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, 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, ( ) 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
( ) 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!