Scratching a 7 year itch – finally returning to Cambodia in 2017
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I recently had the privilege of returning to Cambodia to visit one of the villages we’re actively supporting, with the school building, the English classes and now the solar project.
There’s alot I want to say with this post, to reflect on the journey I’ve been on with BabyTree Projects since 2010, the people and projects we’ve worked on, and the reasons I stay involved.
I keep stalling, though, when it comes to getting it all down on paper, so for now I’ll just summarise the main reasons for this trip, and share some of the highlights through the pictures and videos I captured.
First a bit of background. I started volunteering for BTP back in 2010 when I realised this guy Koky who I knew through World Vision, and who seemed like just a constantly laughing and joking big kid, was actually serious about his mission to make the world a better place. By giving some of the poorest children in one of the poorest countries a chance at a better future through quality education.
By the time I got involved BabyTree had already built 3 schools in rural Cambodia, and was gearing up for the 4th, a secondary school in Sambour village, Cloud district.
I started helping out with the fundraisers, and I soon found myself more and more involved, to the point where I decided to go all in and spend the summer of 2011 living in Sambour and helping to build the school.
To call the experience life-changing is probably selling it short. Seeing the conditions these kids and their families lived in was pretty heart-wrenching, knowing how much material excess we take for granted back home. And how little it would take if we all just focused a bit harder to improve the quality of life in so much of the developing world.
So when I got back to life in Oz, I kept on helping out the charity, and by late 2012 I was invited to join the Governance Committee – the small group of volunteers who continue the work.
In 2014 we raised enough to go back and build one more school, which was dedicated to the memory of the recently departed Sophia, Koky’s sister and partner in crime, who helped found the charity, and was tragically taken by cancer in 2012.
The Sophia Saly School has been the focus of most of our recent work, including an English Program which we’ve fully funded for the next 5 years with the support of Beekeper Parade, and a pilot Solar Project which we launched in conjunction with Engineers Without Borders (EWB).
We’ve installed 15 systems into homes in Tipeng Village, where the school is located, and hope to build this out to other homes in the area too. Unfortunately, EWB aren’t able to continue their presence with the project, so we need to work out what our options are moving forward.
Claire, our Treasurer, has been the active liaison with EWB and the Solar Project, but since she was preparing to have her first child, I offered to step up and take this on. Koky happened to be visiting Cambodia for 2 weeks in August, at the same time as Brendan our contact from EWB was finishing, so I jumped at the chance to finally get back over there, do the handover with Brendan, and reconnect to the work and the people we’re supporting.
I’ll come back and fill in a bit more detail around some of these points, but for now here’s the key bits of the trip.
The English Program
The highlight of my trip was getting to sit in on a couple of the English classes. These kids are primary aged, and they’re already well on their way to speaking, reading and writing English!
Singing seemed to be a good way to connect the kids to their lessons
And games, of course, are always popular
I was really impressed to see that even the younger class had really solid writing skills
And the older kids were advanced enough to even take turns getting up and leading the class!
The Solar Project
Day 2 in the village, we visited about half a dozen families who’s homes we’ve installed the solar kits into. There’s a range of challenges we need to overcome if we’re going to continue to build on the program without EWB, but we’re confident that we’re off to a good start. The initial installations have helped to demonstrate the value of electricity to the wider community, and we’ve upskilled our local contact Groo Mao with the ability to install and help maintain the systems. He can build on this foundation to share this knowledge with others in his village, and potentially maintain and grow the project without us one day.
Kep Province is a magical place. We stayed at Spring Valley Resort, which was built on the side of lush green mountain, about a 50 minute moto ride from the village each day.
Back in the capital Phnom Penh
The rest of the trip was spent meeting with Brendan from Engineers Without Borders to do the handover work for the Solar Project, and also to meet our local staff member Sopheak who’s going to support Groo Mao to deliver the English classes and maintain the solar installs.