from the night before was justifed, as technically we needed the other piece of paper, but the guy on the bus let us off with a typical "stupid westerners" tut! On arrival at the airport we spent our last Malaysian money on a early morning breakfast of chicken and chips (we were good though, we went to Marrybrown, a Malaysia fast food place, rather than McDonalds!) and a cookie! Checking in was all surprisingly easy and stress free, and the only slight confusion came as we went through the gate. There were 3 flights going out of the same place, and nobody really seemed to know which way it was to which flight! As nice as I'm sure Hong Kong or the place in China that the other flight was going to are, we thought we'd really rather get on the plane to Siem Reap! We managed eventually, and got settled on the plane for our flight. We were slightly confused to hear that it was 2 hours, since we'd thought it was only 1, but it turned out the time difference was to blame, and an uneventful flight later we landed at Siem Reap's surprisingly lovely airport.

For those of you who don't know, we are spending 6 weeks in Siem Reap, volunteering with a charity called Globalteer. They run projects all over the world, but we are teaching in a school called Grace House in a small village about 3km from Siem Reap. We got met from the airport by Rose, who is a local who works for Globalteer, in a tuk-tuk. A tuk-tuk is a rickshaw with a motorbike rather than a bike (it gets its name because that's apparently the sound they make!). She took us to the Globalteer House, where we will be staying whilst we're here. It's a little further out from town that we were expecting, but the house itself is lovely. We have our own room, which is en-suite and very nice indeed. The only bad thing about it is that it's on the 3rd floor, which means there's 64 steps (we counted) to go up and down everytime you want to get some water or want to go out. Luckily there's a little restaurant on the 4th floor, so we're not too far away from food anyway!
The view from our room

Rose left us to get settled in and to relax for a few hours, after we told her that we'd been up at 2am. We spent the time sleeping, watching TV (we're loving having a TV with 70odd channels after not having had a TV for 3 weeks!) and eating lunch upstairs, which was very tasty. After this, Rose took us into town and showed us things like the supermarket, the swimming pool, where the main restaurants and bars are, etc. It's a really nice town, and all the people seem really friendly so that bodes well for our time here! After that, we went back to the Globalteer House, where all the other volunteers were collecting. There were about 9 other volunteers here when we arrived, all female, mostly Australian, although there were two Brits and an American as well, and a mix of ages, from our age upwards. They all seem friendly and on the first night we went out for dinner with them all to a very tasty (if slightly more upmarket than we're used to) vegetarian restaurant. We had a nice chat with a British girl who is our age, who said that most of the rest of them are on slightly bigger budgets than us backpackers, seeing as most of them are here on holidays from their jobs at home, rather than as part of longer travels. We'll have to watch our money situation!

The following day, we were taken by Rose to visit Grace House, the school we are volunteering in. It is run by a British couple, and has been opened for nearly 2 years. We were shown round the school and introduced to the classes we'll be teaching. John is working with the teenage class, and Susie is helping with a class of 8-12 ish year olds. The kids all come to the school for 2 hours per day, and so there is one group in the morning and one in the afternoon. This is because they go to state school for the other half of the day. Grace House also provides help for its students for state school, by providing uniforms, exercise books and bikes for the children from the poorest families. They also provide community help by giving rice, repairing houses and taking people to hospitals/doctors when needed. They also have one room that is used by local women (mostly mothers of students at the school) to make handbags, which are then sold at shops in towns, and they are currently setting up a classroom that will be used to teach electricians, as the current training in Cambodia is apparently very insufficient, and quite a lot of people die from electric shocks due to dodgy wiring.
John's Class

The kids in both our classes seem lovely, and are very keen to learn. Each class has a Khmer teacher who runs the English program (to give it some continuity) and our job as volunteers is to run the other class of the day, which is a kind of general knowledge class, on the topic of the week. Neither of us have very much to do for this first week though, because Susie has another volunteer in the same class as her, who is leaving at the end of the week, and John's Khmer teacher is planning the other lessons on Pchum Ben, a festival that is next week, which unfortunately means there isn't any school next week.

After our first couple of days in Siem Reap, we felt fairly settled in, and that we knew a bit of what was going on! We'll blog again soon to let you know about the 2 weeks since we arrived!

Posted by Susiep539 21:24 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia siem_reap globalteer grace_house Comments (0)

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