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Trustee Tanya joins Jo for 6 weeks – update from the field

On 8th November, HOPE trustees were reunited back on the ground in Siem Reap and with six weeks together ahead of us I expected trustee life to be at a slower pace than my usual two week annual visit. Living at Jo’s house we can eat, sleep and breathe HOPE work, and most of the time we do!  From the minute Jo collected me at the airport we have been discussing the enormous change that has occurred in Siem Reap since we first met in September 2006…..where did those five years go?

Change is on the whole good – definitely a lot of progress, perhaps some has happened a little too quickly and the recent severe floods have undone some good work, but on balance a lot has improved since that first meeting.

So at the half way mark of this trip I wanted to take stock. 2011 has been quite a transformational year for both HOPE and many of the Young Adults (“YAs”) in the programmes it supports. In late 2010 thanks to continued support HOPE was ready and, more importantly, able to increase the number of organisations it could extend financial support to and we now have four major projects benefiting over 40 YAs, as well as a rural school project and not forgetting a fantastic football team.

So the days have been busy having update meetings with each of the project managers – we discuss progress and successes but also the challenges they are facing – the solution is rarely “more money”, but perhaps an introduction we can make, help reviewing a proposal, brainstorming a problem drawing on our own youthful experiences (yes I can still remember that far back) or sitting with some of the YAs to talk and give simple but valuable encouragement (this is my favourite bit!).

We have also managed to meet most of the YAs themselves; either on our weekly bike ride practice (more about that later) or on visits to the transition houses run by Sangkheum and Anjali. Typical conversations are now amazingly easy as they speak good English and more importantly with confidence. They know it is with the help of support from HOPE that they are getting the chance to continue their education, gain valuable work experience and be involved in events that were not open to them before and so they are terribly excited to speak with us – no more shyness, they are proud of themselves and so keen to talk to us.



So despite having to get up early on a Sunday morning for cycle practice I can’t wait – Roun tells me about his job as a waiter, Sert tells me he loves being a sports and computer teacher at a NGO for young kids, Petra is nearly finished his electrical training and Sophal has just secured a fantastic job with HALO trust (a de-mining company) having worked with them on a photography project (her main passion and one which she is increasingly brilliant at). Sandi and Sopheak unfortunately can’t join the bike practice as they have work experience at a local hotel but I catch up with them, putting their waiting skills to the test–they have winning smiles, don’t spill a thing and are gaining confidence with the guests all the time – great to see.

At the Sangkheum Young Adult House we are treated to a “chnang” (“delicious”) dinner of Khmer curry soup and meat kebabs but the biggest treat is talking to the five young adults who this September passed their Grade 12 exams and graduated from High school. They have had big decisions to make since I last saw them (December 2010).  An was accepted at the most prestigious hospitality school in Siem Reap where he is learning front office desk skills including French, so I  had to brush down my (very) rusty French as he has been learning (so quickly) and insisted on practising with me, never one to miss an opportunity to learn, Bota started a management course at university, continues to love football and enjoys working at an online hotel booking site, Pouk and Samnang both budding nurses who gained experience at Angkor Hospital for Children in the summer started training at the military nursing centre only this week, and finally Chomnegn took the big step of moving down to the capital city to complete a well recognised computer course.

Meanwhile at Salariin Kampuchea the new life skills classes are proving very popular not surprising when they cover subjects like “Building self-esteem”, “Community Development”, “Bullying” “Family pressure” as well as career related classes involving writing CVs, making job applications and visiting work places to see with their own eyes what its all about! Such valuable lessons that most young Cambodians are left to find out for themselves.

We also met up with the two Interns at This Life Cambodia working hard at the TLC offices.  Both girls are enjoying the chance to help their communities through TLC initiatives (which include bike programmes for getting kids to school – a simple solution but one of the main reasons they don’t attend and the provision of solar power lamps to enable kids and adults to do more after dark).  They also attend university and gain office experience thanks to the internships.

In between all of this there has been the 7thAnnual Angkor Photography Festival – not only an opportunity for me to indulge by love of photography seeing some 100 professionals display some amazing shots but also experience the workshops run for the children where they get chance to let their imagination and creativity go wild. Watching them see the results of their work on display on a huge screen in the gardens of Raffles hotel with many locals and expats in the audience you can visibly see their chests puff out just a little (and the giggles when a funny photo is shown is totally priceless).

And finally I must not forget the recent successes of Angkor Empire FC, playing both the semi final and final of the Siem Reap Tournament while I have been here – the score on the Final was a cracking 3-0 with the HOPE supporters cheering them all the way.  The trophy is now proudly on display at one of the most popular Siem Reap cafes. Teamwork, discipline and sense of achievement are just some of the benefits these young players get from taking part…..and a little party to celebrate – well they deserved it!

The second half of my visit has no sign of a let up – I’ll be lucky if I can find any pool time!! First this weekend we have 25 Young Adults entered into the 30km bike ride around the magical Angkor Wat temple complex. I am so thrilled to be able to do this again and for HOPE to support the YAs in this event for the third year.

And then on the following day I have been roped into the 3km“run” – anyone who knows me well enough knows I detest running with a passion –but with 43 Cambodians from the Sangkheum Centre entered by HOPE why wouldn’t I want to get up at 4.30am and join them?!

But seriously exercise is part and parcel of my Western life but doing something for fun like cycling and running is only just getting recognised here in Cambodia. I have yet to join the daily aerobics class down by the river but there seems to be at least 50 bopping away.  However I have squeezed in a beginners Yoga course and already feeling the benefits – perhaps you will see a calmer Tanya return to London this time (or maybe that will just because I am no longer a bank employee!)

I also have a visit to HOPE’s final project, “My Grandfather’s House” – I will be living out in the village about one hour from town for four days – Back to Basics…. and some – the next update should be interesting – but I look forward to telling you about the latest progress being made and how they have coped with the flooding which has only just receded there, severely impacting the ability for anyone to get to school.

And just for the avoidance of any doubt, I am loving every minute of being back in the Kingdom of Cambodia…….


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