Sunday, December 20, 2009

Celebrating Rotary Bicycles at Cambodia World Family-Krong Kep School

76 students had their dreams realized when they received a Rotary sponsored bicycle at a huge distribution ceremony at ‘Cambodia World Famly - Krong Kep School’ (CWF-Kep) on December 18th, 2009.

50 bicycles were sponsored by the Rotary Club of Bracebridge-Muskoka Lakes, Ontario, Canada and 22 by the Rotary Club of Orillia, Ontario, Canada. 4 more were sponsored by Pauline Johns, who helped me throughout this whole distribution here in Kep, Cambodia.

All of the recipients were students of CWF-Kep school who live miles away from this ‘Free English’ school, and from the nearest government school.

In Cambodia, children go to school six days a week. They usually attend the government school for part of their day, and then, if available, they attend extracurricular classes in English or other beneficial subjects. It costs some children a few cents a day to attend government school. Many can’t afford that, therefore many rely on these ‘Free English’ schools that are supported by organizations.

Here, in Kep Province, these ‘Free English’ schools are almost non-existent. The CWF-Kep school is the only one like it around for miles and miles. Kep district was still under the thumb of the Khmer Rouge until a few short years ago. This area sadly lacks the wealth of organizations which are seen operating throughout the province of Siem Reap. I couldn’t have been happier to see this wealth of bicycles go to such needy rural children. Now these children will have the necessary means to attend the Khmer, English, Sanitation and Computer classes that are available for free at this small, rural 3-room school. They’ll be able to come to its small Library and borrow one of its few books, take it home, and share literacy with their rural family.

The 76 bicycle recipients came from the villages of Phnom Lev, Chamkabei, Domnak Chang Aer, Oudong, Rones, Ampeang, Koh Soum, Kantal Toul and Prey Takov; all in Domnak Chang Aer District in Kep Province.

So - Big Reasons for a Big Celebration!

There was a huge audience in attendance - friends and family came from miles around to attend the 8:30am Ceremony. Many, Cambodian Commune and district officials also attended, including His Excellency Sam Sarin, Chief of the Kep Provincial Council. His moving speech gratefully acknowledged and thanked Rotary for its contribution to education in this impoverished province.

CWF-Kep director, Mr. Om Chamnap, outlined the many in-school and community outreach programs that the school provides. I’ll be filling you in on more of these as the weeks go by. This week Mr. Chamnap will be taking me with him to the rural village Khmer Literacy classes that he conducts - I will finally get some good Khmer Language lessons!

CWF-Kep also has 15 families on it’s waiting list for its Micro-Credit program. You can provide a poor rural family with a self-sustaining business for as little as US$100!

The last week of December will find me implementing the ‘Embracelets’ program for women and girls in rural Kep villages. More information on this ‘A Mine Free World Foundation’ sponsored project at http://embraceletsforbooks.blogspot.com

‘Cambodia World Family - Krong Kep’ is more than just a school for children. It also provides community outreach programs with a strong focus on bringing education and self-sustaining skills to rural women and girls. At present, there is a desperate need to have a few of its sewing machines fixed so it can reinstate its sewing classes for women. This beneficial program is presently suspended due to lack of funding. The library urgently needs both Khmer and English books, which can be bought here in Cambodia for a fraction of the cost in other countries. More bicycles are needed throughout this district!
Please visit the CWF-Kep website at www.cwf-kep.org to find out more and how you can donate to this school.

I’ll be here for many more weeks yet. Anyone in Canada who wishes to make a contribution towards this schools needs, can easily do so by sending your donation to ‘A Mine Free World Foundation’, 906 Fung Place, Kitchener, ON, Canada, N2A 4M3. Please indicate that your donation is for ‘CWF-Kep’. Your donation can be easily accessed by me in Cambodia, and 100% of your donation will go quickly into action here on-the-ground in Cambodia.

Many thanks to my fellow Rotarians in Bracebridge-Muskoka Lakes and Orillia…the Rotary International Emblem can now be proudly seen on the frames of many bicycles throughout this province as the children ride smiling to school!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bracebridge-Muskoka Lakes and Orillia Rotary Bikes Arrive at CWF-Kep School!

Two days ago, 76 bicycles arrived from Phnom Penh...5 hours away from here!

Thanks to the generosity of The Bracebridge-Muskoka Lakes and Orillia Rotary Clubs, 72 children will have a way to get to school. 4 more bikes had been donated by Pauline Johns of Australia.

All bikes arrived 'sandwiched' in the back of a large truck. Children were estatic when the truck arrived.

Cambodia World Family - Krong Kep School (CWF-Kep)had 15 new students enrol that day! News about this bicycle shipment travels quickly - I'm sure the school will get more students as news of 'bikes for the students' travels through the villages!

Handlebars, lamps, pedals, baskets all had to be attached upon arrival...Rotary Stickers as well! That took two days in itself!

Teachers had to take turns staying overnight at the school to 'guard' this precious shipment until the big 'Bike Distribution Ceremony' tomorrow... Kep District officials in Attendance!

So, stay tuned...in a couple more days, I'll report in on the biggest ceremony a school around here has seen in a long time!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dreams Made Real for Cambodian Children

The generosity of Rotary Clubs and ‘A Mine Free World Foundation’ donors have kept me busy since my arrival in Cambodia on October 13th. There have been numerous highlights including the 20 Rotarians from Ontario district 7070 who came over for a 2-week ’Sweat Equity Trip’, food relief distribution to Cambodian villages in the aftermath of Cyclone Ketsana, the Bakong Technical College Ceremony where 35 bicycles were distributed, a distribution of 20 bicycles 25km north of Kralanh, a school uniform and shoe distribution ceremony at the ’Muskoka School’ in Ta Trav village, the commencement of preparing building materials for the ‘Bakong Technical College’ project, making ’Embracelets’ on Sundays with Cambodian students at school and my present volunteer endeavor here in Krong Kep, Cambodia, at the ‘Cambodia World Family - Krong Kep School‘ (CWF-Kep), where on December 18th, 76 more bicycles will be given to children here at the school’s big bicycle distribution ceremony.

Here in Cambodia, generous gifts to schools and villages don’t go unnoticed! It is quite usual to invite the village, commune and district chiefs to come and say a few words of thanks and make a small ceremony out of the whole affair of gift-giving. I’ll be asked to say a few words on behalf of the Rotary Clubs who donated the bulk of these 76 bikes here in Kep.

I’m also busy preparing for a third, large 53-bicycle distribution which will occur the last week in January for the rural villages surrounding Takeo, Cambodia. So, in total, 184 bicycles will have been distributed in rural villages while I’m here - but the need is great, and more funding for bicycles is always welcomed. For $50 (Canadian funds), a child receives a sturdy bike with carrier, basket, lamp, lock and key, therefore giving a child the transportation with which to get to rural schools, which can be up to 10km away in some instances!

In Canada, a donation to the bike bank project can be made by sending your $50 donation to ‘A Mine Free World Foundation’, 906 Fung Place, Kitchener, ON, N2A 4M3. In the US, your donation can be made to ‘Project Enlighten’ - for donation details, visit their website at www.projectenlighten.org

But I don’t do this bicycle distribution all on my own. I rely heavily on trusted Cambodian volunteers, who include: ‘Project Enighten’ scholarship students, Mr. Un Vanthon and family in Phnom Penh, and here in Kep - CWF-Kep school director Mr. Om Chamnap and teachers Pen Ravuth and Tep Chien. All these Cambodian volunteers are most happy to give their time to help impoverished rural children by giving them the necessary transportation to get to school.

A huge thanks go to dear friend, Pauline Johns from Australia, who just spent a week getting sweaty, dusty and dirty as we made our way to 76 rural bike applicant’s homes on the backs of motos over the bumpy roads (sometimes not even a road!), through the rice paddy villages of Cambodia. There is no better dirt-biking to be had! At times, we’d have to get off the bikes to climb a hill, or slog through a muddy, water irrigation route. This part of the country is also famous for its Natural Salt Fields - some bikes will be given to poor children living there.

Two district 7010 Ontario Rotary Clubs are responsible for ‘Making Dreams Real’ through the distribution of bicycles here in Cambodia. With the help of a Matching Simplified Grant, the Rotary Club of Bracebridge-Muskoka Lakes has donated 118 bicycles so far, and the Rotary Club of Orillia has donated 42. The remaining bikes were sponsored by ‘A Mine Free World Foundation’ donors and Pauline Johns.

A very special thank you goes to John Chow of Toronto, who this past year contributed $1,000 to The Bike Bank Project in Cambodia!

It will take me a few blog entries to catch up on all that’s gone on here in Cambodia, but I’ll fill you in on one more ‘Muskoka’ highlight before posting this…incidentally - this is the first time that I’m in a location with limited access to internet, and sometimes there’s just no service to be had. Krong Kep is a small town about 6km away from the Viet Nam border. It is the closest town to the CWF-Kep school, (which is 20km away to the east!), that has a guesthouse. There is no ATM, no pharmacy, no newspaper!….I have to go about 15km north to Kampot for those services. I have a small television in my room. I get 4 channels - 3 in Khmer and one in Vietnamese (I think!)…so, I really am shut off from what’s going on in the rest of the world….

Thanks to the continuing generosity of Muskoka, the US$2,000 that was raised at our annual ‘Giant Garage Sale’ in Gravenhurst, transformed itself into school uniforms and shoes for the close to 400 children attending the ‘Muskoka School’ in Ta Trav village, Siem Reap district. A special thanks to all the garage sale volunteers, who worked so hard to raise this!

The ‘Trailbazer Foundation’ in the United States, was the organization who made the ‘Muskoka School’ a reality here on the ground in Cambodia, and readily took on the task of sourcing out the best price in Cambodia for these school uniforms and shoes. There was even money left over to buy a couple of water filters!

On November 24th, there was a special gift distribution ceremony at the school, where area officials, Scott Coates from Trailblazers and myself gave speeches recognizing the importance of these uniforms for the students attending this school. For most children, these school uniforms are the only good set clothes these children own. The many that were barefoot, and at risk of getting hookworms, now have shoes. Thanks to Rattana from Trailblazers for arranging the transportation that took several of our Rotarians, friends, Pauline and I out to Ta Trav. The only feasible way for us to get out there was in the back of a utility truck…a little jostling at times in places where the road had suffered some damage during the floods brought on by Cyclone Ketsana, but, it was an event we would not have missed for the world! We have wonderful memories and photos of smiles as we distributed the uniforms and shoes personally to every child. Thanks again to the Trailblazer Foundation!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Rotarians, Bicycles, Muskoka School & Cambodia World Family - Krong Kep School

It's been a busy, busy first 2 months...I'm well on the way to distributing over 145 bicycles that have been generouly donated by the Rotary Clubs of Bracebridge-Muskoka Lakes and Orillia in Ontario, and some sponsored by private donors...more news on this, The Muskoka School Uniform Gift Distribution Ceremony, the District 7070 Rotary Sweat Equity Trip to Cambodia, and my present volunteer endeavors at the Cambodia World Family School - Krong Kep (CWF-KEP)will be posted here in a day or two. In the meantime - enjoy the newly posted photos....

Many thanks to volunteer and dear friend, Pauline Johns from Australia for her support the past three weeks, and all the wonderful projects that she has implemened here in Cambodia. She just finished accompanying me and two CWF-Kep teachers for days as we home-interviewed 76 student bike recipients in rural Kep villages.

I’ve been here in Cambodia for 2 months now, and have home-interviewed, documented and distributed 111 bicycles so far. For the past week and a half, I’ve been situated in Kep, Cambodia, where I had the opportunity to see the dire need in the surrounding rural villages. Families here survive on next to nothing. The only income they may get is the $1/day they make when they are hired to hand-harvest a rice crop in the sweltering sun.

Schools are sometimes up to 10km away, so many children don’t have the opportunity to go to school - you have given these children the valuable gift of education.

As the Christmas season approaches, consider telling your friends about the benefits that a gift of a bicycle can give to a rural child in the developing country of Cambodia.

A special Christmas gift card has been designed for this purpose. A donation of $50 provides a child with a sturdy bicycle equipped with a carrier, basket, generator-powered lamp, lock and key. I will be in Cambodia for several weeks yet to distribute more bicycles. Bicycle donations can be made to:

A Mine Free World Foundation
906 Fung Place,
Kitchener, ON, Canada
N2A 4M3

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

'A Mine Free World' Provides Aid to Ketsana-Flooded Villages in Cambodia

$400 Food Aid Distributed to Flooded Village Homes in Roluos and Beng Donpa

Typhoon Ketsana, which affected 17 provinces in Cambodia, has left 36 people dead and an estimated US41 million dollars in damages. The National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM) in Cambodia reports that these figures will rise. This US$41 million dollars only represents the damage to rice fields, homes and domestic animals. There are an estimated 1,000 schools damaged or destroyed. Roads to the ‘Muskoka School’ in rural Siem Reap district remained impassable for 2 weeks - some places flooded a meter or more. Damage to these roads are still under repair.

27,933 hectares of rice were damaged and hundreds of homes were destroyed with tens of thousands of families displaced - countless homes and villages still remain flooded presenting a serious threat of water-borne disease from the remaining stagnant water. 60,000 children in Cambodia die each year - many from waterborne diseases.

Yesterday, one of the children that I had visited in flooded Roluos village just this past weekend had died.

I arrived in Siem Reap on Tuesday, November 13th, and 2 days later, we made our first visit to flooded, impoverished homes in Roluos village in Bakong district. We went with a group of 11 people from the US - members of the Cambodian-American Community of Oregon (CACO). This group was led by friend, and Project Enlighten co-team member Chanly Bob. Chanly and his group had funded numerous bicycles for villages, orphanges, etc. They brought along some of these bicycles to Roluos to donate to the flooded families there. Our ‘A Mine Free World Foundation’ in Canada had raised $400 towards food for flooded families. So, in a wonderful, collaborative effort by both organizations - we heaped bicycles with food and presented them to these families.

A big thank you to CACO for donating 10 bikes to our very own Bike Bank Project (www.thebikebankproject.blogspot.com ) .

Over the weekend, we went out to Beng Donpa village, Slorkram Commune in Siem Reap district. This village consists of 5,735 people representing 1,180 families. Roads there were still flooded, as were many homes. “A Mine Free World Foundation’ gave out food to over 100 of the poorest and most affected by flooding.

All this could not have been done without the help of ‘Project Enlighten’ university scholarship recipient Khemra Horm and her family. Khemra and her family had gone out and purchased all the food, divided it up into grocery-bag portions facilitating distribution. Khemra had pre-assessed and interviewed the most needy families. All families were given rice, tinned fish, soya sauce (staple for making soups) and packaged instant noodles. A portion of the money was also used to buy used clothing for some of the poorest.

Many thanks for the support of those who supplied the funds for this relief. A special thanks to the women from Daphne’s Drop-in at the Women’s Resource Center in Bracebridge, Ontario, Canada, who raised $150 for these direct relief efforts.

There are many more in these, and similar villages, who still need your help coping with the aftermath of Typhoon Ketsana. Details are in the blog entry below on how you can support these direct relief efforts through ‘A Mine Free World Foundation’, a registered non-profit organization in Canada - for details see: www.aminefreeworld.org .

Let me take a moment and tell you about two families in particular in Beng Donpa village. Our distribution efforts throughout this village were authorized by village leader Meak Chan Monyrom, who accompanied us as we trekked on foot from home to home via flooded village roads.

One family - the large Joeun family - lives in a small, flooded hut pieced together by bamboo and tarp fragments. The family, and their home are pictured at the right. As you can see, the father is a landmine victim. The family survives by selling recyclable garbage that they collect. They had barely any belongings in their small, flooded home. None of the children go to school. They don’t have the small ‘fee’ it costs to enroll, nor do they have the money for the required school uniform, pencils, notebooks, etc. Whatever money they scrape together goes for food to feed the family.

At the center of the Joeun family photo, you will see little 11-year-old Sampeos (in the red shirt). She has not started school yet. “A Mine Free World Foundation’ is dedicated to providing assistance to landmine victims and their families. To get little Sampeos started in school for the year would only cost US$30 - $10 for 2 school uniforms, $5 for teacher ‘fee’ and $15 for a school bag and school supplies. Sampeos has already been designated to receive a bicycle through the Bike Bank Project. She just needs a sponsor to get her started in school. Please consider supporting her education.The two charming Joeun identical twins are too young to start school this year, but will be able to next year.

‘A Mine Free World Foundation’ has a special program called ‘Vanna’s Fund’, which provides financial assistance towards the education expenses for landmine victims and their families. It is named after Vanna, who lost her leg to a landmine at the age of eight. Maria van Santen, author and founder of ‘A Mine Free World Foundation’, was touched by Vanna;s story and wrote the children’s book ‘Vanna’s Dance’. Vanna is now 17 and resides here in Siem Reap, Cambodia where she is enrolled in grade 11. Her education and living expenses are supported through ‘Vanna’s Fund’. Vanna will now also be helping other young landmine victims who are supported through ‘Vanna’s Fund’.

Cambodia is a mine-infested country plagued by an estimated 5 million landmines. The Cambodian Mine/UXO Victim Information System (CMVIS) reports 199 deaths from landmines for the period of January to September 2009. Most victims are farmers working the fields or children playing in the fields. Many more are maimed by these explosive remnants of war.

The second family depicted in this blog entry is that of 9-yr-old Peon and his grandmother. Peon lives in a small, flooded bamboo hut. Peon has just started grade one. When I met this bright, friendly boy, I was immediately concerned with what were large, swollen glands or ducts under his eyes. There was also an infected discharge coming out of the corners of his eyes. Through translation, I found out that Peon was born with this large swelling under the eyes and that he also had been taken to the Angkor Children’s Hospital where he had received free treatment. The hospital here has referred him for free specialized treatment in Phnom Penh, but Peon’s family lacks the money for transportation to Phnom Penh and the possible need for accompanying family accommodation as well. This is so, so often the case in Cambodia. There are excellent hospitals providing free expert treatment for children in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, but most often the case rural families lack the money for transportation to the hospital. So, often children suffer with debilitating conditions, or worse yet, die from lack of medical attention.

Volunteer work in Cambodia is often an emotional struggle of mixed feelings. There are many rewarding instances where a smile can be brought to a child’s face with the smallest gesture of kindness, hope or offer of help. But, there are also the times where you are unable to help, and walking away is a difficult thing.

On the horizon, there are yet many more rewarding moments to come here in Cambodia! There are many more Bicycles to be given out to needy students - thanks in big part to the generosity of fellow-Rotarians from the Orillia Rotary Club in Ontario, Canada, who recently donated $2,000 to ‘A Mine Free World Foundation’ for the Bike Bank Project in Cambodia - that will mean 40 bikes for needy kids in the districts of Siem Reap and Kep, Cambodia. More exciting news soon regarding the Bike Bank Project, the Bakong Technical School Project, the ‘Embracelets’ Project, and a visit by 20 district 7070 Rotarians from Canada!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Donate Now to Help Cambodian Typhoon Victims

Help us provide direct relief supplies - Please Donate now!

On September 29th, powerful Typhoon Ketsana, which ravaged the Philippines, raged through central Cambodia killing at least 15 people and injuring many others.
Authorities in Cambodia reported that thousands have been evacuated from their homes as the torrential rains and winds up to 145km (90 miles) an hour swept through Cambodia. First reports indicate that the Kampong Thom and Rattanakiri provinces were the hardest hit. Hundreds of homes in these areas have been damaged or destroyed.

Eastern areas of Siem Reap province have also been hard hit and are still flooded. Roads to the 'Muskoka School' are presently seeing water over a metre high in places.

In response to the urgent need to supply aid to those affected by this disaster, ‘A Mine Free World Foundation’ (AMFW) (www.aminefreeworld.org), a registered non-profit organization in Canada, is putting in place an Immediate Action Plan.

We are asking you to Donate Now to provide aid to those children and their families in Cambodia affected by this natural catastrophe.

AMFW Executive Director, and Rotarian, Lisa McCoy will be arriving in central Cambodia on October 10th to oversee direct distribution of much-needed food and supplies to those in rural typhoon-affected areas.
Any amount that you can give will go directly to assisting these victims.

So far, $400 has been raised but we need more to buy dried noodles, rice, canned food, water for many. Areas devastated are important rice growing areas and thousand have lost this precious food supply. In the coming months, these families will need food to see them through.

River levels are still on the rise in Cambodia.

Donations can be made through:

PayPal at aminefreeworld@yahoo.com,
or
by cheque to ‘A Mine Free World Foundation’,
906 Fung Place, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, N2A 4M3


More information and footage of the devastation in Cambodia can be viewed at this BBC link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asiapacific/8281950.stm

A Mine Free World Foundation provides educational and humanitarian assistance to those in mine-infested countries. and help us help those affected by Typhoon Ketsana....Please GIVE NOW

Thank you for your support.

Maria van Santen – Founder & Lisa McCoy – Executive Director
A Mine Free World Foundation
http://schoolsforcambodia.blogspot.com/ http://projectenlightenburma.blogspot.com/
http://thebikebankproject.blogspot.com/ http://embraceletsforbooks.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

MUSKOKA TALENT FESTIVAL - Gravenhurst Opera House - Saturday September 26 - 7pm

Mark SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 26TH, - 7pm on your calendars! Location – on stage at the GRAVENHURST OPERA HOUSE. Don’t miss the ‘MUSKOKA TALENT FESTIVAL’ featuring VINCE GRITTANI - THE WEEKEND GUY – a fundraising variety show with all proceeds going to The ‘MUSKOKA BIKE BANK WORKSHOP’ project at the Bakong Technical College project site in rural Siem Reap province in Cambodia. Get your tickets soon – they are only $15 each and can be obtained through the Gravenhurst Opera House at 705-687-5550 or from Lisa McCoy at 705-687-8538, email: schoolsforcambodia@gmail.com

Headlining this fabulous evening is Vince Grittani - 'The Weekend Guy' http://www.weekendguy.com/AboutVince.htm Award winning Playwright, author, illustrator and TV personality (Weekend Guy, Cottage Life TV), Vince is sure to make this evening an entertaining highlight of the year that you won't want to miss!

Fabulous theatrical and musical performers from throughout Muskoka have donated their talents for the spectacular 'Muskoka Talent Festival' variety show, including TIM SULLIVAN & DOUG BANWELL, THE MUSKOKA BIG BAND, IAN & PRU DONALSON, THE PEPPERMILL PLAYERS,The MUSKOKA SAXOPHONE CHOIR, THE MERRY WINDS Clarinet Quartet, Award-winning Students from INSPIRING SOUNDS MUSIC STUDIO, ‘JUST 8’ the popular Jazz Vocal Ensemble, The GRAVENHURST SAXOPHONE QUARTET, GEORGE KADWELL & KATHY KILBOURNE, …just to name a FEW...and various COMEDY ACTS in-between to keep you laughing! Keep watching this site for further updates. We have a few surprise spectacular performers participating!

Doors open at 6pm that evening with surprises, cash bar, and entertainment in the Trillium Court pre-show. Refreshments will be served after the show as well!

A Mine Free World Foundation!

The 'Muskoka Bike Bank Workshop' is a $6,000US project that will see a much-needed bicycle depot and repair shop built in rural Cambodia. This workshop will also teach bicycle repair to rural students. So far, close to $2,000 has been donated towards the purchase of bicycles, with another promised $6,000 coming from area Rotary clubs. We need a rural depot center in Cambodia to distribute and repair these bikes!

The 'Muskoka Bike Bank Workshop' is one of the many projects under the Canadian registered non-profit organization 'A Mine Free World Foundation'(AMFW) www.aminefreeworld.org - an organization providing educational and beneficial projects and programs for students and landmine victims in developing countries. This organization, founded by Kitchener, Ontario author and publicist, Maria van Santen, is pleased to announce Lisa McCoy, as the new Exectutive Director. We welcome on board Muskoka AMFW Team Members Doug Banwell from Huntsville and Dan Blix from Gravenhurst.

Thanks to Dan Blix of Gravenhurst for designing the fabulous 'Muskoka Talent Festival' poster. For great graphic desogn or Ad work, you can contact Dan at:
Dan Blix Ad Services,705 687-4555 or dblix@sympatico.ca Dan's Advertising Design: http://dansadvertisingdesign.blogspot.com./


Also, new to the Board of A Mine Free World, is Ronnie Yimsut, a landscape architect, author, activist and Khmer Rouge genocide survivor. Ronnie is also the Project Manager of the Bakong Technical College project - a college providing academic and vocational education in rural impoverished Siem Reap province in Cambodia. Ronnie, along with Lisa co-manage The Bike Bank Project here in Canada and the US. See: http://thebikebankproject.blogspot.com

To make a donation towards 'The Muskoka Bike Bank Workshop', please send your cheque, made out to 'A Mine Free World Foundation' to Box 53, Gravenhurst, ON, Canada, P!P 1T5.

Rotarians and Friends from District 7070, and beyond, are joining Chris Synder, Dr. Nina Cole, and myself on a two-week Sweat Equity Trip to Cambodia this November. We will be building the first 2 buildings at the Bakong Technical College site - The dining/Community hall and the 'Muskoka Bike Bank Workshop'! We have a couple of spots still open to anyone wishing to get involved in this exciting mission of work mixed with fun- all the while enjoying the culural wonders of Cambodia and its people! Contact Lisa for details!

I'll be heading back to Cambodia and the Thai-Burma border in mid-October for another 5 months of volunteer work, and would be most happy to give your group a presentation on the countries, people and projects of SE Asia.


$3,900 Raised for Cambodian and Burmese Refugee Children!

A HUGE Thanks to all of those from far and wide who made the fourth annual ‘Muskoka School Kids Giant Garage Sale’ such a resounding success!

Thanks to the generosity of those who donated items, volunteered their time, trucks and muscles and made financial contributions at the sale; Jay and Linda Harrison and Carl and I are happy to report that we have met all our goals, and more!

From the sale proceeds, we will be able to purchase the 500 flip-flops and school uniforms for the children at the newly completed ‘Muskoka School’, now in use in rural Siem Reap province in Cambodia! Theses clothes may be the only good set of new clothes that these children have ever had! http://schoolsforcambodia.blogspot.com

$205 was raised in ‘Embracelets’ donations at the sale. This project sponsors Cambodian student girls to attend English school in Cambodia through the sale of bracelets that they make themselves. Your donation of $7 towards a bracelet provides a month of school! http://embraceletsforbooks.blogspot.com

Through the generosity of John Chow of Toronto, who arrived at the sale and contributed $1,000, we can now provide 20 bicycles for rural students in Cambodia who have no way to get to school. http://thebikebankproject.blogspot.com

Also, $400 from sale proceeds will be given towards computer training courses and educational supplies for Burmese refugee students on the Thai-Burma border. http://projectenlightenburma.blogspot.com

Thank you to ‘Muskoka Party Rentals’ of Bracebridge for their use of tents, Father Joe Moran and St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church for their loan of tables, and to superwoman and owner of ‘New Stuff’, Gravenhurst, Mary Woodall for her efforts and contributions!

Many thanks to the following volunteers and contributors who made a big difference in the lives of many children in South East Asia:

Bill and Dora Rathbun, Dan and Linda Blix, Denise Falko, Sue Gibson and her trailer, the Rotary Clubs of Muskoka and Orillia, Marlyn Goodwin, Dr. Nina Cole of Toronto, Dan Crawley of Washago, Ditchburn House, Pam Dunlop, Sue Stockdale, Steve and Eva McCoy for site use, Bill Kinghorn, David Bryce, Kim Barlow, Inge Fritz, Steve Thomas, Andy and Georgie McCoy, Mike and Darlene, Sue and Jon Gurr of Moonview Gallery in Bala, Frank and Penny Prazak, Barb Trimble and to the countless others who contributed in one way or another.

Thanks also goes to Muskoka's fine press for their continuing support: Muskoka Today, What's Up Muskoka, Muskoka Magazine, The Gravenhurst Banner and the Bracebridge Examiner!

Thanks again Muskoka for your enthusiasm and big hearts!

Proud to Be Awarded a Rotary Paul Harris Fellow!

I'm proud and priviledged to be a member of the Rotary Club of Gravenhurst, Ontario, Canada, and humbled and honored to have received a Paul Harris Fellow last month at our annual Rotary President's Night Gala at the New Muskoka Bay Clubhouse.

Friday, July 3, 2009

'Muskoka School Kids' Giant Garage Sale - A Week Away!

“Muskoka School Kids” Giant Garage Sale

Saturday July 11th and/or Sunday, July 12th (raindate) – Dawn to Dusk

270 John St. North – Gravenhurst - Across from Bethune House


Proceeds for flip-flops and school uniforms for our Muskoka School Kids, The Bike Bank Project and scholarships for Burmese Refugee Students.

We Need Your Help to make this sale a Success!

WE NEED:

-Donations of new or good used items.

-Volunteers

-Tarps (to borrow)

- Donations of some take-out pizzas for our volunteer’s lunch

- Donations of Donuts, cookies, a can of coffee, sugar cubes, coffee whitener

- Plastic bags


If you can provide any of the above, please contact Lisa McCoy at 687-8538 or schoolsforcambodia@gmail.com
Gravenhurst Drop-Off location for garage sale items: 960 First St. South – ANYTIME!

For Pick-up of items please contact Lisa McCoy or Jay Harrison at 687-7679
Hundreds of ‘Embracelets’ made by students in Cambodia available at the sale – see http://embraceletsforbooks.blogspot.com/

See photos of kids now using the ‘Muskoka School’ in Cambodia at: http://schoolsforcambodia.blogspot.com/

Thanks for helping our Muskoka School Kids! Tell Everyone about the sale and See You There!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

‘Muskoka School’ in Cambodia Completed!

Over two years of fundraising, donations and volunteering has resulted in the completion of the ‘Muskoka School’ Project in Cambodia, a six-room government elementary school for 500 children in the impoverished village of Ta Trav in Siem Reap district.

Big-hearted Muskoka citizens, Rotary Clubs, area businesses and churches rallied to the cause of these children - half a world away – and raised over US$20,000 toward this school building project! Now, this school will proudly bear the name of Muskoka and its generosity for generations to come.

In the mid-seventies, Cambodia lost a third of its population in a mass genocide led by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. During those years, up to 2,500,000 innocent, precious lives came to unimaginable brutal ends, leaving Cambodia with a young and struggling population.

Not only do these people struggle with poverty, disease and lack of clean water - they suffer these devastating obstacles amidst the over 5,000,000 landmines that still plague the Cambodian countryside.

Recovery for the people of Cambodia is slowly progressing, thanks to organizations such as The Trailblazer Foundation http://thetrailblazerfoundation.org/ and the Ontario-founded Cambodia Landmine Museum Relief Fund (CLMMRF) http://www.cambodialandminemuseum.org/ . The ‘Muskoka School’ is a Community Outreach project of the CLMMRF in collaboration with the Trailblazer Foundation; who managed the project on the ground in Cambodia. This project not only benefits the 500 children who will utilize it, but it also gave some much-needed employment to men and women in this rural area.

As a Rotarian, I am proud of the support that area clubs gave to this project. I am also overwhelmed and humbled by the many ways that Muskokans from all walks of life gave to this project. Some volunteered their time and donated items to our ‘Giant Garage Sales’. Others attended the fundraising evenings generously sponsored by the Boston Pizza Restaurants in Gravenhurst and Bracebridge, and at ‘Upstairs at Regatta’ at Muskoka Wharf. Many people gave in so many ways.

A special thanks to MPP Norm Miller for his support of this project.

Very sincere thanks to the staff and editors of Muskoka Today, Muskoka Magazine, What’s Up Muskoka, Gravenhurst Banner and Bracebridge Examiner.

There was a Muskoka Team behind this project – none of it could have been done without them - so be sure to give each one of them a big pat on the back. Dan Blix, area graphic designer, has been behind this project since Day One, and has put hours of time into it. Likewise, Bill Rathbun, fellow Rotarian – countless hours. Jay and Linda Harrison put their hearts, souls and muscles into this project, and saw the birth of this school for themselves when they came to Cambodia this winter for their 3-week ‘sweat equity’ trip. Rotarians Jim Goodwin and Pat Bongers also worked for the cause. Scott Aitchison and Tim Cantelon of Huntsville also made their way over to Cambodia to visit the Muskoka School children, and generously supported this project.

So, so many people to thank. They are all mentioned in previous posts on this blog. Be sure to read about all those who have contributed.

A special thanks of support to ‘Project Enlighten’ – http://projectenlighten.org/ . Each winter, all of our organizations head over to Cambodia, self-funded, and get involved with scholarship programs, school-building projects, cow and bike bank projects and numerous other projects to benefit the children and people of Cambodia, Burma and Laos.

This November members of the Rotary Club of Toronto (and I) will be heading over to Cambodia to fund and build the initial buildings of a wonderful vocational college project in another poor area of Siem Reap District – The Bakong Technical College http://www.bakongtechcollege.org/ . I’m hoping to get some area Rotary members to join along on this trip. More news on how you can support this project soon. Information on making Canadian tax-deductible donations to this project can be obtained by emailing me at schoolsforcambodia@gmail.com

Many children in Cambodia will now have a chance at their Future Dreams Made Real through the opportunity of education at the Muskoka School.

The official Inauguration Ceremony for the school will be held late this fall. I’ll be there to represent the kindness of those in Muskoka who gave in so many ways for these children.

In the meantime; please read on and see how you can further help these 500 children. They need flip-flops and school uniforms. Please donate your items to our Giant Garage Sale on July 11 in Gravenhurst, across from Bethune House. Call us now to have your items picked up – Jay Harrison 705-687-7679 or Lisa McCoy 705-687-7679.

Many Thanks Muskoka!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

‘Muskoka School’ Progress! – Giant Garage Sale July 11th…And MORE!

The citizens and Rotary Clubs of Muskoka have lots to be proud of – a government elementary school is being built in their honor for hundreds of impoverished children in rural Siem Reap province, Cambodia.

This school presently has over 350 children in attendance at the dilapidated wooden structure on the Ta Trav school site. With the completion of the new six-room cement school building, the attendance is expected to rise to 500 students.
I’ve been back from Cambodia over 3 weeks now, and have received numerous updates from the Trailblazer Foundation (www.trailblazerfoundation.org), the US-based organization on the ground in Cambodia implementing this wonderful school project. The Trailblazer Foundation is building this school in collaboration with the Canadian-founded ‘Cambodian Landmine Museum Relief Fund’ (http://cambodialandminemuseum.org/). This blog entry shows a couple of photos from the April 7th and April 21st progress updates which I have received. To see more photos, please visit my Picasa Web Album Site at: http://picasaweb.google.com/schoolsforcambodia/ .

As I write, the signs are being made for the school, and soon they will be ready to put the roof on the school. There is a second new latrine being built beside the school. This project will be finished sometime late in May, at which time the students will start to have classes in the new building.

The official inauguration for the ‘Muskoka School’ Project will occur in November or December 2009 and I’ll be there in person for that grand event.
During my visits to the school site, I encountered a couple of needs that the ‘Muskoka School’ kids have. First, and most important – they need shoes! The majority don’t have any of the standard Cambodian footwear – the flip-flop. This results in the children becoming susceptible to hookworm infestation – a nasty parasite that enters through the soles of the feet, and work their way up to the intestinal tract causing severe illness. For US$300, five hundred flip flops can be purchased at a local market in Siem Reap. Secondly, many of the children don’t have the standard government blue-and-white school uniforms. They can be purchased locally for US$3-$6, depending on size.

Mark Saturday, July 11th on your calendars – that’s the day we’re having the Annual Giant Garage Sale for the ‘Muskoka School’ children. We’re asking everyone to donate good-used items for this sale, which will raise money for shoes and uniforms for the children. Please consider volunteering for the day – we’ll need lots of manpower. Call or email me with goods to donate, or to volunteer at 705-687-8538 or schoolsforcambodia@gmail.com . Thanks Carol Fraser and Jay & Linda Harrison for volunteering!

Money raised from this sale will also go toward some bikes for some needy students. US35 will see a bicycle, complete with carrier, lamp and basket go to needy rural students who otherwise have no way to get to school. This is done through the new Bike Bank Project – Cambodia: http://thebikebankproject.blogspot.com/ . It is with huge delight that I report to you on the fundraising efforts of a grade eight class at Huntsville Public School. They are presently fundraising for a bicycle for needy student in Cambodia! Take on the challenge, and have your class or group consider this small fundraising endeavor that can result in a huge change in the life of a Cambodian child.

As many of you know, I am as equally compelled to help the Burmese refugee students, as I am the Khmer students. All of us at ‘Project Enlighten’ (www.projectenlighten.org) have dedicated ourselves to a new project: Information and Technology Computer training scholarships (CICT Program) for the Burmese refugee students that I taught this past winter at ‘The All Burma Student’s I.T. Union’ in Mae Sot on the Thai-Burma border (ABITSU – www.abitsu.org ). For US $300 you can sponsor a student in a four-month intensive computer training course which will enable a student to further their education in this field. The course is done through internationally recognized ‘Brainbench.com’ . More information on the ‘Project Enlighten’ sponsored CICT Program can be found at http://projectenlightenburma.blogspot.com/ . Some of the proceeds from the Giant Garage Sale will go to this cause and the cause mentioned below.

Likewise, I have personally challenged myself to provide help for the ‘Kayan Women’s Organization’, a group of young Kayan women from Shan state in Burma. As a recipient of the Muskoka YWCA’s Women of Distinction Exceptional Achievements Award, I am a strong believer of women and human rights. Women in military-controlled and heavily censored Burma know little of the outside world and suffer constant violence and suppression by the military. I spent a month teaching English to these young women. Project Enlighten funded the repair of their computers, and purchased a television for them. Two of my students have recently gone back inside Burma for a few months to teach other women in their remote state. You can read more about these young Christian women on my Project Enlighten – Burma blog site.

Please visit my new blog site announcing a very special project: ‘Embracelets For Books’. I came back with 440 beautiful hand-woven bracelets made by elementary students in Siem Reap. No two bracelets are alike! The sale of these bracelets ( $6 - $8 ) goes towards further education for the students who made them. Naret Duk, our Project Enlighten Scholarship recipient in Cambodia is founder of this marvelous project, with Dan Blix and I acting as her Canadian Project Managers. I am pleased to announce that so far $80 in bracelet sales has been raised. Read more at: http://embraceletsforbooks.blogspot.com/

The month of May will see co-Rotarian Bill Rathbun and I busy giving presentations to Rotary Clubs throughout Muskoka. Please contact me if your group or service club would like a presentation.

On a sad note:
BOU SENG HOURT1981 - 2009

With a very heavy heart and profound sadness we at the Cambodian Landmine Museum Relief Fund announce the passing of Bou Seng Hourt.
Hourt was the wife of Aki Ra, the gentle mother of Amatak, Mine, Meta and dozens of children who called the Cambodia Landmine Museum their home.
She made all our lives richer for having known her.
We will miss her.

In tribute to Hourt, I include the last photos I took of her this winter. Hourt was a champion of women who dedicated her life to landmine removal and the young victims of these remnants of war. She spent her days beside Akira in the minefields, was mother to countless child landmine survivors and spent hours in the running of the museum and facility in Siem Reap.

Last of all, a very special thanks to Gravenhurst supporters Bill Rathbun and Dan Blix who spend hours doing their part to help the children of Cambodia and the young refugees from Burma. They kept me going this winter while I was in SE Asia.

Search for me on Facebook, and become a friend of mine. This past winter, my Burmese English Class students intoduced me to Facebook - now help me make it grow!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Final March ‘Muskoka School’ Visit

More final March Muskoka School photos can be found at:
http://picasaweb.google.com/schoolsforcambodia/MuskokaSchoolFinalMarch2009Visit#
I arrived back in Siem Reap the day before yesterday and the following morning made my final visit to the ‘Muskoka School’ Project Site before heading back to Canada tomorrow.

In total, I’ve made five visits to this school-building project site in Ta Trav village, Siem Reap province this winter, and was utterly amazed at the progress each time. I have to admit that this last visit was the most exciting because I can clearly envision now what the school will look like upon completion. Muskoka citizens and area Rotary Clubs can be very proud of what they accomplished through all their hard fundraising efforts!

Windows are in place, cement is covering most of the walls, floors are being flooded and beautiful balustrades are being made for the front porch railing. Soon, the metal roof will go on, front porch will be finished and then the last step will be pouring the floors. I found out yesterday that the school will also be handicap accessible with a cement wheelchair ramp in place. A recent request for a second latrine to be built beside the school will also be implemented shortly. Project completion should occur sometime late May, just before the beginning of the rainy season, and then the children will begin taking classes in their new six-room school.
The school’s grand opening will take place in late fall, so I’ll be able to attend and record this momentous celebration.

There are smiles on all the workers faces – these village workers are so proud of what they are accomplishing. Project and site managers have done an excellent job! The big congratulations goes to The Trailblazer Foundation, the registered charity from the United States, that has implemented so many beneficial projects in Siem Reap Province ( www.trailblazerfoundation.org ). This is their biggest school-building project yet. They are in the early stages of planning a building project next winter that will see a large three-room kindergarten facility built for the education of ninety 3-5 year-old children, so their mothers can go out and work or receive training in job related skills at their women’s center. Trailblazers has installed many water filtration systems in this province and also installs hand-pull water pumps.

Many thanks go to Scott and Chris Coates, who volunteer for months here every winter to oversee these wonderful projects, and who have arranged the site visits for myself, and for the volunteers from Muskoka who visited here this past winter.

The ‘Muskoka School’ children have a couple of needs that I have discussed with Chris. First of all – they all need sandals (flip-flops). $300US will buy about 500 pairs. Chris has a market supplier that gives them this very good price. Not only do the kids wear these shoes, they also play a type of curling/tossing game with them at recess!

Also, some of the children need the mandatory blue and white school government school uniforms. The two-piece uniform costs about $3-$5US each for small sizes, and about $6US for large sizes. Chris will look into the exact pricing of these uniforms for me.

It would certainly be wonderful to come back in the fall and supply our ‘Muskoka School’ children with these items. Some of my upcoming fundraising efforts will go towards this. When I get back home to Gravenhurst, I will begin plans for our ‘Giant Garage Sale’, which will take place in June this year. Money raised from this sale will go towards shoes and uniforms for the ‘Muskoka School’ children, bicycles for needy rural students ($35US each), and for the Information and Technology Computer training scholarships (CICT Program) for the Burmese refugee students that I taught this past winter at ‘The All Burma Student’s I.T. Union’ in Mae Sot on the Thai-Burma border (ABITSU – www.abitsu.org ).

More information on the ‘Project Enlighten’ sponsored CICT Program can be found at http://projectenlightenburma.blogspot.com/ . More about ‘The Bike Bank Project – Cambodia’ can be obtained at: http://thebikebankproject.blogspot.com/ .

You can contribute to these worthwhile projects by donating your used items to the ‘Giant Garage Sale’ by calling me at 705-687-8538, or emailing me at: schoolsforcambodia@gmail.com . I am also available to give visual presentations regarding these projects and my past winter’s endeavors to any group.
I have more exciting news coming soon about another Rotary Club sponsored educational facility that will be built this coming winter. So, please keep your eye on this blog for further details as they come.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

'Muskoka School' Walls, Windows and Doors take Shape!

Posted now are photos of the Ta Trav school construction from March 10th and March 12th. Rattana, the ‘Muskoka School’ Project Manager from The Trailblazer Foundation
( www.trailblazerfoundation.org )
reports that the construction is 40-50% complete. It is anticipated that in June the entire project should be complete! This will hopefully include the proposed addition of a second 2-stall toilet.
Last week, Trailblazer’s Scott and Chris Coates had a meeting with But Kari, Angkor Thom District Chief, to discuss options on when the inauguration could occur. Kari said that the school must be completely finished before the inauguration could be held. He also noted that May was a busy month with elections, so the inauguration cannot be planned then. It would have to be either the end of April or later in the year. It could well be that the inauguration will take place near the end of the year, in which case members from the Trailblazer Foundation and myself could be in attendance!
The photos are truly amazing, aren’t they!? You can see more of them at: http://picasaweb.google.com/schoolsforcambodia
I’ll be heading back to Siem Reap on March 30th, which will leave me with three days in which to make a final visit to the ‘Muskoka School’ Site.

Also, I'll be checking up on a new project that Ronnie Yimsut and I are working on. Be sure to visit the new Blog for this project at: http://thebikebankproject.blogspot.com/
Since the beginning of March, I’ve been busy teaching English classes here in the Thai-Burma border town of Mae Sot. I’m teaching 10 students at the Kayan Women’s Organization. In this class there are also 3 Pao ethnic boys. The Kayan and Pao ethnic minorities are included in the group of ethnic groups that comprise 10%, or less of the population of Burma.
The Kayan women are characteristically known as the long-necked women of Burma which elongate their necks with the practice of adding metal coils to the neck. My Kayan students do not participate in this practice, in fact, they are here on the border, taking various courses in women’s leadership training, IT courses and human and women’s rights courses. They reside in a safe house here while taking their training, and eventually will take their knowledge back into Burma to teach others.

During the day, I also teach a three-hour English class at The All Burma IT Students’ Union (ABITSU - www.abitsu.org ). I taught at this Burmese organization for 2 months last winter, and am happy to be back to teach their new group of students. ‘Project Enlighten’ ( www.projectenlighten.org ) is proud to be supporting the IT courses for over 10 of their students. As a team member of ‘Project Enlighten’, I was here in May working with ABITSU in getting emergency relief aid into Burma via Burmese registered citizens. Trucks were loaded up here and aid was distributed to over 44,000. ‘Project Enlighten’ was one of many western organizations here during that time, which worked with Burmese organizations to get aid into Burma.
The present situation inside Burma is still one that sees most of the population living in dire poverty and suppression inflicted upon them by an irrepressible military dictatorship. The military uses children and people in forced labor. The junta periodically raids innocent villages and destroys them. The education system is sub-standard. There is no adequate health care for the general population. The military spends over 80% of the national budget on itself. The military is holding over 2,000 political prisoners, some who are sentenced to over 150 years in prison. Honorary Canadian Citizen and Peace Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is still under house arrest despite cries from around the world for her release. She is due to be released in May, but it is very unlikely that she will be.

Many Burmese risk their lives daily to escape these harsh brutalities by crossing illegally into the countries of Thailand and India, where they live their lives in limbo either in the jungles, or in a safe house or refugee camp on the borders. It is these people that I come here to try and help, as education is a key to the future for many of these refugees.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Walls Go Up at ‘Muskoka School’ Site! -- Phnom Penh, Elephants, Tarantulas, Snakes and Bicycles!

It’s been a busy 2 weeks for Muskoka residents Jay and Linda Harrison and I. We’ve been out to the ‘Muskoka School’ site twice, spend afternoons teaching at the Voluntary Development Poverty Children School – Jay & Linda rebuilt the library shelves there, spent 3 days in Phnom Penh, failed at our attempt to climb Mount Chi So, gave out 5 bicycles to needy students, and had our first encounter with a large unidentified Cambodian snake out in the countryside of Bakong district.

Last Tuesday’s visit to the ‘Muskoka School’ construction site at the school grounds in rural Ta Trav village found progress well ahead of schedule. The cement is pouring and the walls are going up! The school children are pitching in during their free time and they’re having a great time working together shoveling and hauling fill. We found out the hard way, when we started to pitch in, that the work these kids were doing is not that easy. It’s hot work too, as now temperatures are daily between 35-40 degrees Celsius.

Thanks to Chris Coates from the Trailblazer Foundation, Contractor Von Rotha, and Trailblazer Project Manager Ung Chanrattana for giving us the ride out to the ‘Muskoka School’ Site with them. Khmer men and women from the surrounding villages are working hard and fast to get this school built. I’m sure that when I return to Siem Reap the last week in March that I’ll be walking into classrooms with a roof overhead!

Back in Siem Reap, Jay, Linda and I have been going out 5 days a week to the Voluntary Development Poverty Children School (VDPCS). There’s lots of happy news to report from there! Jay and Linda have successfully and cost-effectively revamped the existing library shelving resulting in double the shelf space! The books all have cards and pockets in place, and 3 days ago, the first students borrowed books to take home. They are allowed to borrow one book each, with a lending period of three days. A few students looked at us in disbelief when we explained this to them – they could not believe they could actually take one of these precious books home! Thanks again Robena Kirton!

Jay and Linda have also continued teaching several more classes in health, first-aid, electricity and engineering. As well as giving these kids valuable education, they have also widened their scope by introducing them to some different professions to choose from for their future. They’ve given these kids some real inspiration.

We took a three day respite to go visit Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. My dear friend Un Vanthon, and his family took good care of all of us. Vanthon is a tuk tuk driver who was a victim who survived the harsh brutality that the Pol Pot regime inflicted on so many Khmer people his age. He took Jay and Linda to the Killing Fields, Camp S-21, Wat Phnom, the Royal Palace and the markets. Jay and Linda also rode on Phnom Penh’s most famous resident – 47 year-old Sambo the Elephant! Not only had Sambo survived the Khmer Rouge era, but one can see her bravely plod through morning and evening Phnom Penh city rush hour traffic on her way to her place of employment at Wat Phom, where she daily gives many joyous elephant rides to tourists, who in return feed her bunches of bananas and many other treats!

Phnom Penh is a city with many beggars on the streets. We encountered numerous beggars every time we walked out the front door of our hotel. Many are victims of landmines or disfigured by disease. There are many mothers with children who sleep all night with their naked babies on the sidewalks. Some are begging because they honestly have no other way to make money, and there are some that you wonder about…and I have encountered many beggars during my past 4 winters over here, but none left more an ‘impression’ on me than the following young ingenious little entrepreneur: This young, maybe 11 year-old boy, was walking up and down the streets with two huge live tarantulas climbing all over his face and body. He would walk up to an unsuspecting tourist and grab him/her by the shirt sleeve, pull him into the nearest shop, and ask the tourist to buy him something to eat or drink. I watched him for a while. Finally one tourist bought him a can of ‘Red Bull’ (that’s what the kid pointed at!). Then the kid put one tarantula in his pocket, opened his mouth and placed other one on his lips. The tourist snapped numerous photos of the tarantula crawling into his mouth! Lucky for Linda she was not with me at the time… we’ve had a few Huge Spider Encounters at the school where we volunteer, and one night there was a huge one in my room!


On our last day there, we made a 2 hour tuk tuk ride south of Phnom Penh to Mount Chi So. It was our goal to climb the 412 steps to the top to see the fabulous temple up there. It was a sweltering day, and we tried our best, but just couldn’t make it to the top – just too hot! So we came back down, sought some shade, and happily ate a wonderful Khmer picnic lunch that Vanthon’s wife and daughter prepared for us.

A few days ago we also made a trek out to Bakong district where the first few Bicycles were given out to some very needy students and families. Three of the bikes were purchased by generous Muskoka donors, and two were purchased by Peg and Keith Wheeler. There is enough money now to buy a sixth bike from the money left over, and through a donation by my dear student friend Khemra! They are the first five bikes given out under a new ‘Bicycle Loan Program’ that Project Enlighten Team Member Ronnie Yimsut and I are working on. Ronnie is a professional landscape architect, author and survivor of the Khmer Rouge era. He commandeered the successful cow bank and micro-loan projects in Bakong, and is now in the early stages of building a huge technical college for the rural people there – the Bakong Technical College. We had an informative day visiting these projects.

In the past, Ronnie had implemented a bicycle project which resulted in hundreds of rural students receiving bicycles. With his expert help, I know that we’ll be able to help hundreds more! The fabulous bikes that you see pictured here were only $32US each, and will provide life-changing opportunities for the kids (and families!!) that get them. Giving out those first five bikes has inspired me to dedicate a couple of thousand dollars from this year’s annual Giant Muskoka Garage Sale towards providing more bicycles for students here. I should add that all this could not have been done without the help of my good friends and ‘Khmer Family’ here – Naret, Yarann and his wife Saeng. Saeng and Naret work tirelessly out in Bakong running the micro-loan project for the rural people there. Currently there are 84 families in the program. Yarann and Saeng know well the needs of this district and were quick to identify families in need of a bicycle. Two of the bicycles were given to a couple of university students in Siem Reap. The one girl will be able to attend VDPCS now for free supplementary English Classes, and will have a chance to get a job too. The other girl desperately needed the bicycle to get to school. Successful Bicycle Programs have been implemented in many developing countries – resulting in a way to gain education and employment.

I’m writing this in Bangkok, as tomorrow I make my way up to the border town of Mae Sot on the northwest border of Thailand. There is lots of great volunteer work awaiting me there. I’ll be teaching English classes to the new IT students at the All Burma I. T. Student’s Union (ABITSU). As a Team Member of Project Enlighten ( www.projectenlighten.org ) we are in the first stages, along with ABITSU, in fundraising for, and implementing a Capacity Building Program for these students which will result in Certification In Information and Communication Technology (CICT) . This I.T. Scholarship Program will give many Burmese Refugee students the certification required toward a future job in the field of computer technology. More about this program in my next blog update. I’ll also be teaching English to young women from the Kayan Women’s Organization, and I’ll spend a short time in Camp Nu Po as well. It will be good to see my dear Burmese friends again, and to make some new ones too!

Oh Yes! - I forgot to tell you about the Cambodian Snake Encounter!...During our visit out to Bakong, at Yarann’s family homestead, we saw some men furiously shoveling away around the bottom of a tree. They had seen a snake, and were in the process of unearthing it before it got away. There are numerous species of poisonous snakes in Cambodia, so it’s not too nice knowing that one is living right beside your house! Sure enough the men unearthed it, and one of the men picked it up so he could have his photo taken with it! The men then proceeded to do it in, and then left it out in the sun…to be eaten for dinner later that day…yes…this is true!

Let me know if you can identify this 4-5 foot snake species!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

‘Muskoka School’ Progress! Rotarians Making a Difference!

It’s been a busy week since Rotarians Jay and Linda Harrison arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia! There is so much exciting news to report that I really don’t know where to begin!

Jay and Linda arrived exactly a week ago after a tiring few days of airports and air travel. Due to a cancellation of one of their flights, they spent an over 20-hour wait at Seoul airport. But that did not stop them from getting right into active volunteering here in Siem Reap!

Peg and Keith Wheeler, Project Enlighten supporters from California, also arrived the same evening. I can’t tell you how thankful I am to have volunteers here helping out with the numerous projects on the go right now.

First, let me report on the astounding progress at the ‘Muskoka School’ Project Site. What a difference a week makes. Many Thanks to the Trailblazer Foundation, www.trailblazerfoundation.org for providing us with another visit to the site – this time inside a comfortable pick-up truck. When we arrived at the site, our jaws literally dropped – we could not believe how far along the project is at present! Have a look at last week’s photos compared to this blog entry’s photos! By now, they’ll be busy pouring cement, and beginning to construct the walls for this enormous six-room Cambodian Ministry of Education certified public school. There is another site visit planned for Jay, Linda and I on Tuesday, February 23rd. I’ll make one more visit to the school site during the last week of March when I return from the Thai-Burma border. I’ll be making that 24 hour land journey to the border on Thursday to do some Project Enlighten work there.

Since Jay and Linda arrived, we’ve pretty well spent 5-6 hours everyday at the Project Enlighten, ( www.projectenlighten.org ) supported Voluntary Development Poverty Children School on the outskirts of Siem Reap city. Jay and Linda came loaded with donations for this school which provides free education for over 600 children. Jay and Linda successfully revamped the present library shelving which resulted in giving the library at this school double the existing shelf space! Not an easy job given the fact that there is limited availability of wood and tools here. A lot of literal sweat went into this job – temperatures are over 30 degrees everyday now along with high humidity.

Peg and Keith Wheeler, Linda Harrison and all the kids at the school have been busy with gluing pockets in all the books and getting the book cards written out. A couple more days work on that project, and it will be done! The children have been eagerly volunteering everyday – they know that this project will result in the ability for them to borrow books to take home and read! ! Thanks so much to Robena Kirton back in Gravenhurst for all her support to make this project feasible. We have spent so many rewarding hours interacting with the wonderful teachers and children at this school!

Along with working the school’s library, Jay and Linda have been busy teaching there as well! Jay has been doing some IT training to monks and students at the school, and Linda has put her nursing skills to good use by giving some basic health and first-aid classes at the school! They’ll be doing more of that next week!


Linda has been doing some after school hours nursing as well!! Several weeks ago, our Project Enlighten Khmer team member on-the-ground here in Siem Reap suffered horrific third degree burns down one leg when a food cart with boiling oil ran into him and the oil spilled down his leg. For a few weeks now, California Rotarian Bill Morse
( www.landmine-relief-fund.com ) and I have been taking Sim Sao for daily dressing changes to the Royal International Hospital here. Since Linda’s arrival, she has been funding, assessing and administering the daily dressing changes. Thanks to Peg Wheeler for taking over while we spend three days presently in Phnom Penh.

Our ‘gang’ has also made a visit out to the Canadian-founded Cambodian Landmine Museum and Relief Facility, where Bill Morse and Facility Founder Richard Fitoussi took us all on a very informative VIP tour of the grounds. It was great opportunity for everyone to learn more about the estimated over 5,000,000 landmines and UXO that still plague the Cambodian countryside.

Thanks so much to Bill Morse’s wife Jill for giving us an impromptu morning session filled with many tips and techniques for teaching English as a second language – her profession back in California.

Jay, Linda and I also made a morning visit to the Angkor Hospital For Children here where we learned more about the dire health concerns and issues that most children in Cambodia deal with on a daily basis. Everyday we drive by the huge Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital where crowds of parents and children wait for hours in the hot sun seeking the free medical treatment that this fabulous hospital provides. These children are the lucky ones, as most children in the countryside don’t have the money or means to get to Siem Reap for this expert medical treatment. As a result, one in every seven children in Cambodia doesn’t live past the age of five.

In the past week three bicycles have been purchased thanks to generous donations from Muskoka Rotarians Pat Bongers, Keith Montgomery, Jack Huggett and Ken Little. These excellent second-hand refurbished bicycles, at a price of $32US each, are completely outfitted with carriers, baskets and a generator-powered light. These bicycles are the first 3 purchased for a new ‘Bike Loan Program’ that Project Enlighten Team Member Ronnie Yimsut and I are presently working out the details for. Our goal is to provide bicycles on loan for needy students who have no way of getting to school. They will use these bicycles for the duration of their school transportation needs, and then it will be passed on to another student in need. One bicycle is destined for a needy student attending Build Bright University in Siem Reap, and 2 will be going out to Bakong district with us on Wednesday morning. I’ll be providing photos of these recipients in my next blog update.

Jay, Linda and I are currently spending 3 days in Phnom Penh where Jay and Linda are visiting historical sights including the Killing Fields, Camp S-21 (the genocide museum, where over 14,000 Khmer were tortured and killed in the mid-seventies), the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, Wat Phnom and the National Museum. They’ll be having their first elephant ride today as well!

Tomorrow we head out for a long Tuk Tuk trek into the countryside to Chi So Mountain where we will be visiting the ancient hilltop ruins there that pre-date Angkor Wat. We are in the good hands of my dear Khmer friend and Tuk Tuk driver Un Vanthon, whose wife is going to the trouble of cooking us a Khmer picnic that we’ll be able to feast on after we’ve climbed the over 500 steps to the hilltop ruins.

More news in a few days!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

‘Muskoka School’ Project Groundbreaking!

Great excitement and anticipation yesterday as team members from the Trailblazer Foundation ( www.trailblazerfoundation.org ) and myself hopped on our motos at 8am to make the 45-minute ride on the dusty roads to the ‘Muskoka School’ Project site!

This was the day that Muskoka and all the people here on the ground have long been waiting for – the Official Groundbreaking of the new 6-room cement public school in the rural impoverished village of Ta Trav, about 25km northwest of Siem Reap.

What a surprise to get to this site and to find that the ‘ground’ has already been well-broken. All the footings have already been hand-dug! It takes a whole day for one man just to dig two of these footing holes with a simple shovel! String is already laid down determining the division of each classroom. Trucks come by periodically with loads of fill which will be mixed with rocks and cement used to fill the footing holes. Nearby a crew of mostly women, are busy cutting up lengths of rebar, hammering them straight with the backside of an ax, and then forming them into small squares that will be used in the school construction. This project gives the nearby villagers much-needed work. The villagers participating are split into shifts, so everyone can benefit from the employment that this school project brings.

Imagine – over 500 students will benefit from this new school. They are just so excited about the new school that they will get which is being built to Cambodian Ministry of Education specifications.

On-hand for yesterday’s joyous occasion were the engineers, government and commune representatives and members of the Trailblazer Foundation. This school-building project is a collaborative endeavor of the Trailblazer Foundation and the Cambodia Landmine Museum Relief Fund ( www.cambodialandminemuseumrelieffund.org )

Things will go fast from here on in. In a day or two, they will start filling in the footings.
Jay and Linda Harrison from Gravenhurst will arrive here in two days. We will plan another visit out to the site next week.

I have four short video clips that I’ll be putting on YouTube, and will be shortly putting tons of photos of the school site on my Picasa Web Album Site: http://picasaweb.google.com/schoolsforcambodia/ , so become a follower of this blogsite for further updates.

I’m still busy spending weekdays at the Voluntary Development Poverty Children School here on the outskirts of Siem Reap. I spend many rewarding afternoons with the kids there reading and doing crafts. Jay and Linda will be arriving with library cards and pockets so we can process all the books which will enable the students to borrow them and read them at home! VDPSC is anxiously awaiting the shelf-building project that Jay has planned for the library.
Always lots to do here in Siem Reap!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Muskokans Visit ‘Muskoka School' Site!

Yesterday was a memorable day spent with Scott Aitchison and Tim Cantelon from Muskoka as they visited the ‘Muskoka School’ project site and the Cambodia Landmine Museum here in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Scott and Tim are currently touring through Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and arrived in Siem Reap 2 days ago to spend 3 amazing days here. Yesterday was the day they had set aside to visit the ‘Muskoka School’ site in the rural village of Ta Trav, 25km northwest of Siem Reap. Ground breaking for this school building project is only days away with material delivery to the site on February 5, and construction commencing on February 10! Estimated completion date could be sometime in May.

Scott and Tim are generous supporters of the Muskoka School Project, who contributed to a classroom which will be designated as the ‘Huntsville Classroom’.

Everyone at the Trailblazer Foundation ( www.trailblazerfoundation.org ) here in Siem Reap is in full swing now that all the finances and official government paperwork are in place for this building project. The ‘Muskoka School’ Project is a Community Outreach Project of the Cambodia Landmine Museum Relief Fund www.cambodialandminemuseum.org in collaboration with the Trailblazer Foundation.

Scott, Tim and I met at a central café in Siem Reap for breakfast, and shortly after 9am Ben, Brian and Khmer team members from the Trailblazer Foundation arrived with our transportation to Ta Trav village. We climbed into the open back of the Trailblazer pick-up truck and made our way out to the countryside. It was slow going on bumpy, dusty roads. Everywhere you look everything is covered in the dry, red dust characteristic to Cambodia.

It was really great to get back to the school site again, and especially nice to show it off to fellow Muskokans. At present 478 children are attending the 4-room wooden structure in desperate need of repair as its main beams are infested with termites. Ben Gooding from Trailblazers took us through the school and its grounds, and we were invited into a classroom and treated to a chorus of song from the Khmer students. We met the director and were treated to a fresh coconut drink from one of the school ground trees.

After spending a good hour at the site, we headed back to Siem Reap for lunch at a favorite spot of mine – the Green House restaurant.

Canadian Richard Fitoussi, Project Manager of the Cambodia Landmine Museum Relief Fund met us after lunch and we took the 40-minute ride out to the Landmine Museum for a VIP tour of the museum and its facility for the landmine kids that are housed there.

Needless to say, Scott and Tim had an enlightening and memorable day and have lots of photos and memories to take back home to Muskoka with them.

But Scott and Tim aren’t the only friends from Muskoka visiting Siem Reap this winter. I’m looking forward to the arrival of Jay and Linda Harrison from Gravenhurst on February 14th. They’ll be coming over to do some volunteer teaching and to build shelves for the Library at the Voluntary Development Poverty Children School on the outskirts of Siem Reap. They’ll bring bringing tons of library supplies donated by Robena Kirton from Gravenhurst. Jay and Linda will be coming loaded with supplies for this school and other worthwhile projects as well.

Exciting times ahead in Siem Reap!

Many thanks go to the ‘Muskoka School’ Team back home, who keep things going for me while I’m over here. Special thanks to my husband Carl, Dan Blix, Bill Rathbun, Jay and Linda Harrison. Thanks to all the residents and Rotary Clubs of Muskoka and beyond, who contributed towards the ‘Muskoka School’ Project.

Enjoy watching a short video shot yesterday of a class of students singing at the ‘Muskoka School’ site at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCED3fADlS8

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Library Project! A Bracelet Weaving Project!

It’s really amazing what worthwhile projects one can become involved with when volunteering here in Cambodia. While waiting for the groundbreaking of the ‘Muskoka School’ Project to occur, I have become involved in a couple of rewarding projects here.

A while back, I had the opportunity to visit one of the schools for poor children on the outskirts of Siem Reap. The Voluntary Development Poverty Children’s School (VDPCS) provides free education for over 600 children. This school is supported by ‘Project Enlighten’ www.projectenlighten.org . Most children in Cambodia can’t afford the 300 riel per day to attend school. Families who can afford it, usually only send their eldest son to school, leaving the other children in the family without an education. Of the 600 children at VDPCS, over 60% are girls. Kindergarten to grade 11 curriculum is taught at this school.

Many of the children at this school have lost either one or both of their parents (a large proportion to HIV). Many of the children at this school work or beg in the streets to subsidize their families’ incomes. Children from the surrounding area attend this school faithfully and eagerly six days a week!

One of the great things about this school is that it has a special room designated as a Library! It was during my first visit to this library, that the school director, Mr. Togh, had mentioned to me hat the Library’s over 600 books (primarily in English) were totally unorganized and unlabelled. When Mr. Togh heard that I had worked over 20 years in the public library field in Canada, he asked if I could help to organize the collection. I am now head over heels involved in a fantastic project that will benefit English language education for these children.

Shally is the teacher/librarian here at the school. When I told him how libraries operate back home, and how children can loan books and take them home for a period of time, he exclaimed “I want to be able to do that here too!” At present, children can only look at the books briefly in-between classes – how much more their English could improve, if they could takes the books home! What enjoyment these children could experience by being able to read a book at home! Most of these kids don’t have tv, toys or any other sources of entertainment.

So, I sent out an email to Robena Kirton, Chief Librarian at the Gravenhurst Public Library back home. She is personally donating bookends, rolls of library tape, posters, etc, for this library.

Of the 4 walls in this library, only one has any shelving. My good friend and Rotarian, Jay Harrison and his wife Linda will be arriving here in Siem Reap on Friday, February 13th! - A lucky day for the kids at the VDPCS, because Jay and Linda will be funding and building a whole new wall of shelves for the library there. They’ll also be bringing along all the donations from Robena Kirton. They are also trying to round up some much-needed non-fiction books for the library here. Then our work here will really begin.

While the shelves are being built, we will also be writing the titles of each book on a book card, gluing book pockets in each book and placing the completed book card in each pocket. All along the students here have been volunteering their free time to help process and label the books. That part of the work was completed yesterday. You would not believe how eager the kids are to get into that library everyday and help with this project. They are so excited at the aspect of being able to take a book home to study and read.

I have a few more days of cleanup in the library now, and then, while we wait for the arrival of the library donations to arrive in February, Shally and I thought it would be great to hold some library ‘Storytimes’ with crafts for the kids in the library.

All-in-all, a great project to enhance the English reading skills of the eager learners here at the poverty school.


Now for some news on a second great project underway – Bracelet Weaving for the poor Khmer children here, and the Burmese refugee students in Mae Sot! You could call it the makings of a small cottage industry that will help bring in some extra income for these students. This idea was the brainchild of Olivia Lorge, co-founder of ‘Project Enlighten’, with some great ideas on how to market and expand on this project from my good friend and supporter Dan Blix of Gravenhurst.

Here’s what we are up to:

Olivia went to a shop back in Thailand and bought some colorful string for weaving bracelets. She remembered doing this craft when she was younger. She showed me the simple braiding pattern that she had remembered.

The house where I am staying at here in Siem Reap is owned by a Khmer family with three daughters. One evening I invited the three girls up to my room to do some bracelet weaving with me. Much to my surprise, they all too well knew this craft and knew of dozens more patterns, some incorporating beads! We soon ran out of the supply of string that I had on hand, so I’m now trying to find out where I can get some suitable hemp, string and beads around here.

The three girls decided that they want the bracelets and necklaces that they wove be given to poor children to raise some money for food, clothes, etc. When Dan Blix heard this, he suggested that perhaps some of the schoolchildren at VDPCS could make some bracelets to sell to raise money for the school, with perhaps a small artist’s fee given to the children who made them.

I’ll be spending the month of March teaching English in a safe house in Mae Sot to a group of Burmese ethnic Kayan young women and girls. These women are traditionally known as the long-necked women, who wear the gold rings around their neck. These women are not wearing this traditional encumbrance, and are presently being schooled in human rights, women’s rights and other courses in Mae Sot. They are being schooled in Mae Sot and then will go back to Burma to share their knowledge with other women within their villages there.

The only income these women have is from the very few odd sewing jobs that arrive at the safe house. This bracelet weaving project would be an excellent idea for some extra income for them. The bracelets and necklaces could be sold at a local market, with the funds going back to them. I’d like to get a huge supply of materials over to them for March. Once they have learned this craft, they can take that skill back with them into Burma to teach their friends in the poor villages there.

My other idea it to take some of these supplies in to the remote refugee Camp Nu Po that our Project Enlighten team visited over Christmas. The school children at the 2 needy schools there could make these items to sell at the markets, and the funds could be used for school supplies, which can be bought extremely cheaply here.

Today is Sunday, my day off from school. I’ll be having lunch soon with our ‘Project Enlighten’ university scholarship girls. It is always such a delight to get together with them.

Richard Fitoussi from the Cambodia Landmine Museum Relief Fund arrives in Siem Reap tomorrow. The exciting plans for the ‘Muskoka School’ Project will then be getting into full swing. Next Sunday, I’ll be spending the day at the school site. I have been asked to give an hour-and-a-half class and craft there. It will be fun to get involved with the kids at Ta Trav Village again!