Cambodia Update by Ally Curzon and Amy Reid
We arrived at the village today to the pleasant surprise of the library taking form. The roof is finally attached and we quickly finished painting the inside. The fence is also almost half way done! The fence project has been a true definer of character as it is the hardest project in the village. With the repetitive strength needed to dig each posthole, it brings out everyone’s true work ethic.
The second group went on home visits today starting with the daunting task of riding bikes to the homes. The challenge is riding a cruiser bike on both mountain bike conditions and through sand, with children on the back. Once we arrived at the homes we were greeted with warm smiles and naked babies. The first woman was a widow who supported a household of 12 children and grandchildren by watching over others farms. She was 14 year old when Pol Pot took control of Cambodia. She was forced to dig canals and work in the rice fields, living off of only a bowl of porridge a day. Porridge is a generous term considering it was water with a countable number of grain.
The second home consisted of a younger married couple with 3 boys under the age 5. The husband also watched over others farms. The neighbor was visiting at the time and told us about his time during the Khmer Rouge, he also dug canals and worked in rice field. He spoke of the fear they used to control them. The soldiers often pulled people out of the rows and killed them in front of the others, other times they killed the whole row. The Khmer Rouge not only controlled you physically but mentally as well. Along with the constant violence you were not aloud to speak to one another. Through this they experienced complete separation from human comfort. Speech can be one of the most powerful tools of both communication and comfort, but this trip has also taught us you don’t need to share the same language to connect or understand. -Ally Curzon
Everything is coming along great in the village. We are running out of things to do at the school as we finish the projects we designed for this trip: the dirt piles are flattened, the desks are built, the library is painted, and the fence posts are (almost) up.
A group of us started on the mural inside the library today. The walls are covered with pictures of wild animals and Khmer letters and numbers. The head of the mural team, Marie, hopes to have it completed by tomorrow.
Our vocational committee sweated away in a classroom filled with old sewing machines as they taught village women and girls how to sew. Their goal is to give these women a skill they can use to make a living for their family. According to the mentor of the group, LeeAnn, it is really beautiful to help these women, and her only letdown is she does not have enough machines to accommodate the women who line up outside the classroom and peek inside, wishing that they could learn to sew, too. Hopefully, we can attain a grant from the Rotary to buy more machines so these women can catch more than a glimpse of this skill.
We continued with home visits in the afternoon, and I was lucky enough to accompany about eight other team members to two houses down the road from the school while the rest of our team painted, dug fence-post holes, or taught women to sew.
We noticed a stark difference in the income levels of the two households. Both houses were wooden, but the second one was larger and level with evenly-cut wood and a nice table for us to sit around, while the first had mismatched wood, both in size and color, and if we chose to sit, our chairs were whatever we could find, whether it be tabletop or treestump. The second house was cleaner, and both the husband and the wife were able to sit down with us, while the other house’s father couldn’t stop working to visit. They were dressed nicer, and even the village children who showed us to the houses seemed to behave better at the second home.
However, with income aside, the biggest difference I witnessed was the desire for education.
At the first house, the woman was forced to drop out of school in third grade so she could provide for her sick aunt and 12 cousins. Now that she is older, her greatest desire in life is that her children will be able to get a good education and learn English. When we asked if she had any questions for us, she asked us to make sure they could have that at the village school.
At the second house, the children had all dropped out by fifth grade, just like their parents. One of their children was sitting there with us, and while he still attended school, he said he intended to drop out at the end of the year because he didn’t think he was smart enough to keep going. The parents did not express any desire for him to continue with school. Our assistant team leader, Bekah, was heartbroken and told the child that he was, indeed, smart.
We only have two more work days left in Cambodia. In that time, we have a few more English lessons to teach, more fabric to sew, and more fence posts to put up. We are tired, but we are enjoying helping the children and making new friends at the school and SC. -Amy Reid