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Jo’s trip back to Cambodia, but…

Lunch at the temples

11 days are just never enough to see and do everything that needs doing in Siem Reap, especially when you want to catch up with old friends, help celebrate birthdays and see how all our wonderful projects are running. The ‘To Do’ list was long but fortunately only very little was left undone and hey, there is always next year…

On our first day, by chance, we bumped into one of Sangkheum Center’s young adults, Pok, who you may remember from our previous blogs as training with the army to become a nurse. She was beaming from ear to ear when she saw me and couldn’t wait to tell us about her new good looking husband and new job at the Eye department of the Provincial Hospital! So pleased to hear her good fortune, my smile in turn beamed from ear to ear and did not leave my face the entire trip – it was great to be back.

The good news continued throughout the week and after meeting with all HOPE supported projects, I am pleased to confirm that we’ve pledged our support for another year and even picked up another project along the way!

First off, Sangkheum Centre for Children:

The dedicated Sangkheum team worked hard throughout the year to ensure the young adults have stayed on track and continued to prosper. Their next set of young adults are busy preparing for life outside of the centre, and although not moving too far (this year’s leavers are all staying in Siem Reap) they are looking forward to pursing their education to degree level in civil engineering, business and marketing and agriculture.

As always, the younger ones are pursuing activities to strengthen their education including English and computer classes. They are also competing again in this year’s football tournament.

In addition to working directly with the kids, the Sangkheum team have worked tirelessly on campaigning for the proper usage of children centres in Cambodia. They have been at the forefront in offering invaluable advice to the authorities on safe reintegration processes. Maintaining that children are best kept with families and communities, and that orphanages should only be used as a final solution when all others have been exhausted.

Salariin Kampuchea:

Visiting their new premises was a real treat, not only did we get to see their new classrooms and library, we got to see the beautiful Cambodian countryside and a reminder of how Siem Reap used to look before the tourism boom.

Salariin Kampuchea has changed over the last couple of years from the project we first supported back in 2009. Firstly, they no longer have the large backing of their original Swiss sponsors who have gradually withdrawn themselves from the project to ensure longevity, sustainability and the ability to stand alone.

Secondly, they took the brave decision to move from Siem Reap ‘I’, their city centre premises, and Siem Reap ‘II’ their original school building which was no longer structurally safe to teach in.

The decision to leave Siem Reap ‘I’ wasn’t a quick one. With the increase of tourism alongside the rise of NGOs in the vicinity, all wanting to help one of the poorest areas of the city, the team decided to carry out a professional and thorough piece of research.

The research highlighted there was no longer the same desperate need for educational assistance in the area, living standards had increased and over 50% of families could afford private education. So they decided to find a new location, away from the city to re-start their mission. Which has remained the same throughout:-

“To provide high quality, free-of-charge, non-formal education to children and youth from disadvantaged families in Siem Reap.”

In setting up the school second time round, they found it far easier than the first, purely because parents (and most importantly the students themselves) clearly see the value of education.

On visiting the new premises we were very impressed with the Youth Engagement Team who, as volunteers, help other students in Life Skills classes. We also met, Tep, the very enthusiastic Life Skills teacher who you would’ve read about in previous blogs. He frequently features as he takes the students out to career development days, traffic law lessons and cycle training sessions.

Youth Engagement Team

It was great to see Ravy again and confirm HOPE’s support of the Angkor Wat Bike ride. This year Ravy promises to partake and not bring up the rear on his moto.

Life Skills recruitment starts in January, ready for the term to start in March – watch this space for updates.

This Life Cambodia:

Once again it was a joy to meet Se and three of the interns HOPE have supported over the past couple of years. Having the opportunity to sit and talk with the girls, involved in the programme, we discussed how TLC have contributed to their development, education and the communities they come from.

It was evident from meeting two of the girls for a second time how much they had benefited from the internship – their English was clear and concise, their confidence had grown immensely and had clearly settled into their job roles with ease. I was excited to learn that they were passionate to share this knowledge with other members of their community, especially young girls.

Since TLC have helped their villages they have seen a vast difference in this time frame. More children want to learn and mothers want to see their children in school and be educated.

Paying teachers continues to be a problem, but one that is being tackled by the Government, the girls see they can help by negotiating with teachers to waiver or reduce fees for those in the community who really cannot afford it, but really want to learn. They feel a real sense of achievement and satisfaction knowing they have directly helped a student stay on at school.

Jo, Se and TLC Interns

The Behind Bars programme continues to build on its success and retains its ‘no re-offences’ record. Over 58 youths have re-integrated so far and the majority have jobs or have set up their own business with the skills they have learnt.

During the training the youth have also been given the opportunity to learn about community and personal values which has seen improved success rates of reconnecting with families.

Not only does the Behind Bars Programme concentrate on job training, it’s what HOPE value in all of the Life Skills training we support and that’s how students learn about being a good citizen and playing a responsible role in society.

Last but not least we visited Grace House and met with Bridget and Alan Cordory to see how their hard work has paid off and we weren’t disappointed! Celebrating their 6 years in Siem Reap too, we were blown away with their commitment and motivation.

We went specifically to hear and see how their youth club was working out. Sharing the same values as HOPE, it was clear that the running of the club was being set out to engage young adults, both girls and boys, in furthering their education, improving their health through sports and giving them an additional safe place to hang out at the weekends where they could have fun and learn at the same.

Over the next few months we shall get back to you on news of the project. In the meantime read Bridget’s Blog ‘Cambodia, a country of contrasts and smiles’ to learn more about Bridget’s inspirational work at Grace House.

In addition, we also had the opportunity to visit the new Anjali House. Despite lots of changes I am pleased with their progress to date as they continue to grow. The young adult programme is being redeveloped, but the youngsters we previously supported have almost all graduated from the programme and continue to do well. Success stories include those working in hotels, football training and invaluable work in de-mining. There is also a happy marriage and a baby too!

Already looking forward to my return trip, I hope to share some more smiles in the New Year and share with you further progress of how the projects progress throughout 2015.

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