Well, 2017 began pretty fantastically for me. My charity built a library! Yes, an entire library. And all for just $1300. That includes construction, books, and the solar panel which allows the kids to, theoretically, have access 24/7 to their new education area. It amazes me how much further money can go in South East Asia and this project just goes to show that good, generous people are still on this planet. Sadly, they’re not pursuing a career in politics…
Back to that library, however. I travelled out on Friday to a village in Kampong Speu where Karuna Youth Cambodia, a fellow NGO, have a school. I had been a week earlier to drop off our latest volunteers, Emma and Reece, who are part way through a five week stint teaching at the school and living in the rainbow house. The day before I had received a shipment of 100 kg of books from England, which DHL had couriered door to door for free (seriously – you don’t ask, you don’t get). So I brought with me these books plus those donated by Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia and one of SKOPE’s new supporters, Association of School Aid in Cambodia (ASAC). That evening, powered by beer, Emma, Reece and I coded about 400 English books. We did the other 200 the following evening!
Onto the build. Well, let’s be honest I’m not a builder but luckily some men in the village are. A father of some children at the school is a carpenter and he took the reins when it came to directing the construction process, particularly the wooden frame. About eight men worked tirelessly for two full days, completely voluntarily, and constructed our library. It’s only three metres square but that’s still quite a feat. Emma, Reece and I tried to help where we could but when it came to hammering with the flat end of an axe, we decided we’d rather not lose an ear.
That Sunday saw the arrival of some Sovann Komar kids, handpicked to be the ones who always get stuck in on projects with SKOPE. Because we really needed their help. The walls weren’t entirely up by the time they reached the school but we began painting anyway. Despite me telling them explicitly not to wear their nice clothes, many of them ended up shirtless and splattered in orange. I am still finding orange smears of paint on me and it’s been over a week since I left!
We ate a delicious lunch cooked by the villagers and then headed down to a beautiful area of the village by the river where the Sovann Komar kids decided to go exploring upstream. Upon returning to the school, the kids were set to work clearing a newly acquired strip of land which KYC will build a volleyball court and football pitch on. Their earlier painting task wasn’t completed but the men were working on the roof with electric saws and we decided against jeopardising anyone’s life.
After the Sovann Komar children left, the roof quickly finished so Reece, Emma, myself and a load of the local children got stuck into painting and by sundown on Sunday evening, the library was up!
Sadly, I had to leave the next day to get back to Phnom Penh and work but thanks to the headteacher, Phearith, I was still able to keep up to date of all the happenings with his amazing videos. Which, naturally, I’ve turned into a story of the weekend, along with my own footage. Watch it here now! The following week saw a concrete floor poured and levelled, shelves built, walls decorated, and the solar panel fitted. As luck would have it, Reece is a fully qualified electrician so he was incredibly useful at this stage. Now, in typical Khmer logic style, we had chosen to construct the library under a tree to stop the building getting too hot during the dry season. But if the sun can’t get to the roof, it can’t get to the solar panel. Not to worry! Reece put it on the roof of the adjacent school building which is south facing and ran a wire the short distance across. Voila! Light!
I love all the work I do with SKOPE but this was by far and away the best project we have ever done. I don’t know if it’s because I love reading so much or because language and writing is so important to me personally but I am quite literally overcome with emotion when I see pictures and videos of what we’ve accomplished out in that tiny village. Those children now have the opportunity to truly learn. Their exposure levels to English went from one Doctor Seuss book and a few Khmer ones to 700 English language titles and 120 Khmer language books in the space of a week. And already it’s clear they’re hungry for knowledge. Thanks to Emma and Reece’s prolonged presence, as well, these children are not only picking up the language quickly but wanting to learn more, study harder and succeed in life. I hope with the support of KYC and SKOPE, they will!
If you’re interested in donating to SKOPE’s next project, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment on this blog and I’ll get back to you. Alternatively you can visit the SKOPE website by clicking here.