Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Partner in Hope

As promised earlier, here are the photos of our weekend trip to another of CamKids' projects. This one is in Kampong Speu, about an hour and a half drive south-southwest of Phnom Penh. Much of CamKids funding goes to supplement existing projects and organizations, so Dom and Benita are especially fond of this one because CamKids generated and designed it, coordinating with three country villages.

Once we left the main highway south, we passed a large shallow lake. Bannak, who is managing the project for Camkids, informed me that thousands of Khmer had died hand-dredging during the KR days.

It certainly altered my perception of this bucolic vista, imagining the suffering and starvation involved in its creation.

We turned of the last bit of pavement and drove several kilometers down a muddy single lane.

Past farming houses made of wood, mostly unpainted, with pools of water from the recent rains.

These are the farms which provide the students for the clinic and school. It was quiet, no sounds of motors save our own.

Finally we came to the new school, in the foreground, and clinic, behind it.

That is Bannak. Many years ago, when Dom first trekked back into Kampong Speu, Bannak (a mere child) ran out to look at the "barangs". He explained that he wanted to someday go to law school and come back to help his region. It was Bannak who eventually set into motion the project. Today he has a university degree and studies law- thanks to some support from Dom, and he is making good on his dream. That is a marvelous aspect of Kampuchea- though there are myriad reasons to despair, there are individual stories of triumph and success, overcoming seemingly impossible odds which raise the spirit and renew faith.

We toured the new medical/dental clinic. There are living quarters for a nurse; doctors and dentists will make weekend trips to see patients for free.

The scale and ambitions are small and sustainable. Camkids does not ride in and 'gift' luxury a la Opra Winfrey. Rather they partner equally and longterm with the locals. It is up to the villages to provide maintenance and security for the buildings, so everything proceeds with their ability to do so.

As news of our arrival spread, future students and a few grandmothers drifted in and began to spruce everything up.

Can you imagine appreciative children doing this on their own in wealthy nations?

I saw no evidence of anyone coaching them.

They possessed a beautiful charm and relaxed happiness, intrigued by our presence yet shy.
Jo broke through with her camera, showing them what they rarely see- their own images!

Dom, as he does everywhere, engaged joyfully with everyone, regardless of age.
By then the elders from the three villages had arrived and it was time to begin the meeting. In the foreground is Sally, a health care organizer and volunteer from Tazmania, here to help get the clinic up and running efficiently.

It was a sight to behold, and one that genuinely sent my heart soaring, talk of the logistics and purpose going forward, everyone speaking respectfully with such astonishing dignity and kindness.
The woman shown here, and the young man to her left, are the teachers for the present. He has teacher training, but she has only a sixth grade education herself. Yet it is partly her persistance and determination that have seen the school exist at all. For the last five years, on her own, she has conducted the only classes at all for local children. This woman will maintain a teaching role with the youngest children, as well as additional training in education.
Though feet are considered offensive to a certain extent in Buddhist culture, I find the feet here fantastic, emblematic of the connection they have to the earth.
I am considering a coffee table book with nothing but feet and hand shots- whaddya think?

Part way through the meeting, this mother came in with her son, who promptly fell asleep in her lap and almost flopped to the floor.
Everyone posed for this group shot, which I just had blown up and framed as a gift to the school.
All that was left was for Dom to throw a good screaming scare into the kids.

Another amazing cross section of feet.
And another quick shot of Dom, Benita, and the teachers. I blew this up as a gift as well.

In another fortnight the building would be filled with 60 or so kids K-6, the potential futures of each child exponentially expanded.

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