Thursday, February 18, 2010

‘Muskoka School’ Official Inauguration Ceremony!

A Grand Day for all those here in Cambodia and back in Muskoka District in Canada, who contributed funding of over US$20,000 towards the ‘Muskoka School Project’ in rural Siem Reap District.

The February 18th, 2010 morning ceremony was presided over by His Excellency Mao Vuthy, Personal Advisor to Samdech Ponthea Chakrei Heng Sam Rin Chairman of the National Assembly. Also in attendance were Scott and Chris Coates of ‘The Trailblazer Foundation’ ( ) and other staff of this organization, Rotary President Sandy Seitz of the Jackson (J.H.) Rotary Supper Club, and Rotary past-president Pat Butts of the Teton Valley Rotary Club. Many other special guests were in attendance.

The event was recorded by Cambodian television and village families and children came from far and wide to celebrate the official inauguration of this large six-room concrete school building located in Ta Trav village, about 20km north of Siem Reap city.

Excitement and anticipation were in the air as celebrations began with a line-up of Cambodia’s first official Scout group, who awaited the arrival of the dignitaries. Scott and Chris Coates have implemented the first official Scout group in Cambodia - so far, there are 120 Scouts in their group! A monumental first! - and Scott and Chris are to be commended for beginning this beneficial organization for youth here in Cambodia.

At 8am, speeches were given by the Cambodian dignitaries, school students and by Scott Coates of the Trailblazer Foundation. In Scott’s speech, he thanked the Rotary Clubs and citizens of Muskoka for their generous contribution toward making this school a reality for the 400 rural children attending this school. He also read a letter of congratulations from Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller. Special thanks was also given to the Cambodian Landmine Museum Relief Fund in Ontario and the British School of Beijing, who also contributed funds for this project.

Muskoka was thanked yet once again for their generous contribution of US$2,000 for 400 new school uniforms and sandals for the children of this school. They were distributed by myself and a team of District 7070 Ontario Rotarians this past November.

Speeches were followed by a special ribbon-cutting ceremony where dignitaries and contributors took turns cutting the celebratory red ribbon. A special plaque was given to the Cambodian dignitaries officially donating the school to the government of Cambodia.

This was followed by a fresh noodle curry lunch in the old Ta Trav wooden school house. I had the pleasure of getting to know a couple of fellow-Rotarians from the United States who are supporters of Trailblazer’s past and present projects. The Trailblazer Foundation has built a few schools in Siem Reap District and also provide countless rural families with wells and water filters. They are making a huge difference in the quality of life for the impoverished rural families and children of this district.

It was a morning that I will never forget. There is a school in Cambodia that now proudly bears the name of Muskoka on it. It will provide valuable education for countless generations of rural Cambodian children! Previous blog postings show photos of the construction of this school which began in February 2009 and was completed in May 2009.

I’m on my way to Phnom Penh tomorrow. Then I’m heading to Takeo villages to spend a few days staying with some rural village families. Then, it’s back down to Kep province to continue with the implementation of a ‘free education’ school project there - Banyan Learning Tree - , and a possible secondary location for this school! Pauline Johns and I will give more exciting updates on that project soon!

Your donation to ‘A Mine Free World Foundation’ (AMFWF) can provide education to children in Cambodia - a country still plagued with millions of landmines scattered throughout the countryside. You can help to fund a school, a bicycle, or even choose to provide scholarship support for a student who’s life has been affected by these remnants of war. Please email me for further details:

A Mine Free World Foundation, 906 Fung Place, Kitchener, On, Canada N2A 4M3, is a registered non-profit organization.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Only ‘Rotary Tuk-Tuk’ in Phnom Penh - A First!

There is a unique Tuk-tuk operating on the congested streets of Phnom Penh, and if you are a Rotarian this tuk-tuk and its special driver will represent some astounding humanitarian efforts that have taken place for the rural people in Cambodia.

The tuk-tuk, or auto-rickshaw, is a popular mode of transportation throughout SE Asia. Its style varies from country to country, but here in Cambodia it takes the form of a two-wheeled covered wagon attached to a small two-stroke motorcycle (or ‘moto’, as it is called here). They are the Asian equivalent of a taxi, and for a small fee, they will take you anywhere you want to go. It’s a lovely way to see the sites and rural areas of Cambodia. The charm of tuk-tuk travel has delighted tourists for years.

Phnom Penh tuk-tuk driver, Un Vanthon has taken his recent volunteer work of Rotary bicycle distribution in the rural villages of Takeo quite seriously. He has worked hard to organize the on-the-ground distribution of 56 Bracebridge-Muskoka Lakes Rotary bicycles throughout 3 villages around Takeo. He has also seen the difference that Rotary makes for the students in these areas. A ‘Rotary Bicycle’ has given many students the opportunity to attend school through the provision of this valuable transportation.

Vanthon is proud to be a part of Rotary projects…so proud that he has now put Rotary decals all over his tuk-tuk and moto! He has the only tuk-tuk in Phnom Penh with the Rotary International symbol on it. He already has had some visiting Rotarians on holidays in Phnom Penh stop and ask him what his involvement with Rotary is - he proudly tells him that he has volunteered for Rotary projects!

Vanthon lived through tremendous hardships during the Khmer Rouge era. I wrote about him before in a recent blog posting. During this difficult period in Cambodia‘s history, Vanthon often helped fellow Cambodians with some food or clothing during these desperate times of need. Vanthon has never stopped - he keeps on giving to this day.

So, if you are in Phnom Penh, and need a good tuk-tuk driver that has ‘Gone Miles for Rotary’, be sure to give this special humanitarian a call at 012 906 793. Out of the 4,000 tuk-tuks presently servicing Phnom Penh, there is only one special tuk-tuk with the Rotary symbol on it!