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Tanya’s blog – back in Siem Reap

Tanya and Tep

I wasn’t sure it could be done – catching up with all four local partners in a 3 trip day field trip tagged on to a business trip to Thailand – something I usually need a fortnight to do. OK, so I sacrificed shopping and seeing some friends but given my last visit to the Kingdom of Cambodia was 14 months ago I was eager to try.  Of course we stay in touch with all of our projects with regular reports and Skype but nothing beats seeing the young adults myself.

Arriving at the weekend helped as it is Saturday afternoon that Salariin Kampuchea Life Skills classes take place; two sessions of two hours with about 15 attending each one. It was especially good timing as the Fourth generation of students had only started a few weeks ago and today’s’ subject matter was “Communication”.

Not only did I get to view the new premises with its impressive library and basic but adequate computer room, but the Life Skills Tutor was pleased to meet his “Sponsor” and introduce me to both classes of young adults, where I was able to explain about H.O.P.E.   We even got the chance for a rare group photo.

Ravy in the new library

Tanya in the classroom with Tep

Bright and early on Sunday morning my trusted tuk-tuk driver and I went off in search of one of the many new astro turf football pitches.  The first one was only built about two years ago but now I’m told they are everywhere – some of the better construction development if you ask me!  We knew roughly where it was but the amount of new buildings along the way made it difficult to locate.  But glad to say we did, as this is where some 20 young girls (aged 15+) were attending “Goals 4 Girls”.

This is a 10 month leadership programme for girls in NGOs aimed specifically at “empowering Khmer women through sport”.  Combined with some sporting fun they are taught about human rights, role models and leadership skills, build their confidence and get to practice presentation skills.  12 girls from Sangkheum Centre for Children’s Young Adult Programme were in attendance and I think I gave some of them a little fright as they had no warning that I would be there to watch.  “Tanya is that you???”  By the end of the programme they will be collectively responsible for organising the Globalteer “Olympics” with participants from across their communities.

At the other end of Sunday, at 7pm, I made the ten minute tuk-tuk journey out to Grace House Youth Club, held every Sunday evening.  This was more tricky than usual as from 5pm the town had had a power cut, due to a pylon somewhere being knocked down, so once I had showered by torch light we were on our way.  Although the children were disappointed not to be having the planned cooking lesson (they were going to make me pancakes) they did not let a little power cut stop them enjoying their one evening of fun.  The Cambodian people have a resilience and ability to “just get on with it” beyond any nationality I know.  Have you ever seen Table Tennis and Table Football played with a candle on each corner?  I have……….

Table tennis by candleight

Table football by candlelight

Monday was another busy day, first a visit to This Life Cambodia (TLC) office to hear about progress on their projects and my interest was particularly piqued when they told me about plans to take the model of the very successful vocational training for juvenile prisoners into the town to help orphans and other NGO supported children have an alternative to the numerous hospitality schools in Siem Reap.

The results from the prison project speak for themselves – no re-offending by those young men who have had the chance to get some training.

I also met one of the latest Interns, supported by H.O.P.E to complete two years of work experience with TLC while completing their further education, and I also met a beaming Mr Se, the deputy Director of TLC who will shortly be off to USA on a 5 week scholarship he has been awarded.  We have known this partner since there was just one staff member, today they employ 28 locals and two Australians.

With a quick lunch at one of the hospitality schools, Sala Bai, where the restaurant is a live training ground, followed by an even quicker cup of tea with the ConCERT team, my final meeting was with the Director of the Sangkhuem Centre for Children Young Adult Programme.  We ran through as many of the young adults as we could remember, they are all doing well in their individual paths, some now are even parents, which is beginning to make me feel old!!  We also got talking about the plans to transfer the young adult programme to a local NGO which is very positive progress.  I got to see the new logo and hopefully the paperwork will be processed before not too long.

There was clearly a common theme, all the projects are doing well, but they could do so much better IF they had more staff with the right social work/youth work training.  In most cases the best they can get is a graduate who can demonstrate quick ability to learn and then they are trained on the job.  This totally vindicates our decision in 2012 to allocate H.O.P.E funds to a 6 month social work training course provided by First Step and will do so again, should the course be run.

We always maintained that if we selected sound local Partners we did not need to be on the ground (all of the time) and I certainly head home feeling the future of over 100 young adults is making better progress because of our sponsorship.

My stay was short but very sweet. The town itself is changing rapidly as the number of tourists is expected to hit 5 million.  The first year I visited, in 2005, I was one of less than 750,000.  True there are more shops, more markets, more hotels, more cars on the road, and simply more people.  However the beauty of being one of the early visitors is I still know where to find the tranquillity, beautiful scenery and local people which keep me coming back.  And, despite the brake-neck speed of the development, I will most definitely be back.

Tonle Sap Lake

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