In a country like Cambodia, it is important for those who have material wealth to give to others less fortunate. On Sunday I accompanied some of the children from Sovann Komar to donate supplies to a poor rural school in Kampong Chhnang, a province about two hours north of Phnom Penh. One of Sovann Komar’s primary aims is to benefit the surrounding community, as well as caring for the fifty six orphans who live within the village. Therefore, regular fundraisers are organised by SK in order to finance development projects throughout Cambodia.
This weekend a school in the Udong mountains, educating seven hundred students from local families, received hundreds of exercise books, pens, pencils, and other educational equipment, distributed directly from some of Sovann Komar’s own. A three hour bus journey there, at least half of which was endured on unpaved roads, led us far into the stunning Cambodian countryside and to a school nestled at the end of a dirt track, where seven hundred children stood waiting for us to arrive. Unloading the bus with the numerous boxes of books and several huge bags of bread rolls (another donation), the children seemed just as interested in the barang (foreigner in Khmer) as they did the supplies! There were speeches (no idea what about) and then the children from Sovann Komar handed each student a set of exercise books and stationary, followed by some bread.
I found it very interesting to watch these children, from two different worlds, interact together as most of the orphans who ended up at SK could easily have found themselves in a similar position, or worse, as those children they were helping today. Many of the SK orphans came from very poor families in or around Phnom Penh, whose parents either died or were incapable of caring for their children. I sometimes wonder if they know how lucky they are to have the support, love, and security of Sovann Komar. The orphanage compound, as my previous blog entry details, is so beautiful, serene, and quite frankly sheltered, that I’ve felt there has always been a risk of the SK children growing up somewhat disconnected from the “real Cambodia”. However, this is a concern that I share with the project director Sothea Arun, and he is the driving force behind these rural development schemes. Both he and I, along with many other members of staff at SK, recognise the importance of exposing the children to as many different aspects of Cambodian life as possible. Therefore whenever the organisation is donating money, books, supplies, building a well or toilet, children from SK go to witness and experience these events, ensuring that the work is acknowledged and understood by the families.
Five years ago, Sovann Komar raised money to install a well at the school we returned to this weekend. Arun set up a Well Maintenance Committee, to which local families donate 500 riel ($0.125) per month for its upkeep. I could tell when he told me about this previous project that Arun was somewhat apprehensive to return, in fear that he may find the well had fallen into disrepair. However, we were all pleasantly surprised to find the pump standing proudly in the middle of the school, gleaming in the sunlight and continuing to pour forth cool, clean water for the children and surrounding village. On the way back to Phnom Penh, we stopped at a smaller primary school where Arun himself, with the assistance of some Canadian friends, had donated a toilet block and a well ten years ago. Both were in excellent working order, proving that these generous donations from both national and international organisations and individuals are not only gratefully received but also carefully maintained and cherished as the gifts they are.
The day was rounded off with a delicious home cooked meal at the childhood home of one of the orphanage mums, where the I got to experience a small town market (complete with snakes for sale), washing up with well water, and practice my candid photographic skills. The latter is particularly hard because whenever a Cambodian kid realises you’re pointing a lens at them, they immediately make the peace sign and pose with a cheesy grin – not what I wanted. Below are a selection of my most successful shots, capturing the true, natural beauty of some of the kids I am lucky enough to share my life with out here.