The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own. [ or hers :) ] ~Benjamin Disraeli ~

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas in Cambodia

Tree at Petrol Station in Sisophon
Almost everyone in Cambodia is Buddhist so I wasn't sure what to expect of Christmas. There are many Bank Holidays on the Khmer calendar but Christmas Day is not one of them. On a recent visit to Phnom Penh there were lights, Christmas trees and greetings in many of the shops but here in Sisophon there is little sign. It's a busy time at the college. New 1st years only arrived at the beginning of December so I decided not to take any holiday but to experience the season here. I am so glad I did. On Thursday, 2nd year trainees had their annual volleyball tournament. Afterwards, as a welcome to the new trainees, they held a party. Food was cooked on their very basic facilities and tasted delicious.
Frying Fish

Washing Up
 Dancing followed and I was again invited to lead the first dance. Most songs seem to have their own steps and hand movements but there was a scattering of disco type tracks where anything was acceptable. I was struck by the huge number of young people who joined in, only a few sat and watched. And this without alcohol!

On Friday evening I was invited to a Christmas Party at a local English school. When Vichet said there might be around 100 students I wondered where he was going to put them but he has a big space out the back. Being able to hold events outdoors is a real bonus.Wim and I were Guests of Honour although in fact it was an honour to have been invited. After the food we were entertained by a team of excellent dancers then there was a prize draw for the students. Everyone was very excited at the prospect of winning. Wim and I presented the prizes then found ourselves posing for photographs - a sense of what it must be like to be famous!
Christmas Eve and I was up early to go to work. I'm including this as we had a very successful lesson. As I mentioned in a previous blog, I've been supporting the trainer who teaches Resource Making. He has been drafted in without any training or resources himself and therefore feels inadequate. Today we were making a Healthy Food poster. Creating the sample was a long job for me. I found a good English one on the Internet, copied the pictures by hand, wrote the labels for Sokha to translate then had to design a suitable layout. Khmer text takes up more than twice as much space as English text to say the same thing. Explaining the rudiments of a good poster, in khmer, to the trainer was my next challenge but he's now getting used to my language (Sokha only works part time). Our first lesson didn't go as well as we hoped. The sample was small and not easily seen by trainees so I suggested that for the next class we use my laptop and the projector. This trainer is the only one in the college who has received no computer training. I set everything up to display the poster and he delivered the lesson well. We were comparing how nicely trainees were working compared to the previous class when the screen saver came on. His initial panic changed to joy when I told him to move the mouse. The next time it happened he did it without prompting and got a cheer from the class. It seems like such a small thing but was a huge step in confidence building. Next Friday I'm running a workshop for all trainers on the effective use of ICT in Teaching and Learning as only 3 trainers ever use the projector. My colleague will now feel that he has a little experience.
In the evening I went to the park where there is a fair at the moment. Sellers offer a variety of food from corn on the cob to fried frogs and crickets.

Finally I went for the best sausages in Sisophon cooked by my friend Mono.

Christmas Day. As a gift to myself I took my bicycle for a facelift. The light now works and I have a new basket. It's my primary source of transport so I must take care of it.  I then went to the market. Temperature was about 20 °C and with the breeze it felt quite cool. The only sign of Christmas was in a mobile phone shop where Christmas songs were even playing - mostly in khmer. Chan Leap was there in her santa hat.

Christmas dinner wasn't quite roast turkey. Wim and I ate at a local khmer restaurant that we call Red Chairs. Pork with cabbage, the food there is always delicious. I spent a relaxing afternoon at the wedding garden with a friend walking amongst palm trees, mango trees and pineapple plants. It was interesting to hear of all the medicinal properties of the plants.
I have just returned from a Christmas party held by the teachers at another school that teaches English -lots of food and dancing. A great way to spend Christmas.

Hope you are all having a good time. Seven hours behind me you are still celebrating as I'm ready for bed. 
Merry Christmas Everybody and Best Wishes for 2012

Wednesday, 9 November 2011


The end of the rainy season marks the beginning of the wedding season here in Cambodia. Huge wedding tents are erected, blocking streets, and loud music blasts out all day.
I attended the engagement party of one of my neighbours and last weekend the happy couple were married. The celebrations lasted two days. For me the unpleasant part was the loud music that started at 5.00 am both mornings!
On the first day, a procession bearing gifts paraded from the college to our street. The photos tell the story.
Musicians and flower bearers

Trainees in their finery joined the procession

Joints of meat carried by my colleagues
Arrival of the groom
The procession arrives in our street, the home of the bride.
Ceremony and blessings inside the house
 The following day there was a big party in a local restaurant with over 600 guests, live band and a 5 course meal. Here we finally met the bride and groom together.
Beautiful couple
Miko and myself enjoying the food

Resource Making

One of my regular activities is to assist the tutor in charge of guiding trainees in the making of teaching resources. He speaks no English and was a bit wary of me at first but as soon as he realised my presence makes his job easier, he relaxed and we get along well. This is not really his area of expertise and he is grateful for all the help he can get. Working with trainees it's easy to forget that many of them have not had much experience with scissors and of making things in general. They are very enthusiastic but some need to be shown every step. It is also fortunate that VSO gave me $150 for resources in the earlier workshop and I was able to buy scissors, rulers and pens etc. Trainees are supposed to provide their own but there are never enough.
This made me laugh when I saw two trainees cutting the same piece of card from opposite ends. There were two lines and each was cutting a different line.

Finally, resources need to be covered in sticky backed plastic for protection and so that whiteboard markers can be used on them. Resources here are very vulnerable. Miko, a Japanese volunteer, came back after her holiday to find her music resources had been eaten by ants! She had thought they were safe in the staff room. The humidity can also cause things to be damp or go mouldy.



Thursday, 27 October 2011

World Teachers' Day

 An Apple for Teacher
When I suggested to the college that we do something to celebrate World Teacher's Day, I was amazed at how excited everyone became. I had a grant of $150 for gifts, stationery and refreshments. Trainees were asked what they wanted to do and suggested letters to teachers, role play, songs and poetry. My idea of putting the letters on a tree of good wishes was accepted with enthusiasm and the trainees organised it themselves. The Director felt a banner was important so one of my neighbours painted it for us. Once up I could see that it became the focus of the room and was essential to the success of the event.

Trainees organised the whole celebration. I had a meeting with the organisers to allocate tasks. This years event was to raise awareness of the importance of women in education. With that in mind, female trainees were given leading roles. Trainers and trainees from the college as well as teachers from our practice school were invited.
We began with speeches, I made mine in english and my assistant translated for me. After that came poems, songs and a short play by the trainees. I don't know when they practised but was impressed with the quality of drama. An impromptu song from one of the trainers proved very popular. Trainees read some of the greetings from the tree and presented gifts to teachers. Trainees all received pens.
Finishing with cakes and fruit, everyone was very happy.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Teacher Training

Life for me is not all travelling, I do work too.
One of the big problems in Cambodian schools is lack of teaching resources. Another is knowing how to use them. A Belgian NGO produced a reading scheme in khmer and asked VSO to assist in the training of teachers. Grade 1 and 2 teachers from the schools used by the college for Teaching Practice, were invited to a workshop. My colleagues already have experience of the materials and delivered very lively sessions. The school teachers were enthusiastic and loved the books.  I particularly enjoyed the session when the teachers were asked to illustrate a scene from a story.  Many of these teachers grew up during or just after Khmer Rouge and so had no experience of fun in their own education. The laughter as they worked together was very encouraging.

Flooding has made the beginning of term difficult with some schools being closed so I have been unable to follow this up and give support in the classrooms. I am looking forward to working with the children.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The Rains Came Down...

 For the Pchum Ben holiday, I took the opportunity to visit Mondulkiri Province in the East of Cambodia. It was beautiful - jungle and waterfalls. All the rain we've been having meant the falls were spectacular and powerful. It also made the roads very muddy and difficult to negotiate!
Bou Sraa Waterfall
Sen Mororom Waterfall

Children in traditional Pnong dress

Elephant belonging to Pnong tribesmen


...and the floods came up.
The trouble with all this rain in the highlands is that it flows to the lowlands to add to the rain that's already falling there. Right now many parts of Cambodia are suffering serious floods that have resulted in over 140 deaths and disastrous damage to rice crops. From the bus I saw houses sitting in the water, abandoned by families who set up tents by the roadside. The new school year should be starting this week but for over 900 schools this will not be possible as they are flooded.

My college is right by the river and although I have watched the water level rise steadily, we have not suffered any flooding.  Work begins again on Monday and I'm looking forward to working with teachers and trainees on Khmer Literacy and Maths teaching.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Pchum Ben

It's been a long time since I wrote a blog. I had a busy few weeks, started to compose, then became ill with dengue fever - an unpleasant virus spread by a mosquito. For reliable medical treatment VSO volunteers have to go to Phnom Penh so I had a long journey. Since I slept, it passed quickly. Rest is the only cure so that is what I did combined with 2 weeks more language training. I am now fully recovered.

I was away from Sisophon for 3 weeks. On my return I travelled through a landscape vastly different from the one I experienced 6 months ago. Then it was dry and barren. Now it is lush and green. The rice fields that stretch as far as the eye can see are far more amazing when you consider that they were planted and are tended by hand. Where the rivers have spilled their banks the land is flooded, there is water everywhere.

There are many work related things I would like to share but today's blog is for my ancestors.

I was invited by my neighbours to join them at the Pagoda to celebrate Pchum Ben. This is celebrated every year and is a 15 day festival. It's the time when ancestors who have not passed to the afterlife are freed to roam the earth - but only in the dark. Last night the families, especially the children, were very excited as they prepared balls of sticky rice. Some of the children decorated their container with a candle and added sweets.
Armed with rice balls, water and incense, we set off at 4.00 this morning to walk to the Pagoda. Outside, street sellers were selling sticky rice balls. It's seen as a food the spirits like and can consume easily. At the Pagoda, incense burning, we knelt as the monks said prayers. Inside, the shrine was brightly lit with coloured lights and looked beautiful. Everyone then filed out and walked round the perimeter wall throwing rice balls over the wall, placing pieces on the wall and also throwing them into prepared receptacles. Street children huddled round these containers eying the rice hungrily - a very sad sight to see - or was it? I gave two small boys a ball of rice each and it was interesting that they did not eat them but threw them as everyone else was doing.
Selling Sticky Rice
Dah praying

So I returned to my house as the sun was rising. My neighbours lit stoves to prepare huge cauldrons of food. The actual holiday for Pchum Ben is next week when the college will completely close for 3 days.
Each day I learn a little more about khmer culture. To learn more yourself you can click this link.            About Pchum Ben Festival