Thursday, July 29, 2010

Training in Chamcar Bei

After a week and a bit of settling in it was finally time for me to start some work. Destination Chamcar Bei! (Which is where we spent one night over the weekend) I was going to be working at "Our School" delivering first aid training to some of the locals. Blissfully unaware I prepared my presentation (in English), some exercises (in English) and general puns, when Vy and I arrived at the school I was told that I would need a translator. Damn. Oh well, I think to myself how bad can it be?

So on Wednesday I started my training, I was going to be running 2 sessions with 2 groups covering the topics of wounds and bleeds, chocking, burns and other fun things. When I started, to be honest I felt slightly out of my depth, I was faced with 7 people who spoke no English and had little knowledge of hygiene and injury treatment. I found it very challenging trying to teach the people one thing when they had probably known otherwise for such a long time. They told me stories of how someone had just choked in front of them and then died, so I hoped some bits of what I was teaching would be useful. I managed to finish the training and hoped that they would be able to pass on the information which I had taught them to the rest of the community. I think over the 2 days they learnt a lot, as did I. Despite the first session being hard I think it has helped me to better understand the local community and adapt my future training to their needs.

The healthcare coordinator from the school also asked me when I was coming back when I had finished, which was also a good sign!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Weekend down South

After 5 days of madness in the city, 4 other volunteers and myself decided to have a girly trip down to Kep. Bags packed, food stocked, suncream and sunglasses in hand we embarked on the 3 hour taxi down to the beach. The taxi was cosy, as 4 of us jumped in the back the driver was not at all phased.

Our first stop was Chamcar Bei where we pulled up to an eco resort "The Vine". It was a nice getaway from the city: solar heated showers, fresh vegetables and fruit grown from the garden and a hamac on the balcony, as well as other squishy chairs. After settling in there we rented some bikes and rode off to find the local NGO: the woman's empowerment center, where local woman were employed by the community to weave scarves, create jewelery and bags. Before arriving there we stopped off at "Our School" the local school affiliated with BAB-C. This school was by far the most impressive one I had visited so far, a large play ground, 4-5 class rooms and a library, there was also a football pitch round the back. Following this one of the teachers led the way to the woman's empowerment center, where we were given a very detailed guided tour. In this NGO woman received payment for the work they performed, which was consistent with the time that they put aside to produce these items. It was very refreshing seeing such a self sufficient community, who was encouraging the local population to work and was not exploiting it. Before leaving, we all paid visit to the gift shop where we purchased some local jewelery as a souvenir and obviously to help out the community ;-)

The next day we continued on to Kep, with high hopes of clear sea and general sunbathing... Pulling up to the guesthouse the sky was gray and the sea was brown, we put it down to the rocks and set off to the pier to get a boat to Rabbit Island. Rabbit Island had been described to us a paradise, "the most beautiful place I have ever been" by other volunteers, so needless to say, we all had high hopes. We hopped on the boat with a boy who was probably about 10 years younger than most of us and headed of to the Island. Reaching land we trekked through the woods for about 10 minutes and arrived to the other side where the beach and restaurants where, the water wasn't clear and we could definitely not see our feet, but oh well we made the most of it! About an hour after we arrived the weather started to turn... We faced the wind and rain, monsoon was upon us! We seeked refuge in a small refuge and started to envisage ourselves not being able to get off the island, building our own shelter and having to catch our prey... I can say that this did not happen! Luckily the weather cleared and managed to get back to Kep with our 12 year old captain without capsizing. Yay!

After all that drama we were all pretty tired so chilled for a bit before Julia, Trixie and myself headed to the Crab Market to sample the local cuisine and take out some not so local cuisine (vodka from Liverpool).

The next day we got a bus back to Phnom Penh. Not exactly the relaxing weekend we all had planned but funny at the very least!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Getting to grips with history

As I continue to settle in to life in Cambodia things are becoming slightly: I have extended me vocabulary to "how much does that cost?" and "sir/madame". Hopefully by the end of the week I will know all of 8 words! I'm also much more accustomed to crossing the road, which I thought may never happen given my constant fear of being run over in the UK.

So, yesterday I ventured out to the provinces with Vy, she took me to Rudi Boa a school there which had been funded in memory of a previous volunteer. In the school I was also told the story about a 6 year old pupil who was having to take care of both his siblings as their parents worked in the city 45 minutes away. The province where the school was and where people were living was like a block of garages: one room, 3 walls, with occasionally a smaller room at the back. There was no door, only a sliding gate, which had been replaced with wood or other materials in the occupied houses. Going into the "centre" there was a market as well as a pharmacy and some other places to buy food: this community was self sufficient, buying and selling to one another. Around every school I had been so far people seemed happy, was this what it seemed like to me, were people actually dismal or did they just not know that they deserved any better?

This morning I visited the Genocide Museum (also known as office 21 during the "Kampuchea Democratic"), which chronicled many of the events and peoples lives during the Khmer Rouge. The museum was very graphic, there were 4 buildings in Office 21 one of which was used for torturing the prisoners and the other 3 which were used for detention. In each room there where photos which had been taken, some of the dead prisoners as well as others of families killed by the Khmer Rouge. There were skulls of prisoners where you could see large cracks where prisoners had been electrocuted or had received blows, building B was surrounded by barbed wire to stop the detainees from trying to kill themselves. In each room in Building A the beds and other machines used to torture people suspected of opposition remained, as well as pictures and photos illustrating the uses of each instrument. The whole place was very grim and I didn't feel at ease that this had happened less than 40 years ago, furthermore that tribunals were still ongoing to bring the people who committed these atrocities to justice. As I left the museum there where beggars who were missing limbs and that had been severely burnt waiting for tourists at the exit. The whole experience was pretty depressing and an explanation for the poverty which was all around and which I had seen since I arrived began to make sense.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Arrival to Phnom Penh

So I left the UK on the eve of the 16th of July, a journey which I must admit I was not entirely looking forward too. The 8h30 flight to Delhi followed by 15h in transit zone is hardly as exciting as it sounds, luckily I managed to mingle with a few other travelers which made the overall wait slightly less painful (that coupled with an overpriced vodka).
I arrived to Bangkok at 7.30am on the 18th, managing a total of 3h sleep as well as a curry (thank you Kingfisher Airline), so needless to say I wasn't completely on top of my game and by this point I had had enough of airports. I waited another 8h for the final leg of my journey during which I managed to catch up on some shut eye. I almost did enjoy it a bit too much as I woke up 20min before the flight, any later and I probably would have spent a great deal more time in airports...

As I arrived to Phnom Penh and got off the plane I was already faced with the humidity and heat (better get used to this!). Vy, the volunteer coordinator from BAB-C picked me up took me to the volunteer house where I would be staying. The tuktuk ride from the airport was intersting, it seems that most people in Phnom Penh ride motos and driving is slightly chaotic ("only worry about what's directly in front of you" I was told by another volunteer), despite this it seems to work and even when we crashed into a moto driver both parties just seemed to continue driving as if all was well.

On my first day in PP, Vy took me to see the surroundings, this included some of the slums as well as the schools which lay within them. Down a small alleyway we visited Aziza, where there were two small classrooms where 30 children where being taught English. The children and teachers welcomed us with a smile and then introduced themselves; never would I have thought that a school could be in these slums. We then went up to the roof of the building where we could see where the people used to live and had been evicted from, in its place stood tall buildings: offices and flats, as well as some workers building more buildings.
In the afternoon, I visited another slum and 2 schools which were by the "lake", I was told that this lake was being filled up in order to build more housing flats and offices, a bit disheartening for all the locals who lived there,who would most probably be evicted...