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Tanya re-visits the Kingdom…

A sure sign that HOPE is well and truly established and doing great things in and around Siem Reap is the fact that my recent 2 week (self-funded) annual visit was so jam packed I only got to a swimming pool once….on my last afternoon!  And Jo and I needed a whole day just for a Trustee meeting.  But there are no complaints from me, except it is going to be difficult to distill it all into a short update!  It has been almost 20 months since I was last in the wonderful Kingdom of Cambodia, and while Jo keeps me abreast of developments there is nothing like seeing, feeling and smelling it all for myself.  I had left such a long gap as I timed this years visit to take part in the Annual Angkor Wat Bike Race on December 4th.

I made 14 visits to 9 different projects and met with several prospective projects for future consideration, cycled in two weekend training sessions before and after the Bike Race, took part in the Bike Race (and survived), took volunteering medic students on a tour of the less than modern Provincial Hospital, gave blood (at the slightly more impressive Angkor Childrens Hospital), cheered on a football team which is partly sponsored by HOPE playing in this year’s league final at the Provincial Stadium, a grand occasion but sadly decided by penalties (and Angkor Empire FC did not come out winners on this occasion),  met all the young adults in the three programmes HOPE now supports and finally got to visit My Grandfather House rural school project which has gone from being a dream for one local Cambodian when I left in April 2009, to more than a reality with some 300 local children receiving supplemental education.

While I loved every minute of my time back in Cambodia, there were three enormous highlights for me.

Taking part in the fifth Angkor Wat Bike Race was particularly special.  There is no other bike ride in the world quite like this one – where else would you see sunrise, paddy fields, monks, cows, water buffalo, elephants, cyclos, tandems, Japanese tourists and of course the wonderful temples of the Angkor Wat complex.   With some 400 entrants in total, HOPE entered a team 40 local Cambodian young adults and their educators from all three HOPE supported Young Adult Programmes.

The 30km race starts at 6am, just as it is beginning to get light, so we have to get there in the dark (another 8kms) and try to get organised in the dark –this is much easier for the Cambodians who are more used to early starts and lack of light, than it is for Jo and Tanya!  The backdrop for the start and finish is surely one of the most amazing temples, Angkor Wat, there is nothing more inspirational. We highly recommend a visit, with or without bicycle.   As the ride progresses you are cheered on by many of the small local children, all with the compulsory Cambodian smile.

You didn’t have to win the race to be a winner, anyone who got up at 4.30 cycled in the dark to get to the start line and then cycle for 30km around the temples has to be a winner.  Our photos speak for themselves.

Training sessions on Sunday are continuing, a great way for the young adults from different projects to mix, see more of their countryside and get some exercise (and a break from studying).  We will be back next year, I seem to remember Jo saying she would also enter the running races on the following day – I know I declined but maybe I said I would do the 100km cycle ride!

The day after the Race we were rewarded with dinner cooked by the 13 Young Adults from Sangkheum who all live together in a transition house.  Not only was dinner great (they have recently been taught how to make proper burgers by staff from a local training hotel) and I am so proud to see how well they are transforming into independent, motivated and curious young adults.  On this lovely evening they made a presentation to us, a framed acknowledgement for the $25,000 HOPE has, so far, provided to support their programme.

Finally, with my love of football I always squeeze in a visit to Sangkheum Centre to go along to the daily training session.  I usually end up playing around with some of the younger kids all too small to even kick a normal sized football.  But this time I was treated to a wonderful 10 minutes having a proper one on one kick about with Tour.  When I first met Tour, 5 years ago, he had only recently come to the Centre and could barely walk and definitely couldn’t talk.  Now he goes to school, chats away in Khmer, can ”high-five” and is starting to play football, This was probably the most priceless moment of the whole trip.  I saw a lot of positive progress during my trip but this brought the biggest smile to my face.

 

 

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