Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas at Remote Burmese Refugee Camp Nu Po

Five miles away from the Burma border under the watchful eye of the Burmese military junta is Refugee Camp Nu Po; not a place many would consider spending Christmas. But for almost 14,000 Burmese refugees, this remote Thai-controlled jungle encampment has been their home for 10 years. Astoundingly, this is where ‘Project Enlighten’ founders Asad Rahman, Olivia Lorge and I spent one of the most heartfelt Christmas’ ever. Their gift of friendship and hospitality is one that will never leave our hearts and souls.

The residents of Camp Nu Po rarely see western volunteers because the arduous 7-hour journey to this camp must be made in the back of a ‘songthaew’ - the Thai rural pick-up truck that acts as a bus by conveniently placing bench seats along either side of the box.

The 140km trip to Camp Nu Po is spent mostly winding round border hills which resulted in even the hardiest of locals pitching up their stomach contents over the side of the truck. The first photo on the left clearly displays the misery experienced by young local man on our journey. Every half hour someone, usually a child, succumbed to vomiting, which in turn nauseated others. At one point, my elbow which was placed foolishly outside of the truck received a spray of vomit from a young child sitting upwind from me.

To make matters worse, the songthaew picked up everybody at every stop until the every inch of the canopy, and box was covered with passengers. This cramped and nauseating trip is one that the three of us will never ever forget. A map of Thailand’s Burmese Refugee Camps can be found at this link which clearly details the remote location of this camp: http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/SHIG-7L9HLA?OpenDocument . We clearly viewed Burmese armed military en route as we traveled along Burma’s border.

Our visit to the camp had to be Okayed by the Thai Camp Commander previous to our arrival. The Camp Commander is a Ministry of Thailand Thai official who is specifically trained for camp control. Refugee camps experience domestic violence, child abuse, drinking and fights on a continuous basis. It’s up to the Camp Commander and the delegated Burmese refugees in specific roles underneath him to keep peace in the camp – not an easy job when you have 14,000 people living in small bamboo houses set 4 feet apart from one another.

Camp Nu Po began as most refugee camps did, when a group of Burmese IDP (Internally Displaced People) fled across the Burma border and built the first few houses 10 years ago. It wasn’t long until the population grew to its present 14,000. Nu Po isn’t the biggest camp in Tak province either – Mae La Refugee Camp has over 37,000! Refugees from Tak province are resettled in the United States, while refugees from other provincial camps are chosen for resettlement in other countries.

We were able to meet with the Camp Commander on Christmas morning, and through an interpreter we were able to ask many questions which helped unravel for us some of the mysteries that surround the whole refugee process. Why do some refugees get chosen for resettlement in a third country and others seem to wait for years in camps? Why are some refugees issued identity cards and others not? From what I learned, it is the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and the Thai government who make many of these decisions, but their criteria stills remains somewhat clouded to me.

We arrived at the camp about 4pm on Christmas Eve. We were taken to the main office where we were required to turn in our passports for the duration of our stay – a normal requirement for security purposes. We were promptly escorted to one home and given a glass of water. After 10 minutes we were taken to one of the few camp ‘restaurants’, where we happily gobbled down the meal that was cooked up for us – we had not eaten since 7am! From there we were taken back to the first house for some after dinner treats. Then we were taken to the camps two schools, where we were served fruits and beverages again! So few westerners visit this camp – our visit was considered one of the highlights of the year for them – three foreign visitors at once, and at Christmas! We were also treated to a special musical rehearsal for the Karen New Year celebrations that were taking place in a few days.

Yes – it all sounds so fine and wonderful how we were treated at this camp – but don’t get me wrong; the need in this camp is great. This camp lacks the many projects by NGO’s that many of the less remote camps benefit from. Nu Po has a serious lack of drinking water. The Burmese were so proud of their one water purification system, but it does not suffice for the camp’s population. There is no electricity and few generators to charge the few batteries in the camp. One organization has installed a solar power panel, but more is needed.

Another great need is in the schools. The one school which teaches kindergarten through grade eleven curriculum has 600 students. It has no textbooks. The students have to copy lessons into exercise books. There is no loose-leaf paper for the teachers to make tests or exams with. There is no photocopier. There are no computers for the school. There is no library. We visited the nursery school on Christmas morning where 13 small children eagerly gleaned through the handful of tattered childrens picture books it possessed. Those small children treated us to a chorus of 4 nursery songs perfectly performed in English. It’s amazing what they have done with so little, but the eagerness these children display for education overcomes their lack of materials. It should not have to be so. The second school is in just as bad shape. We had brought with us enough exercise books, pencils, sharpeners and rulers for about 100 children.

It was at the second school that we were treated to a special Christmas Eve celebration put on by some of the adult students who were eager to be able to spend some time with us practicing conversation in English. The room was decorated with a hand-colored life-size Santa, Christmas tree and hand-lettered banners. Again, many treats were served to us! It was one of the most joyous times of comradeship that we had ever experienced.

I happened to have brought along a recent edition of a Bangkok newspaper. When I gave it to one of the teachers, he could not contain his excitement, as they rarely see any publications from ‘outside’ in English. I made a mental note to bring along some more upon my return; maybe some National Geographic magazines as well. Oh yes – I am coming back! Along with the many other needs, the teachers emphasized to me that along with books their other biggest desire is to see more volunteer teachers coming in to help teach English. They would be happy for whatever time a volunteer could commit to this. So, at our meeting with the Camp Commander, I told him that I would return in a few weeks to volunteer for a week or two. I would be living with one of the families in the camp. As I had on Christmas Eve; I would be sleeping on a mat on the floor with some blankets. Because of its high elevation, Camp Nu Po evenings can be quite cold. We have made some wonderful friendships at the camp, I’m eager to return to spend some more time with my new-found friends.

I have just arrived back in Siem Reap now where I’m awaiting my first meeting with Chris and Scott Coats of the Trailblazer Foundation. Ground-breaking for the ‘Muskoka School’ Project will occur this month. We are short only a few hundred dollars toward our goal of $20,000US. We need you last bit of help to get this much-needed school built for over 500 children in a poor rural area of Siem Reap district. Please send your donation, big or small, to CLMMRF (Cambodian Land Mine Museum Relief Fund) Community Outreach, Box 53, Gravenhurst, ON, Canada, P1P 1T5.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Boat To Battambang and a Special Visit with Vanna

Friday December 14th saw me up at 4:30am to catch a bus down to the Siem Reap boat docks to get a 7am ‘Speedboat’ ride to Battambang. This boat ride which goes partially through Tonle Sap lake and through the dense mangrove swamps of the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve can take anywhere from 4-6 hours depending on water levels. There is no ‘speed’ experienced with this boat ride as there are many obstacles to overcome along the many narrow waterways encountered. One has the option to sit in the boat’s covered sweltering bottom level, or fry in the baking sun on the flat top roof of the boat. From experience I knew that there was at least a rewarding breeze on that hot metal roof. The ride from 7am to 4:30 pm gave my skin a new shade of red.

This boat trip is well-documented as the most scenic ride in Cambodia, and one not to be missed. The scenes of rural Cambodian life as they unfold along the shores of the river are a panorama of smiling waving children running from their simple bamboo homes , fishermen working their meager nets out of aging wooden boats and a flotilla of colorful market boats floating by. There is never a boring moment and the ride gives one an in-depth glimpse into daily Cambodian life.

The boat is always full, mostly with tourists, who are ready upon arrival at Battambang just to head to the nearest hotel for a nice cool shower. Tourists are barraged at the dock by friendly hotel staff seeking much-needed business the moment they are off the boat. These hotel ‘boys’ swiftly sweep you and your bags up to their representing hotels, and for the most part of it, you really don’t care – you want that shower and bed so bad that you’ll pay any price for it!

Hotels are bargain-priced in this part of Cambodia, and feature all the amenities that one could need. I am staying at the Hotel Royal, and have air-conditioning, satellite tv, fridge and private bath with hot shower – all for $20/night – the monthly wage of many Cambodian people!

Battambang province is a vital agricultural area, famous for its fertile fields and abundance of produce and rice crops. The huge Battambang Market is a favorite haunt of mine where I fill up on wonderful local fruits for only a dollar. Battambang is Cambodia’s second largest city, well-served by bus, boat and rail, and bustles with busy markets and food stalls from 5am to 9pm.

It was here I came to find a special landmine victim, spend a couple of days visiting with her, and see how she was doing. Vanna Minn was only 5 years old when she was feeding the chickens on her family property near Battambang and befell a landmine accident which took her leg. Vanna had aspired at a young age to become a dancer. Now 17, Vanna has overcome many challenges in her life since then and has inspired a documentary and a book written about her experience. My good friend and Canadian author, Maria Almudevar Van Santen, wrote an inspirational children’s book about Vanna – ‘Vanna’s Dancehttp://www.vannasdance.com/vanna3.html/ Some of the proceeds from this book fund Vannas education. In November 2007, Vanna made a special trip to Canada to attend the “No More” Landmines Symposium held at Winnipeg University attended by former Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Lloyd Axworthy and Paul Fawcette from the Canadian Landmines Foundation.

Saturday morning I was amazed to make immediate contact with Vanna by cell phone. I never had the opportunity to meet with her in Canada, and was quite delighted when she immediately walked over to my hotel: unknown to me she lived just around the corner!

We’ve spent a wonderful two days together. Vanna is currently in Grade 10 and attends school from 6am to 6pm six days a week. Her goal is to become a tour guide in Cambodia and I’ve given her the opportunity to practice on me! Today she arranged a tuk-tuk ride for me and took me out to visit the 11th century Angkorian temple ruins of Ek Phnom, 14km outside of Battambang, after which we rewarded ourselves with a hearty Cambodian lunch.

I’ll be returning to Battambang in mid-March on my last trip back to Siem Reap and am hoping to have another countryside temple tour with Vanna then.

Tomorrow will be another early morning for me as I take a long, bumpy car ride to the Cambodian border town of Poipet and through customs into Thailand. Recent border disputes between Cambodia and Thailand have made land border crossings questionable. I am hoping to reach Bangkok by early evening where I’ll spend two nights. My purpose for this Bangkok stop-over is to visit with ‘Project Enlighten’s’ Burmese scholarship student who recently was able to make his way out of Burma and has just started his first year at a Bangkok university.

Friday, December 5, 2008

‘Muskoka School’ Site Visit – Ta Trav Village

This is the day that I’ve been waiting a long time for – my trek to Ta Trav Village and the site of the ‘Muskoka School’ Project! It was quite the trek – only 20km north of Siem Reap, but forty minutes of dusty pot-holed roads in the back of an open pick-up truck in the hot Cambodian sun.

Yet, I was thankful for that ride in the pick-up truck, because that and motorcycle are the only vehicles, other than ox-carts, that can handle those roads. Ben Gooding, from The Trailblazer Foundation (www.thetrailblazerfoundation.org ) picked me up at 9am to tag along with the Khmer workers to Ta Trav village. Sitting in the back of the truck gave me many opportunities to talk with Trailblazer’s Khmer Project Manager Ung Chanrattana. I learned how needy village projects are assessed and prioritized by the village chiefs and the commune. It was wonderful to hear how all these projects not only benefit the daily needs of the villagers; they all bring much-needed work to these impoverished communities.

The Trailblazer Foundation will go into a village and build a school – but they don’t stop there! They also provide pumps with water filtration systems to village families. They test the water regularly, and provide upkeep. Last year’s Trailblazer Sras Village project included a 2-building school, pumps for the village, and a micro-lending program for village families. The same will happen for the Ta Trav villagers.

I had a great morning with the school-children at the existing 4-room school house. I had them counting in English, yelling ‘Hip, Hip Hooray!’ and exchanging big ‘Hi-Fives’ with me. I met the director, teachers and village representatives. I was given a complete tour of the grounds (with school-yard water-buffalo maintaining the field!), and was taken inside the classrooms and was shown the termite-infested beams, which they hope to be able to replace. Termite infestation is a big problem here in Cambodia – another reason why new schools are all being built out of cement and bricks.

Today’s trip reaffirmed to me how needed and worthwhile projects like the ‘Muskoka School’ Project are for these education-hungry children of Cambodia! The ‘Muskoka School’ Project will see a new government certified cement school built for over 478 children in this area. I was excited to hear more about this January’s scheduled ground-breaking. All official documents have been registered. The Cambodian Landmine Museum Relief Fund still needs to raise about $3,000 by ground-breaking, and are hoping that more generous Muskokans will donate to the project. Please send your cheque made out to the ‘CLMMRF’ to Box 53, Gravenhurst, ON, P1P 1T5. Drop me an email in Cambodia to mccoy@vianet.ca.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Schools, Hospitals, Cows and Micro-lending!

It takes many programs and projects to meet the needs of those in developing countries. In the past couple of days I’ve been introduced to a whirlwind of projects that have made a big difference in the lives of these people and children, and it has also been fascinating to see how they all integrate together and compliment one another.

‘Project Enlighten’ is involved in several amazing projects here in Cambodia. Last winter I had the opportunity to visit the bare beginnings of what is now a booming Free English school for over 600 students – The Voluntary Development Poverty Children Association (VDPCA). It was a dream of Main Togh to have a school where all children could come and receive an education. Project Enlighten stepped up to the plate and raised $20,000 to build a 5-room school-building and another building which houses a library, the office, a computer room and washroom. The fenced-in school grounds are complete with a sheltered recess area and basketball court. It was an amazing few hours as we watched children of all ages fill every classroom, and make use of the library.

Having worked a couple of decades in a library, I immediately noticed that this library needs help! I’ve made a commitment to come back in January to organize and repair the books here, and anyone who would like to donate some money towards the supplies needed to get this library organized can call my husband Carl (705-687-8538) to make a donation. It would only take about $100 to get things, stamped, labeled, taped up and organized. Maybe some of the volunteers coming over from Muskoka this winter could get involved in supplying some more proper shelving – we’ll see!

‘Project Enlighten’ also has a successful scholarship program for Khmer students. They are presently funding 3 students, and will be taking on a few more this year. Part of the program involves having the students give some volunteer time back into the community. It was a delight to see one of these students volunteering some teaching time at VDPCA! I’ll be doing some volunteer teaching here in January as well.

One of ‘Project Enlighten’s’ big undertakings this year is get some money raised toward the Bakong Ecotourism Technical College (BETC), in the rural farming area of Bakong District in Siem Reap Province. This huge education center will include a school and a technical college devoted to the development and preservation of rural Cambodia in the field of green design, environmental conservation and both cultural and ecological tourism.

We went out to visit the BETC site, which is in Phase 2 of a 10 Phase plan. The land is acquired and the fencing is going up now. This Project has been the life-long dream and brain-child of Ronnie Yimsut, one of ‘Project Enlighten’s’ Team Members. To find out more, and how you can help, visit the ‘Project Enlighten’ website at www.projectenlighten.org .

Another of Ronnie’s project’s through Project Enlighten, which has had a grand impact on the rural people of Cambodia, is the Cow Bank Project, which now has scores of cows benefiting rural farming families. It’s the gift that keeps on giving because the offspring of each cow are put back into the program to benefit another family. $300 will buy a healthy cow – We visited many families who proudly showed off their sponsored cow or calf.

The successful Bakong Micro-lending project is also presently serving countless rural families and individuals. We visited families that now are involved in a trade or craft, which micro-lending made possible. We visited a hand-crafted traditional musical instrument workshop and an outdoor family noodle factory that can produce up to a ton of noodles in one day!

Cow Bank and Micro-lending projects provide incomes for families. These incomes can help provide education for their older children. Education provides future tradespeople and helps towards a sustainable economy. In a country where one-third of the population makes less than a dollar a day, this can make a big difference.

The past couple of days also saw me make a visit to one of Siem Reap’s children’s hospitals – The Angkor Hospital for Children sponsored by ‘Friends Without a Border’. One in seven of Cambodia’s children die before the age of five. This hospital, with its 50 in-patient beds, sees its emergency room, outpatient wards and beds full on a continual basis. It is run by government trained Khmer surgeons who have western medical volunteer assistants. Since 85% of the population lives in the countryside, this hospital is also dedicated to training medical workers in the rural areas.

On Friday, I’ll be making my first visit to the ‘Muskoka School’ Site. I’ll be taking the 20km ride out in the back of a pick-up truck accompanied by some local workmen. I’ll be meeting with Ben from the Trailblazer Foundation (the partnering organization here in Cambodia building the school), and I’ll be getting a tour of the school-grounds and meeting some of the teachers and children there. Keep those donations coming in! Details can be found below.

I’ll also be making my first seasonal visit to The Cambodian Land Mine Museum Relief Facility in the next couple of days also, to visit Akira, his family, and his family of land mine survivors!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

First Village Visit in Cambodia!

It's now the fourth day of my four month stay in Cambodia and the Thai-Burma Border. I landed at Cambodia's Siem Reap Airport 4 evenings ago luckily avoiding the mass shutdown at Thailand's airports. The situation there has still not resolved. The day after I arrived, Asad Rahman and Olivia Lorge of 'Project Enlighten'arrived, having been rerouted to avoid Bangkok's airports.

We did not waste a moment! Yesterday we made our first visit to Bangro village, Kantrang Commune, Prasat Bakang District in Siem Reap Province. The purpose for this trip was two-fold - to find a suitable site for a Project Enlighten English Pagoda School, and secondly to distribute some donations to the poor villagers there.

I left Gravenhurst armed with a hockey bag full of crocs donated by the ladies at the St. James Anglican Church, school supplies from Gravenhurst's Sue Stockdale, and flip-flops from the generous family at Blondie's Restaurant. As you can see from the photos posted here - all villagers young and old had a grand time. Project Enlighten brought along some clothes to distribute and bought some fresh bread for everyone to enjoy.

Pagoda Schools are very popular and well-attended in SE Asia. Most public schools do not provide adequate lessons in the English language. So, many children attend Pagoda schools after public school hours to receive extra lessons in English and other subjects taught by the monks or teachers there. Bangro Pagoda does not have a Pagoda school, something that could benefit the over 100 children in the surrounding area. So this is something that the team at 'Project Enlighten'will be looking into.

This year 'Project Enlighten'has many projects on the go that are of benefit to all ages in the communities. You'll hear lot's about them. To get introduced to some of those projects visit their website at www.projectenlighten.org .

I'll also be making my first visit to the 'Muskoka School' Project Site soon. We still need to raise a bit of money for that, so any donation that you can send to The Cambodian Landmine Museum Relif Fund (CLMMRF) will really help. Send your cheque nade out to the 'CLMMRF'to Box 53, Gravenhurst, ON, P1P 1T5. We are so close to meeting our $20,000US goal.

Friday, November 14, 2008

$17,450 Raised - Help Us Reach Our Goal of $20,000+ . Join Us At Bracebridge Boston Pizza Thursday November 20.

Thank you Muskoka for the $17,450 raised to date for the 'Muskoka School' Project in Ta Trav village, Siem Reap District, Cambodia.

A successful fundraising evening was hosted by Gravenhurst's Boston Pizza in October. Now's your chance to help us reach our goal of $20,000 US by joining us on Thursday November 20, 5-8pm at the new Boston Pizza in Bracebridge. 10% of all food sales will be donated toward the project and there will be a Silent Auction witth great items to bid on.

RESERVE your table now by calling Boston Pizza at 705-646-1007!

I will be leaving for Cambodia on Monday, November 24 for another 4 months of volunteer work in Cambodia and on the Thai-Burma Border. The biggest part of my efforts in Cambodia will be to implement the Muskoka School Project in conjunction with The Trailblazer Foundation, (link below). We need $20,000 in US funds by the end of the year to get this project underway.

This project is a Community Outreach Project of the Ontario-based Cambodia Landmine Museum Relief Fund (CLMMRF). You can donate to this project by sending a cheque made out to the 'CLMMRF' to:

Lisa McCoy
CLMMRF Community Outreach
P.O. Box 53
Gravenhurst, ON
P1P 1T5

Help us 'Make Dreams Real' for over 300 children in rural Cambodia. Further details can be found below.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Over $3,200 Raised at Regatta’s ‘Muskoka School’ Gala!

Many thanks to the wonderful people at ‘Regatta Steak & Seafood Grille’ for organizing and holding a special fundraising gala this past Saturday evening for the ‘Muskoka School’ Project in Cambodia. ‘Upstairs at Regatta’ was filled to capacity, with everyone enjoying the fabulous music provided by Muskoka’s newest jazz sensation – ‘The Neil Barlow Jazz Orchestra’. Fabulous food was served throughout the evening, which included tantalizing tokens off Regatta’s menu.

The MC for the evening was Gravenhurst’s own, Dan Blix, who introduced the special guest speaker for the evening, Canadian documentary filmmaker and photojournalist Richard Fitoussi, project manager of the Cambodia Land Mine Museum and Relief facility in Cambodia. The ‘Muskoka School’ project in Cambodia is an outreach project of this facility in collaboration with ‘The Trailblazer Foundation’. Dan also read a letter of support for the ‘Muskoka School’ Project from our very own Norm Miller MPP. A short visual presentation of the school project was shown. Jim Goodwin of the Rotary Club of Gravenhurst, gave a heartfelt speech on this club’s support of this project, one of the projects of their international committee.

Another of the highlights of the evening was the silent auction, with over 40 items, which brought in $3,190 towards the project. Thanks to all those generous area businesses who donated to, sponsored and volunteered to make this event a grand sucess:

Regatta Steak & Seafood Grille
The Wharf – Gravenhurst

Red Leaves JW Marriott Resort & Spa
Lake Rosseau, Minett

The Rock Golf Course at Red Leaves
Lake Rosseau, Minett

Taboo Resort Golf and Spa

The Sands Golf Club

Muskoka Bay Club

Rotary Club of Gravenhurst

Norm Miller, MPP
Parry Sound-Muskoka

Muskoka Today

Gravenhurst Banner & Bracebridge Examiner

The Artstract Co.

The Neil Barlow Jazz Orchestra

Serenity Muskoka Bed & Breakfast

Jay & Linda Harrison

Gord & Dale Durnan

Jim & Marlyn Goodwin

Bill & Dora Rathbun

The Peppermill Players
Cello, Violin, Flute.

The Muskoka Café

Chamberlain TIM-BR MART

Fashion & Boutique

Rick and Mary Woodall

Penny Varney Jewellery

Your Independent Grocer

Bay Street Wine

Dale Durnan - Artist


Cook’s Hollow
Tack & Apparel

Sontag’s Pagoda
Bird Feeders

30,000 Island Cruise
Lines Inc.
Parry Sound

Your Independent Grocer

Saxophone Quartet

Steve Thomas

Dan Blix/Graphic Design

Nautilus North
Strength & Fitness Training

Bayview Wildwood Resort
Port Stanton, Sparrow Lake

Wine Not

Cottage Cuts

SAS Home & Gifts

Beyond the Basket

The Real Muskoka Experience

Sutton—around muskoka realty inc.

Due North
The Wharf, Gravenhurst

Lisa McCoy’s Wicker Restoration,
Seat-weaving and Basket Kits

Jason & Susan Cook
Royal LePage Lakes of Muskoka Realty

To date, well over $14,000 of the $20,000 goal has been reached to realize this project, that will ‘MAKE DREAMS REAL’ for over 300 impoverished children in rural Cambodia – a school which will proudly display the name ‘Muskoka School’!

Education is the key to the future for many of the children in developing countries. It is a luxury many of those children can only dream of. You and your family can help that dream become real by attending a special fundraising evening on Thursday, October 16, from 5-8pm at the Gravenhurst Boston Pizza. For information on making a personal donation, please call or email Lisa McCoy at 687-8538, mccoy@vianet.ca.

Thanks Muskoka, for opening your hearts to the less fortunate children of the world. This project is very close to fruition because of you.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Giant Garage Sale Raises Over $3,500 for The 'Muskoka School' Project

Due to the many generous donations from Muskokans far and wide and the dedication of hard-working volunteers, the Giant Garage Sale held for the Muskoka School Project in Cambodia raised a grand total of just over $3,500. Wow!

Many people dedicated hours towards the success of this sale, held Aug. 16 and 17 in Gravenhurst.

Special thanks to Andy McCoy of Gravenhurst for trucking donations from his First Street drop-off location out to my place on a daily basis. Also, thanks to Steve and Eva McCoy for providing volunteers with a sale location directly across from Bethune House.

Sue Stockdale of Gravenhurst provided a pizza and fruit lunch for the volunteers on the first day of the sale and the Rotary Brat Booth kept everyone energized on day two of the event.

Thanks to fellow Rotarians Jay and Linda Harrison, Bill and Diane Kinghorn, Bill and Dora Rathbun, Pat Bongers, Nancy Beal and Marlyn Goodwin for the hours they spent volunteering at the sale. Thanks to volunteers Carol Fraser, David Bryce, Dan and Linda Blix, and to Inge Fritz, who managed the refreshment table.

Special big thanks to Kevin Brown of Regatta Restaurant at Muskoka Wharf and to Peter Armstrong of the Red Leaves JW Marriott Resort, for arriving at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday to load and empty the truckloads donations, and for sending us a van load of staff volunteers who provided us with muscle power throughout the day.

Many thanks to the Banner/Examiner for their press support of this project.

Over $10,400 has been raised to help build a six-room Ministry Of Education certified cement public school for over 300 children in the village of Ta Trav, Siem Reap, in the province in Cambodia. The goal is $20,000.

A BIG thanks to the Rotary Club of Gravenhurst for their recent donation of $2,500 towards this project.

This project is supported by the citizens of Muskoka, the Rotary Club of Gravenhurst, the Canadian-founded Cambodia Land Mine Museum Relief Fund (www.cambodianlandminemuseum.org) and the
Trailblazer Foundation (www.thetrailblazerfoundation.org.)

To make a donation to the Muskoka School Project, please send your cheque (payable to CLMMRF) to Lisa McCoy, Box 53, Gravenhurst, ON P1P 1T5. Phone 687-8538 for more information. 100% of your contribution goes towards this school-building project.

Help raise more funds by attending the Muskoka School Project fundraising evening at Boston Pizza in Gravenhurst, 5-8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 16.

Thanks, Muskoka, for making dreams real for the young children of Cambodia!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Giant Garage Sale for the ‘Muskoka School Project’ in Cambodia

Calling on all Muskokans to clean out their closets and garages and contribute their good used junk towards the building of a Six-Room Ministry of Education Certified Cement Public School in Cambodia - 'The Muskoka School Project'.Phone Lisa McCoy for pick-up of your donations: 687-8538, or email mccoy@vianet.ca . Volunteers needed too!

The sale will be held Saturday, August 16th across from Bethune House, Gravenhurst - don't miss the great bargains!

100% of the money raised will go towards this school-building project. Over 305 children in an impoverished rural village in Northern Cambodia will benefit from this new school.

This project is supported by the Canadian Founded CLMMRF (Cambodian Land Mine Museum Relief Fund) www.cambodialandminemuseum.org in collaboration with 'The Trailblazer Foundation' www.thetrailblazerfoundation.org . Construction to begin January 2009.

>‘Making Dreams Real’ for the children of Cambodia.

Muskoka School Project Report July 1, 2008
By Lisa McCoy, Community Outreach Coordinator - CLMMRF

Six- room Ministry of Education certified cement school in the village of Ta Trav in Svay Chek Commune, Angkor Thom District, 20km N. of Siem Reap along the Pouk District border. This is one of the poorest districts in Cambodia.

There is an existing 4-room wood school on the school property in need of repair. A 6-room cement structure will be built to accommodate the existing 305 students. More students from the surrounding villages will be able to enroll upon completion.

The “Muskoka School’ project is supported by the Canadian founded CLMMRF (Cambodian Land Mine Museum Relief Fund) www.cambodialandminemuseum.org . All donations (cheques) towards this project are made to ‘CLMMRF’, and mailed to CLMMRF Outreach Project Coordinator, Lisa McCoy, Box 53, Gravenhurst, ON, Canada, P1P 1T5.
Registered non-profit organization ‘on the ground’ in Cambodia securing necessary provincial paperwork and implementing the actual building project is ‘The Trailblazer Foundation’ www.thetrailblazerfoundation.org . The CLMMRF and The Trailblazer Foundation have collaborated in School-building projects. Their goal is to build a school a year through this collaboration.

Estimated cost is US$55,678.14. There has been one private donation of $20,000, leaving a balance of US$35,678.14. Lisa McCoy will be fundraising towards a goal of $20,000, or more. The CLMMRF will contribute the remaining $10-$15,000. Since the bulk of the funding will come from Muskoka, a sign will be placed on the school designating it the “Muskoka School Project”, noting the citizens of Gravenhurst and the Muskoka Rotary Clubs. In Cambodia the school will be legally registered as the ‘Ta Trav’ School, as all public schools in Cambodia are named after the village in which they are located.

A formal estimate from ‘The Trailblazer Foundation’ detailing project costs will be acquired shortly. To date US$4000 has been raised. A Giant Garage Sale on August 17th should bring in $1,500 to $2,000. A Gala Evening in Muskoka is planned for November, with Richard Fitoussi, International Project Manager of the CLMMRF & International Documentary Filmmaker in attendance, should raise upwards of $5,000. It is hoped that contributions through presentations that Lisa McCoy makes in Muskoka, will raise the balance.

Information from the Trailblazer Foundation follows the photo-documentation of the site.

Ground breaking will occur January 2009 when water levels are low.


Please make your cheque payable to 'CLMMRF', and mail to:

Lisa McCoy,
CLMMRF Community Outreach Project Coordinator
Box 53
Gravenhurst, ON
P1P 1T5

Background Information from the Trailblazer Foundation:
Trailblazer has implemented water projects in Angkor Thom made possible with an International Matching Grant through Rotary District 5440 with the cooperation of the Pursat, Cambodia Rotary club as cooperating/host club.

We build the schools according to an annual assessment made by the District, which prioritize needs and location. We are in the process of adding an additional Field Director who will concentrate on water projects, as this will facilitate the expanding school needs. Desks and tables are included in the contractor’s quotation and provided. The school uniforms and lunch programs are organized by assisting the village to establish a committee system to manage them and are funded with a micro-loan program which helps the community to pay into a a village fund to help fund projects as proposed by the villagers themselves. This system is working very well for Trailblazer Foundation and has a 3-year history of sustainable successes.

Typically there is an integrated District meeting which is held in November to identify and prioritize needs in the District as identified by village chiefs and Commune leaders. I met with the District Chief But Kary in April and he identified a need in the village of Ta Trav as an immediate concern and asked us for help. I made a verbal aggreement with them, funds permitting of course. It is to be a 6-room school, 305 students with Govt teachers and all of the proper MOU's and support provided through the Siem Reap Provincial offices. I have an estimate of the construction at 55,678.14.

The property is currently administered by the Ministry of Ed, with Govt teachers staffing a dilapidated wood school with a couple of outdoor temporary shelters to handle the overflow. This village is within our management area approx 25 Km north and east of Siem Reap along the Pouk District border.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Project Enlighten Raises over US$14,000 For Burmese Cyclone Victims!

The world’s focus may be elsewhere, but the situation inside Burma stills remains dire with over one million people in desperate need of aid. That said, I do want to extend our heartfelt thanks to all of those who have contributed to ‘Project Enlighten’s Burma Cyclone Emergency Relief Immediate Action Plan’, www.projectenlighten.org .
The over US$14,000 that has been raised so far has gone a long way in much-needed aid that was distributed to cyclone-affected villages in Dedaye Township, Twanytay Township, Hlaing Tharyar Township, Myaung Mya Township, and Laputta Township.

Just to give you an idea of how far this money goes towards providing direct relief aid, here are some figures that will certainly give you something to feel good about: With $12,000, aid was distributed directly to 13,622 victims – a total of 6049 families! Items included were clothing, food, medicine, plastic covers for shelter, family tents, and two large pumps and engines to clean village wells. During the month I was in Mae Sot, ‘Project Enlighten’ along with two other western organizations, contributed to three shipments of aid into Burma that brought emergency relief to over 40,000 victims!

I spent the month working closely with Stanley Akzeya, the director of ABITSU, (All Burma IT Students Union) http://abitsu.org, the Burmese Human Rights Organization on the Thai-Burma Border, that is effectively using Burmese volunteers to take the emergency aid into Burma’s cyclone-devastated delta region. Regularly updated details and photos of the relief efforts can be found by visiting my blog site at http://schoolsforcambodia.blogspot.com .

Working together with the Burmese to help the cyclone victims inside Burma has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. I shared times of sorrow with them as we viewed the photos of many left dead across the delta region, but there were moments of great joy viewing the photo-documentation of victims young and old smiling as they received the much-needed aid.

I am now back at home in Gravenhurst, but by no means am finished with raising funds for relief efforts into Burma. I have over 600 photos from the cyclone devastation and the relief efforts inside Burma, which I am presently putting into a PowerPoint presentation. Any group wishing a Presentation can contact me at 687-8538, or mccoy@vianet.ca. I will also be continuing fundraising efforts and presentations for the “Muskoka School” Project in Northern Cambodia and 'Project Enlighten - Burma' the scholarship program for Burmese refugee students.

Cyclone Nargis, the world’s most deadly disaster since the 2004 tsunami, is officially thought to have left 134,000 dead or missing and 2.4 million destitute, of which only 49% have received any international aid.

Not much media attention has been recently given to the current situation inside Burma, partially due to the fact that several foreign journalists, including CNN and Time reporters have been deported in the past few weeks and others have been refused visas (Reporters Without Borders). Two reputable sources with constant updated information are the ABITSU website and the Irrawaddy Magazine
http://irrawaddy.org .

There are two blogs that I would like to draw your attention to. You'll find them listed in my new Links List at the bottom of this page. Annie Kwan of the UK has a fundraising project on the go and she's moving fast!- she's walking 'Miles For Mankind' and raising funds for 'Project Enlighten'. You can track her voyage on her Site, and help her reach her goal by making a donation - I'm proud of you Annie!

A couple of years ago I shared in the wonderful experience of watching Aki Ra's kids view the debut of the new film about them! - 'Aki Ra's Boys' by Lianain Films. Since that first viewing this documentary has won quite a few awards. Lynn and James are documentary folmakers based in Asia. Lynn was kind enough to recently interview me for her blog site - while she was on localtion in Nepal!

Great People doing Great Things!

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Project Enlighten’s Second Shipment of $4000US in Cyclone Aid Heads to Delta-

Many Cyclone Victims Forced to Leave Shelters

The first shipment of emergency relief aid, towards which ‘Project Enlighten’ contributed $4000US, reached many destitute and hungry cyclone victims in the districts of Laputta, Twantay, and Kongyangone. Watch a video of the loading of these supplies at: http://video.google.com/

Laputta is a low-lying western delta region that took the brunt of Cyclone Nargis a month ago. Posted now on the blog, you’ll see photos of two centres in Lapputta, where aid was distributed nearly 2 weeks ago.

The first shipment, totaling approximately $12,000US in aid, brought relief supplies to over 5,000 people. Fifty tents, each housing a family of four, were included. Eighty large bags of rice and water were purchased by ABITSU Burmese volunteers in Rangoon, and then all the supplies bought here in Mae Sot and in Rangoon were divided and loaded into smaller trucks and boats, and headed for the delta. I have about 500 photos that were taken of that first shipment!

Over the past few days, tragic news is emerging from Burma- The UN has reported that Burma’s military government if forcing cyclone victims out of the refugee camps and dumping them near their devastated villages with basically nothing!

Centralizing victims in camps, centres and churches has made it easier for aid agencies to deliver emergency supplies.

400 cyclone victims from Laputta district, housed in a Baptist Missions Church in Rangoon, were all evicted by the authorities on Thursday and taken back to their villages! They have lost families, homes and in most cases – their villages! These homeless cyclone victims are scared, sad and helpless.

Eight government camps in Bogolay district have been cleared out by the military, and the clear-outs are continuing. Some were given meager rations before they were moved, but if they had lost their identity card, they were given nothing.

Aid workers which have reached some of the remote villages say little is left there to sustain them and certainly no medicine. Military officials have told them that they can eat frogs. Thousands of corpses still litter the fields and waterways!

The military has told aid workers not to give anything to the thousands lining the roads seeking aid, saying, “…donations will spoil their appetite for hard work.”

The UN has sharply criticized this action. Terje Skovdal, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs stated, “People need to be assisted in the settlements and satisfactory conditions need to be created before the can return to their places of origins.” “Any forced or coerced movement of people is unacceptable.”

It is imperative that these victims be reached now more than ever. ‘Project Enlighten’s’ second $4000 of aid is in Burma now being distributed by Burmese volunteers that can gain access to the devastated areas. We ask that you please send ANY DONATION that you can – it all adds up! If you can’t afford to give, but want to help, then consider holding a small community fundraiser such as a garage sale, a pledged walk, or a penny campaign.

The BBC reported yesterday that the death toll is likely over 130,000. Of the 2.5 million in need of aid, only 1 in 2 has received anything at all.

All foreign aid workers are still experiencing bureaucratic hindrance in obtaining visas and gaining access to the delta region. 46 vehicles and cars of aid were impounded last Sunday night as they were making aid trips out of Rangoon. I had wanted to go into Burma to help, but that possibility is out of the question at present. If I did obtain a visa, I would not be allowed out of Rangoon.

Journalists have been banned from Burma. One BBC reporter was deported. I receive many disturbing photos from inside Burma which can be obtained by emailing me at mccoy@vianet.ca . No words can express the dire conditions and paramount needs of the hundreds of thousands within Burma.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Emergency Aid Arrives by Boat to Stranded Delta Victims

May 28, 2008

Three convoys of emergency relief supplies reached stranded delta regions thanks to the generosity of those who are donating to Project Enlighten’s: ‘Burma Cyclone Emergency Relief Immediate Action Plan’, www.projectenlighten.org .

Posted now on the blog site you’ll see photos of aid distributed by boat to the delta.

Supplies include items such as plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, food, water, water purification tablets, plus various medical supplies and medicine including ORS (Oral Rehydration Salts) which treats dehydration and guards against cholera. Most days here now see temperatures hover in the mid-thirties, so ORS is vital to those exposed to harsh conditions in the delta. You will see a photo on this site of a baby holding a packet of this.

You can obtain a copy of the Excel spreadsheet detailing all the items sent and their cost by emailing me at mccoy@vianet.ca .

Aid items are purchased here on the border and in Rangoon, where prices are much lower than outside of these countries, resulting in MUCH MORE aid going directly to the victims. Your donations go a long way here.

In the photos you’ll see Burmese volunteers wearing white t-shirts with a Burmese word on the front which translates into ‘Sympathizer’. These eager volunteers were recruited by ABITSU (All Burma Student IT Union), one of the Burmese organizations here on the border that are gathering donations funded through various western and European organizations such as ours.

The UN has estimated that of the 2.4 million people affected by the storm, about 42% had received some kind of emergency assistance. But of the 2 million people living in the 15 worst affected townships, only 23% had been reached. On May 26, the International Red Cross reported that at least 1.5 million people, many of them hungry and ailing remain homeless in the rain-swept delta. The UN also reports that 85% of school buildings were destroyed or severely damaged in the country’s cyclone-ravaged region. It will take decades for this already impoverished region to rebuild and replace all that has been lost.

Foreign aid workers are starting to trickle in, and I mean ‘trickle’! Paul Risley of the UN’s World Food Programme stated “Yesterday was a record, red-letter day with 7 visas applied for and 7 issued. But every step has required agreement with the government, clearance from the government, approved by the government of virtually all our actions.” Much more needs to be done to facilitate the swift processing of visas for foreign aid workers to get into Burma and through the military roadblocks in the delta region.

Sadly, the US and British ships loaded with relief aid and equipment stationed off the coast of the delta region, have still not been granted permission to unload their supplies in Rangoon, or to fly their on-board helicopters into the delta.

Burma’s PM Lt General Thein Sein said only civilian vessels could take part in the aid operation, and that they would have to go through Rangoon.

‘Project Enlighten’s’ funding of emergency supplies going into Burma via boats manned with Burmese volunteers is a working solution that is accepted by the Myanmar regime, and with your continued support we can send much more in!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Project Enlighten Preparing to send Second Shipment of Emergency Aid into Burma

May 23, 2008 - Mae Sot, Thailand

It's now been 3 weeks since Cyclone Nargis hit Burma, and almost two weeks since my arrival to the Thai-Burma border. So far, only about 20% of the people affected by the cyclone have been reached.
Everyday, there have been some increases and allowances to the limited aid which the Burmese military government will permit into Burma for those estimated 2.5 million in desperate need.
Today, a major possible breakthrough was announced resulting from the two hour meeting between UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Burma’s Senior General Than Shwe – “to allow all foreign aid workers into Burma”. The next few days will tell how broad that allowance will be, and what stipulations placed by the Burmese authorities it may entail. There have been hundreds of foreign aid workers that have been in Bangkok for days, waiting for visas to allow them entry into Burma. I have two friends among them, who I am keeping in contact with. It is yet to be seen how quickly the foreign aid workers will be allowed in, and if they will have access to the delta, which up until now, they have not.
As a team member of ‘Project Enlighten’, and as a Rotarian, my first thoughts were ‘how can I go in and help?’. I want to explore any possibilities that could put me of use inside Burma.
Thanks to the generous donations made by many of you, ‘Project Enlighten’, is now getting ready to send its second shipment of emergency supplies into the cyclone-hit areas. I have posted some of the many photos of aid being distributed to cyclone survivors. These photos were taken by the ABITSU Burmese volunteers working inside Burma. These convoys of small trucks went into two districts of need in Burma, Twantay and Kongyangone.
About 600 more photos arrived today, of similar convoys from the first shipment which ‘Project Enlighten’ helped to fund.
This method of using Burmese NGOs in place along the border to distribute the aid into Burma has been effective from the start, and continues to be so. Since the tragedy occurred, Rangoon’s private citizens, monks and organizations have been taking whatever supplies they can into the cyclone-hit areas. Some of it is perhaps not adequate, but they are determined to help their fellow Burmese in any way they can.
I witnessed first-hand such instances of humanitarian compassion, coordination, and heroism during the aftermath of the Boxing Day Tsunami on the coasts and islands of southern Thailand.
Residents of the Irrawaddy delta in Burma have long foraged for their food from the sea and the land. There are reports that they are coping as best as they can with the situation at hand, finding what food they can and making shelters with the remnants they find. They are focusing on survival, but the IRC (International Rescue Committee) still reports concerns of a second wave of deaths, larger than the first as a result of water-borne diseases.

On May 22nd, Doctors Without Borders in Burma reported “The human suffering has been enormous. There are still lots of dead bodies, no food, no shelter.”
Take a moment to picture this.
Let’s hope that the world will be indeed allowed to enter into Burma and assist in this crisis. In the meantime ‘Project Enlighten’ www.projectenlighten.org is still in need of donations to keep the aid supplies going into the devastated areas.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Project Enlighten’s First $4000US in Emergency Aid Reaches Burmese Cyclone Victims in the Delta!

May 18th, 2008

Our Team at Project Enlighten is happy to report that today, the first $4000US in emergency relief supplies are being distributed to a few of the 2.5 million people left clinging to survival by the devastation of Cyclone Nargis. This cyclone flooded an area of the Burma delta region the size of Austria.

The transport was loaded at the border, and then again in Rangoon, Burma, with supplies funded by Project Enlighten, The Rescue Task Force and a local monk’s organization.

ABITSU, the Burmese organization here, organized all ground operations into Burma’s delta region. Only Burmese can gain access into the military blocked delta areas.

It is only a minute fraction of the massive amount of relief that is needed for this area, but any relief which will save the lives of some is worth the effort. Project Enlighten is asking for your donations to fund more of these trucks of emergency supplies into the delta.

The official death toll reported Friday from the disaster now sits at 77,738 dead and 55,917 missing but most experts say the figure is likely to be far higher. The Red Cross says the cyclone may have killed 128,000.

This natural disaster has now turned into a man-made disaster due to the military junta’s refusal in allowing foreign aid into the delta region.

US, British and French warships loaded with helicopters, ambulances, small watercraft and emergency supplies sit waiting in international waters 30 minutes off the delta coast. They will sit there until permission is granted to enter. So far the Burmese military has said no.

A total of only 20 US cargo flights filled with emergency aid have been allowed to land at Rangoon airport. 24 such cargo flights PER DAY are what are required. There have been reports of many of these aid supplies being sold to civilians at high prices in Rangoon and used for the military’s own use as well.

General Than Shwe, the ruling general of Burma, is now accused of committing crimes against humanity. There are reports of forced labor and low food supplies at the state run refugee centres. I spoke with a reporter yesterday who provided me with a contact number to report any first-hand accounts of human rights abuses to Amnesty International.

In the past few days torrential tropical downpours have lashed Burma’s cyclone hit Irrawaddy delta. Thousands of destitute victims go to the roadsides begging for help to supplement the meager trickle of aid flowing in. Over 30,000 children were already suffering from malnutrition before the disaster.

Many cylone victims have come down with diarrhea, dysentery and skin infections. Dangers of outbreaks of cholera, dengue fever and malaria are escalating.

Last week, China immediately opened its doors to the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid from around the world to those affected by the devastating earthquake. Until the ruling military in Burma does likewise, many will die from starvation and disease.

This afternoon UK Minister Lord Malloch-Brown announced from Rangoon, that a possible comprimise has been struck that the "Burmese can work with", whereas world relief donations could be directed into Burma through neighboring countries.

By making a donation to ‘Project Enlighten’s Burma Cyclone Emergency Relief Fund’, www.projectenlighten.com , you help supply emergency aid that is taken to the delta area.

Every hour counts!

Lisa McCoy, Project Enlighten Team Member, Mae Sot, Thailand

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Burmese Cyclone Victims Need Your Help!

May15th, 2008

My fourth day here on the Thai-Burma border sees frustration mounting as still only limited aid from the countries of the world is being allowed to enter into Burma.

This morning, ‘Project Enlighten’, www.projectenlighten.com , has sent $4000US in emergency relief supplies, by truck, into Burma. The Burmese organization on-the-ground, ABITSU, (All Burma IT Student’s Union), has an effective ‘Cyclone Nagris Relief Response Action Plan’ in place which delivers these supplies into Burma by trucks, driven by Burmese citizens, to various relief stations within Burma. These supplies are then loaded onto smaller vehicles and boats and then transported to the delta affected areas.

100% of the money donated to ‘Project Enlighten’s Burma Cyclone Emergency Relief Immediate Action Plan’, goes directly towards purchasing aid supplies here in Mae Sot. For efficiency, drinking water is purchased in distilleries and hospitals within Burma.

As of now, the military government of Burma is allowing foreign aid workers in from five neighboring countries only, but with heavy restrictions. The military is blocking all access to foreign aid workers wanting to enter the delta affected region, where the situation is dire! An unnamed BBC reporter, who has made his way through many of the delta affected areas, has reported horrific conditions for those stranded there. He questions the fact that if he has made his way into these areas; why has the Burmese military not made the effort to go in and provide aid!

Currently, people in the delta region are living among corpses with no aid. A leading UN charity reports that over 40% of those who perished in the cyclone were children. Children did not have the strength to hold on to the trees as the powerful cyclone waves rushed over them. The force of the cyclone tore children out of their mother’s arms.

There are many lone children seen fishing for crabs and shellfish amongst the floating, rotting corpses. There are reported camps with hundreds of orphaned children throughout the region.

Monasteries in Burma have taken in many cyclone victims but the military has given the monks deadlines in which to clear them out. Many monasteries in Rangoon and the affected areas have seen no aid from the government, and they are being closely watched by the military and military intelligence.

The Burmese government has only 5 military helicopters and no heavy-lifting equipment. The US and Britain have warships in place off the Burmese coast, supplied with aid and equipment, ready to assist, but have not yet received permission from the Burmese government.

Today, the UN is holding a meeting regarding the possibility of forced intervention. Britain’s Foreign Minister has quoted that Britain would not rule out forced intervention.

UN top aid to Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, will be flying into Burma today with a plane-load of supplies, with the intention to meet with Burma’s top generals.

Meanwhile, Burma’s estimated 2.5 million people affected by the cyclone are only receiving limited aid, and are in danger of a second serious humanitarian crisis – death from starvation and disease.

Medicine, water, food, plastic sheeting, and mosquito nets are just some of the emergency supplies your donations to ‘Project Enlighten’ will buy that go immediately into Burma’s cyclone affected areas.

$2 buys a mosquito net, or a dozen water purification tablets. $10 buys a first-aid kit.

Any amount that you can give now will help those in the desperate delta region of Burma.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Cyclone Emergency Relief for Burmese

The Devastation in Burma

PROJECT ENLIGHTEN has donated $4000US towards Emergency Relief supplies destined for the Cyclone Devastated Region tomorrow. Please donate so we can send more!
May 13, 2008
I arrived in Mae Sot Thailand, 6km, from the Thai-Burma border two nights ago. There was heightened security at highway checkpoints and at town perimeters. The catastrophe that occurred in Burma, one of the poorest countries in the world, is now designated as the world’s most devastating natural disaster in 50 years.

As of yesterday, the UN reports that 150,000 are feared dead, 2,000,000 are in serious need of aid, and 1,500,000 are in serious danger of disease. 24,000,000 people live in the cyclone affected areas. There are 220,000 people reported missing.

The United Nations has also dire concerns over the environmental damage, and has warned of violence and mass immigration due the present military government’s neglect to allow only a minute amount of relief supplies into the country. These supplies are not reaching the affected areas. Tons of supplies that have made it into Burma are sitting impounded at Rangoon airport, including a plane-load sent by the Red Cross. Yesterday, a ship-load of supplies sent by the Red Cross sank off the delta coast. Regional commanders inside Burma have put their names on the sides of boxes of supplies sent in, saying it was a
gift from them, and then distributing it to the people in their region, not the regions of the most dire need.

The BBC has now reported that the city of Rangoon has run out of rice.

Foreign aid workers and emergency supplies have sat for days 6km away from me, ready to go into Burma.

I am here representing, and reporting, to our TEAM and Board at Project Enlighten: http://www.projectenlighten.com . As you know, this past winter I worked closely in a volunteer capacity with several Burmese organizations on the Thai-Burma border. They have networks that constantly are sending supplies from Thailand into areas of need in Burma. These organizations are now successfully taking emergency supplies from Thailand into Burma. Right now they are struggling for funding to keep those truckloads going in. They have transports that leave Mae Sot and go to four relief stations set up inside Burma. From those relief stations, smaller trucks are taking the supplies into the affected areas. They are the ones who can bypass the military and get that aid to the affected areas, because they are registered Burmese citizens.

Yesterday, I spent much of the day in meetings with ABITSU http://www.abitsu.org . Their ‘Cyclone Nargis Relief Response’ is a workable solution. They need western organizations that are willing to take on individual donations and foundation grants. ‘Project Enlighten’ is willing to channel donations from our Cyclone Emergency Relief Fund towards their relief efforts into Burma. Donations made to this fund will be issued a receipt for income tax purposes in the States. 100% of these donations go towards relief supplies going into Burma. Neither Project Enlighten, nor ABITSU, utilizes any of this money towards administrative costs.

One transport load of medicine, food, water, and supplies costs $12,000, and can get into Burma in a day, bringing aid to 50 families, or more, approximately 250 people. A smaller truck of supplies can be sent in for $4,000US. A breakdown of all the items and costs pertaining to one transport load are provided. ABITSU will provide written reports, receipts and photo documentation to ‘Project Enlighten’, which will be made available to our donors.

Any donation given to Project Enlighten at this time will go towards immediate aid that can reach the cyclone afflicted Burmese within days through Burmese run organizations such as ABITSU. I am working closely with my friends at ABITSU, who themselves have lost many family members in the cyclone disaster.

I ask that you would please consider any donation at this time of urgency, and that you please pass along this information and to your friends and family. Donations can be made online through Project Enlighten using Credit Card or PayPal. Project Enlighten is a registered 501 (c) (3), Non Government, Non-Profit Organization, in the United States of America. The latest photos on the blog show donations received today at ABITSU by Rescue Task Force in California and World Emergency Relief. All emergency supplies are presently being itemized, and receipt provided by ABITSU. These supplies will be heading into Burma tomorrow. Your donation will also be used to provide much needed supplies that can reach affected areas quickly.

I also include some photos of the devastation inside Burma.

I am stationed in Mae Sot and can be reached by cell phone anytime at 66 087-5736-189
Please make checks payable to 'Project Enlighten' and mail to:
Project Enlighten
Burma Relief Fund
1299 C South Main Street #168
Yreka, California 96097

Project Enlighten
Burma Relief Fund
Box 53,Gravenhurst, ONP1P 1T5

To designate funds specifically to the P.E. Burma Relief Fund, please include this on the memo line on your check or advise us through a note or email.
Your urgent donation is desperately

With deepest respect,

Lisa McCoy

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Lives in Limbo - The Burmese Refugee Camp

Sixty-six kilometers north of Mae Sot, set against picturesque hills, lies the encapsulated world of Mae La Refugee Camp; home to over 40,000 Burmese refugees. Some of its citizens have lived here since its conception, approximately twenty years ago. It is the largest of the Burmese refugee camps in Thailand.

It is best described as a ‘patrolled city’, as Thai Police surround its perimeters and control its gates. They are also there to guard against attacks from gunmen hiding in the surrounding border hills.

I had the opportunity to visit this camp on Saturday February 16, along with international photographer Christopher Briscoe and 2 other men. We left at 8am, and traveled in the back of a pick-up truck. Our transportation and access into the camp had been arranged prior to the trip, as unauthorized visits to the camp by foreigners are not usually permitted.

We easily passed through the police checkpoint, and drove right into the camp, where our driver waited for us. We encountered no other foreigners that day.

Our plan was to stay about four hours, because by mid-afternoon temperatures can soar to over 40 degrees Celsius. We arrived armed with our cameras and plenty of water.

Once inside, we were left to wander at will through the maze of bamboo huts along dirt paths. One can easily become lost here, as was our case on the way out.

I was astonished at how, in many ways, the camp resembled a very large rural village. There were little bamboo shops, schools, churches and homes. I even came across a ‘Workshop’ that was built by the Rotary Club of Canada! Most buildings were extremely small, and built side-by-side. There were some pump wells, but it was obvious that sanitation was a real problem here. Disease runs rampant in the camps.

Many of the Burmese in these refugee camps live their lives in limbo. They are people who cannot go back to Burma under present conditions, yet are unable to acquire citizenship elsewhere. Most of them cannot leave the camp for any reason whatsoever. The camp has a dusk curfew. I was told this was because men with guns are out on the streets.

I had opportunity to visit and interview two English speaking refugee families within the camp. Their stories are similar to hundreds of stories I have heard from other refugees.

One such family: ZM, his wife ML and their small three-year-old daughter have a little sugar cane drink stand within the camp.

In 2001, ZM was arrested at Rangoon airport for delivering letters for politicians. He spent 45 days in dark solitary confinement before being moved to a larger cell crammed with prisoners.

Upon his release he had to sign papers promising not to leave the country. His passport and Burmese identity card were taken from him. His family managed to escape Burma by risking their lives trekking through miles of mine-riddled jungles until they crossed the Burma-Thai border.

That was nine months ago. He has no idea when the UNHCR in Mae Sot will come, take his photo, and issue him a card that enables him to leave the camp confines. Apparently, at present, the UNHCR here has shut down operations for several months.

ZM was a highly educated business man in Burma. The present dictatorial military regime in Burma has taken all that way from him, and from thousands like him.

ZM lives his life day-to-day, while Burma’s 54 million inhabitants live a life of poverty, disease and fear, experiencing serious abuses of human rights. The SPDC army in Burma still practices ethnic cleansing by violently annihilating whole villages and their inhabitants. Many of these village massacres do not make it into the press. Life in many parts of Burma, are a daily struggle for survival.

Three weeks ago, KNU leader Mahn Sha was assassinated here in Mae Sot. There is fear that there will be more attacks here on Burmese who are working towards Burma’s democracy.

Thousands of families have been separated, and dare not contact their family back in Burma, as it might bring danger to their family. Burmese men and women here have openly wept in front of me, because they have not had contact with their loved ones for years.

I have two more weeks here in Mae Sot. I am kept busy teaching English 7 days a week. Everyday is an emotional challenge for me as learn more of the horrendous situations that these people have endured.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Burmese Crisis – First Impressions, First Friends

After last week's nine-hour overnight bus ride from the Bangkok to the north-west of Thailand, I'm now into the second week of my two month stay in the border town of Mae Sot.

This is like no other town that I have stayed in – That is saying the very least!

Just walking the streets one can encounter many ethnic groups – Burmese, Thai, Muslim, etc. There is a vast array of mosques and temples. On the outskirts of town one can visit nature and wildlife reserves, scenic caves and refreshing waterfalls.

I can't wait to visit the waterfalls, because it is unbearably hot here. I spend the hours between ten and five drenched in sweat. One of my classes requires me to ride my bicycle about six km, so along with the heat, I get to battle crazy traffic on the wrong side of the road.

Mae Sot abounds in markets – a daily central market, a night market, and a huge weekly farmer's market which boasts fresh produce from the surrounding area.

Restaurants with exotic fare and food stalls abound, where one can enjoy Thai, Burmese and Indian cuisine.

There are not many hotels or guest houses in Mae Sot, as it is not designated a tourist town, but I have found a lovely guest house where I can relax amongst lush trees and tropical flowers. The 'Green Guest House' is my little paradise. My bamboo-walled room has TV, fan, private bathroom with hot water, and my own private balcony. All this for under $200 a month.

Prices are very cheap in this part of Thailand, about a third of the cost compared to other areas which tourists frequent.

My balcony is a perfect place to reflect on my thoughts and experiences. Every evening there are many things for me to reflect upon.

Presently I am teaching three two-hour English classes every weekday. I am teaching recently arrived adult Burmese refugees. Many of them have spent years in prison for incomprehensible reasons. Taking part in a peaceful protest or voicing your opinion can land one in jail for many years. In 1988 and in 1997, students and civilians who took part in demonstrations against the military were arrested, jailed, and kept in 8' x 12' jail cells, with nothing to do day and night. They were only let out five minutes per day. One of the first friends I met was just released from prison on December 28, 2007. He had spent 17 years in jail, and is now in his forties. I asked him if he was tortured in prison. His response, in exact words: 'I was tortured in every way you can imagine'. His brother, who just arrived a few days ago, has permanent brain damage as a result of his imprisonment. One of my students is a former Rangoon University professor; another is a former Baptist Pastor who was arrested for supplying food to protest students. Many of my young adult Burmese students have high school degrees and yearn for college or university but do not have the money to enroll.

The never-ending stories of injustices to humanity that these people have experienced, and still are, have left a profound effect on me. Many of my students are adults who have lost their highly educated positions, and have been separated from their immediate families for years.

Briefly summarized, in 1988 when long-time leader of the socialist ruling party, General Ne Win, stepped down, mass demonstrations for democratization took place, which were violently suppressed. A new military junta took power. Aung San Suu Kyi entered into politics to work for democratization, and helped found the National League for Democracy, and was put under house arrest in 1989. In 1990, the military junta called an election which the NLD won decisively.

Being the NLD’s candidate, Aung San Suu Kyi under normal circumstances would have assumed the office of Prime Minister. Instead, election results were nullified, and the military refused to hand over power. This resulted in an international outcry. Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest at her home in Rangoon, Burma. During her arrest she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. In December 2007, the US House of Representatives voted unanimously 400-0 to award Aung San Suu Kyi the Congressional Gold Medal. The Parliament of Canada has unanimously passed a proposal to make Aung San Suu Kyi an honorary Canadian citizen. Canada has, in the past, only bestowed this honour to Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, Nelson Mandela, and the 14th Dalai Lama. She is the only Nobel Peace Laureate in detention in the world today.

During this military regime the people of Burma are experiencing atrocities to man not experienced in this part of the world since the Khmer Rouge era in Cambodia. The similarities frighten me.

Boys are taken from their families and forced to work for the military in the labor force. The military uses people as human mine-sweepers. Children are taken from families and used as soldiers. Once you are in the military, you can forget about ever getting out. Many of the military are victims. It goes on. Civilians and monks have been brutally beaten and killed. I have seen photos which were taken in Burma of the massacred dead, and the horrendously beaten.

The country has tried to shut down communication. There is no freedom of speech. Recent reports in the Bangkok Post state that the Burmese military Junta has stepped up arrests of dissenters since the September 2007 crisis, breaking a promise to the UN, as stated by rights group Amnesty International. The government acknowledges the deaths of thirteen people, but the UN says at least 31 are dead, and 74 missing. The junta has tightened its grip on its citizens as the world's attention has turned elsewhere. Amnesty International reports that 1,850 political prisoners are being held and 700 were arrested during and after the protests. The military enforces over 400,000 soldiers, the second largest in SE Asia. Half of the government budget is spent on the military.

Behind my guest house is a Burmese prison where numerous times throughout the day, Burmese arrive in a paddy wagon, and are put in a large one room prison, which is open on the street side for all to view. Eventually they are taken back to Burma, which is only 8 kilometers from Mae Sot. These Burmese (Karen tribe mostly), repeatedly try to flee the country, traversing though miles of mine-riddled jungle, before crossing the river into Thailand.

One of the human rights groups I am volunteering through, ABITSU http://www.abitsu.org, is giving many accepted Burmese immigrants a chance at a better life by giving them a place to live and by giving them extensive computer training. I am their first English tutor. Many of them had learned English to some degree at one point in their life. They revere their English lessons. They know that English is imperative for their future. Many of them hope to go back to Burma once the regime is not in power and democracy returns. My morning class is to a lovely group of Burmese ladies living in a safe house just outside of town. My afternoon class is to members of the NLD-LA, (National League for Democracy-Liberated Areas), which operates in the Thai-Burma border areas and abroad.

The situation in Burma is becoming worse as the world turns it attention to Iraq, Afghanistan and other larger countries experiencing the turmoil of war. Reuters has reported Sylvester Stallone's recent stand against Burma's military regime. Stallone has confronted them through the press http://www.reuters.com/article/reutersEdge/idUSL0246806820080202 . The situation merits world attention. In the words of NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, “Please use your Liberty to Promote Ours”.

Within a couple of days, I'll be posting pictures of my classes.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

First Visit to the 'Muskoka School' Site!

First Visit to the 'Muskoka School' Site – January 19, 2008..

On the way to Anlong Veng, in the dirt-poor province of Oddar Meanchey, is the rural village of Onndong bei.3 well. Forget trying to find it on the Internet, as there are hundreds of these small villages in this province. It is just off the NH67 road to the northern border of Thailand. Oddar Meanchey is unfortunately one of the most heavily mined provinces in the country and most of the mines were laid in the past 15 years. In Cambodia one in 275 people is an amputee.

Sadly, en route to this area, we reached a road block where 3 days ago three road workers were killed when their truck was blown up by an anti-tank mine. A horrific price to pay to achieve progress. There are no sealed roads. They are being worked on, but they are a mess. In the rainy season getting around this province is tough. Living in this province is tough. And it's tough seeing the people of these areas eke out a daily existence. Khmer people have no governmental social or medical assistance. Snake bites, malaria, tuberculosis, diarrhea, HIV/Aids are all killers in this country. There are no ambulances or fire departments in the rural areas.

Hope is slowly being realized by the people of this province through the help brought by numerous NGOs and World Relief Organizations. Irrigation and well projects, food and medical supplies, some demining, and schools are being built. It's really tough to know where to begin, because to get this much needed aid to the people who need them, you really need to demine first. In rural Cambodia you don't dare take a step off the side of a road or well-trod path.

Traveling with Akira, a class 3 certified deminer, certainly gave our convoy of 3 vehicles some reassurance as we took the two hour trip north of Siem Reap to Onndong bei. 3 well. Along for the journey were good friends Eugene and Mary Gallagher of Australia. They were coming to see the newly built wood school they fund raised for in a village en route. Richard Fitoussi, of the new Land Mine Museum and Relief Facility, and Bill Morse of the Landmine Relief Fund came along, as well as Phil Parry who built the wonderful new cement school near Pailin last year.

Building a school in Cambodia is a wonderful and rewarding project. The children and young adults here revere education, and devote their every waking moment to it. Parents will sell their only cow, to give their son a semester of university education. A semester here only costs $300. I have had countless students tell me their aspirations for university education, but their parents are too poor to afford the cost. As it is, children in primary and secondary school have to pay a small fee to go to school every day. This is a form of corruption, but corruption is the norm for many aspects of Cambodian life. You have to pay for what you need, but many of the everyday things that one needs, are not available, or so costly, that you buy them in the underground markets.

Schools are badly needed in the rural areas. Many well-meaning philanthropists and NGO's have started to help out in this capacity. Many have come into a rural area, and with the best of intentions, have given money to have a dilapidated school replaced, or have erected a school where one has not existed before. This does fulfill the present need, but so much more has to be considered to make the project a worthwhile and lasting project.

Onndong bei. 3 well is a larger village with an astronomical amount of 170 children attending the school there. The two buildings on the school site are built of wood, bamboo, and leaves. The wood is infested with termites. The roof and walls have large sections missing. During the rainy season, the children are drenched, and there are insects (English name yet to be determined) which fall from the roof that burrow into the children's ears. Three to four children are crammed into each school bench. The children love school and were very proud to show me the work that they do. There was only one blackboard, no books, only some exercise books for the students. Most students had the mandatory blue and white uniform. The school badly needs supplies. I am having a meeting with an NGO tomorrow morning that will hopefully get some school supplies up there soon. Many of the children who ride bicycles or walk for miles to attend school, arrive there never having had a morning meal. How can a child learn on an empty stomach? I am presently pursuing other NGO's to get information on how we can get a morning meal provided at the school site. This might have to be done on a local level. Many schools here also have medical supplies on their wish list, so they can deal with all the minor ailments of the children including head lice(big problem), cuts and abrasions, and fevers.

There were three government funded teachers, one of which was the director. Grades one and two are taught in one building, three and four in the other. Half of the 170 attend in the morning, the other half in the afternoon. I was glad to hear that the teachers were government funded, mainly because grade completion certificates issued by government funded teachers will be recognized for future enrollment, otherwise the students have to 'buy' their way into future education. Government funded teachers are also teachers with the proper credentials and education to teach.

Using Akira as my interpreter, I spoke to the village chief to ask that a letter be drawn up to state in writing that they want the school replaced, that the school is in fact on village land (not private, which could have devastating results), and that we have permission from the Chief, the commune, and the province, that the school can be replaced. Yesterday I found out that it is the responsibility of the school director to get special forms and building specifications from the province. So when I go back up to the school site in March with Akira, I'll make sure that is being dealt with. Another question I am pursuing is whether a government contractor has to be used. I don't thinks so, but I have to check this out.

The chief, teachers and villagers were elated at the prospects of a new school building. It will also make work for some of the local village men.

One reason this is such an ideal site for the 'Muskoka School' is because somebody, or some organization, put in a large well and toilets only meters away from the school! It would have cost about $1500 for this project. When I go back up in March, I will find out from the chief who implemented that project.

It would be quite easy to just erect a solid wood school for $3500 on this site and walk away quite pleased. But, in Cambodia it is illegal to build with wood. It has to be bought in the underground market. Thirty years ago Cambodia had 75% forest land, now it only has 3%. One of the environmental horrors of war.

So the one-room school building will be built out of brick and cement. It will cost approximately $5000 - $10,000, but it will be built to government specifications, it will last, and it will be safe for the children and the environment. The cost is more than first realized because of the remote area in which it is located. But this is a village where 170 children come from miles around to attend school in two buildings that are falling apart. Careful planning will have to be taken into consideration so that down the road the second school building on the site can be replaced. Something else I m looking into. Doing it any other way would be a waste of time, money and effort. The 'Muskoka School' will be a prototype, and a learning experience for me, on how a government approved school building project is implemented. No easy feat in Cambodia, but it can be done. It is my vision to build a school building every year.

Building the school cannot commence until the rainy season starts in June. Lots of water is needed to mix the cement. It never rains in the dry season.

Presently $3700 has been raised by the generous citizens of Muskoka. That money will go a long way towards the building supplies. Upon my return the beginning of April, I will be holding a couple of fund raising events to raise the rest by the beginning of June. In the meantime, anyone wishing to contribute towards this project can email me at mccoy@vianet.ca or telephone my husband Carl at 705-687-8538. Upon my return in April, I will also be available for speaking engagements, accompanied by a Powerpoint presentation.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Grand Day for Cambodian Land Mine Museum and Relief Facility

Cambodian dignitaries, team workers from around the world, facility staff and children all came together to celebrate a significantly special day for the Cambodian Land Mine Museum and Relief Facility.

On Thursday, January 10, 2008, a ceremony took place in which the facility was presented its official organization licensing certificate. In Cambodia, this certificate, difficult for most organizations to achieve, is imaginably more difficult to attain for an organization which has defused land mines on display. But this facility, an eight year project implemented by Canadian documentary filmmaker Richard Fitoussi of Bayfield, Ontario, is more than just a Land Mine Museum. It is also the home to Akira, his family, and the 22 child land mine victims which presently live there.

As part of the 'Team', I was delighted to be a part of this momentous day. The ceremony saw 23 noted dignitaries on the stage, and the event was covered by Time Magazine (Canadian Edition).

At 9:30am, after the opening remarks, we all rose to respect the Cambodian National Anthem. Richard Fitoussi then thanked everyone for making this day possible, and proceeded by reading a letter recently presented to him by Lloyd Norman Axworthy, PC, OC, OM, Ph.D, MA., who's greatest success was the Ottawa Treaty, an international treaty to ban anti-personnel land mines. He also campaigned against the use of child soldiers and the international trade in light weapons.

In his letter, Dr. Axworthy speaks of keeping a landmine from Bosnia in his office as a stark reminder of the devastating cruelty of this man made weapon. He noted that as of October 2007, 156 state dignitaries have signed the Treaty, and that 40 million land mines have been destroyed since the Treaty's implementation. Dr. Axworthy thanked and congratulated the Facility for the success of all its endeavors.

The Deputy Governor of Siem Reap was the next dignitary to take to the podium and offer his congratulations, followed by His Excellency, Secretary General of the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority, Mr. Sam Sotha. In 1997, Sam Sotha was in attendance at the signing of the Ottawa Treaty. He spoke on how hard Cambodia, and other NGO's in place, work constantly to clear land mines. He stated that the government has to work hard to assist the victims, and acknowledged the help the new Facility gives to children injured by land mines. His Department worked hard to check, and double-check, every landmine at the Museum, to ensure that they were defused. He applauded Fitoussi and Akira for their tremendous work, and then ceremoniously handed them the official licensing certificate.

The children were next in line to be honored for their scholastic achievements, as each one in turn was presented with an Oxford Khmer/English dictionary. They were presented by Asad Rahmen & Olivia Lorge of Project Enlighten www.projectenlighten.org , the NGO which raises funds towards scholarships for these children. Richard Fitoussi Sr., along with wife Corrine, next presented gifts to the Facility staff and educators.
Tol and Voleak, two resident children of the facility gave heartwarming speeches of how the facility has given them the opportunity for a better education, resulting in hopes for a rewarding future.

Local police and military were also in attendance, and Akira presented the local police with a gift of hand held radios, insuring the Facility's immediate communication with the police, should the need arise.

Ending the morning's celebration was one final speech, given by the man who's dream made this all possible – Akira. Akira's never-ending vision, 'To Make My Country Safe for My People', is a vision shared by many in Cambodia. Akira has never stopped acting on his vision, resulting in many years of having personally defused and removed landmines. He has also taken into his family uncared for children of land mine casualties. I was personally touched when he stressed his strong desire to build more schools in the rural areas of Cambodia lacking schools. Within the next week I will personally be able to share this desire with Akira as we go to visit the Cambodian countryside to view the site for the future 'Muskoka School', funded by the generous citizens of Muskoka.

He is a man of many visions, and thanks to all of those who made this New Facility possible. The Facility is solely run on donations. It presently has a very small schoolroom that only comfortably seats 5 children. The Relief Facility is presently fundraising to build a new, larger schoolroom. Donations can be made through the Cambodian Land Mine Museum and Relief Facility's website at: http://www.cambodialandminemuseum.org/

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

First Visit to the new Landmine Museum and Relief Facility

Thursday, January 3, 2008

After a week and a half of planes, airports, hotels, buses, and cars on some very bumpy roads, I've settled into my very nice room at the Green Town Guesthouse in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Yesterday, I made the long-awaited first visit to the new location of the Landmine Museum and Relief Facility. It was a 32km pleasurable journey by tuk-tuk from Siem Reap.

It is this new facility which, through its outreach programs, has built schools in the rural areas of Cambodia lacking a school, or requiring a replacement school.

I arrived in the early cool of the morning, and no sooner walked through the entrance, to be met by Akira himself. Akira, founder of the Landmine Museum, was a former conscripted Khmer Rouge soldier, who since the war, has made it his goal to “Make My Country Safe for My People'. This he has been doing by removing landmines on a continual basis. Akira is a licensed and accredited de-miner.

The new facility is comprised of a Landmine Museum, offices for the Cambodian Landmine Museum Relief Fund, a home for Akira, his family, and 18 child landmine victims. There is a kitchen, small school room, bathrooms, and a play yard in this safely fenced-in facility. The children have all their needs met, and have supervision by hired Khmer staff. All thanks to Canadian documentary filmmaker Richard Fitoussi who spent seven years of his life working towards the creation of this new facility for Akira.

Akira and I had ample time to have preliminary discussions regarding the 'Muskoka School' project. He was delighted with the fact that approximately $3800 had been raised towards the building of a school. He said that should build quite a big school. Many, many areas need a school, but two in particular came to mind – Oromchek Village and Jrung Village. I have not had a chance yet to find these remote areas on a map yet, but will post a precise location once I find out. Akira said that sometime before January 24th we would make a journey to that site. I will be posting pictures of that, once the trip is made. Then a bank account will be set up for Akira to buy the supplies and hire local Khmer people to build the school.

It's a very exciting first step in the 'Muskoka School' project!