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 ( ) 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

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 .

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!