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!