Stella’s Blog – 18th October 2015

Hi all

I hope all goes well with you? A lot of progress this week as our school is starting to take shape… but before I tell you about that I want to tell you about the main P’chum Ben festival day. Teacher Bora from our school invited me to the festivities at Snay L’a and of course I was delighted to go.

So on Monday I was up nice and early and out of respect I went for the full Khmer outfit complete with modesty leggings under my skirt and a vest… a little warm, but happy not to offend anyone when sitting on the floor in the pagoda. White is the correct colour to wear on top (colour of mourning) and it is preferable that the clothes are new as well.

The Pagoda area was crowded with children in their best clothes, men and women in their finery and everyone in a good mood as its also a time for families to gather together. As many of the families are separated during the year due to the need to trying to find work elsewhere, it is a very happy time. I met some of Kimsans family and their story is typical, the parents only see their children twice a year – at this festival and again at Khmer New Year (April), the rest of the year they work away where ever the work is and in this case both the mother and father worked on a construction site in Thailand. Kimsan’s other uncle is a crop sprayer in Thailand – a horrible job spraying chemicals for 10 hours a day by hand… can only imagine the health issues.

I was delighted to see some of the children from our school at the pagoda. They are holding bowls of rice for the P’chum Ben ceremony and shyly posed for me to take their picture, I joined them in taking part in the ceremony where each person has a bowl of rice and spoons a bit into each of the large pots set out for the monks. With every spoonful you put some in the pot, say a wish for your ancestors, so that their next time on earth is a better one than the last. The rice is then given to the monks and they eat a small part of the collective rice with food cooked by the villagers so that all the wishes are passed on through their chanting and meditation to the ancestors. Its a lovely way of connecting with past relatives, including those you never knew.

Another part of the P’chum Ben ceremony is the raising of the flags, it is a cleansing ritual as well, which helps to atone past mistakes both for the dead and the living. I joined the others in holding one of the silk flags and then a deep tone of the drum is heard before the the flags are gently raised up the flag pole – as the flags are pulled upwards and away, so are the sins and mistakes. I was amazed to feel a really emotional release at this point… what I though was, ‘just taking part’, turned out to be a genuine experience.

So, back to the school and the much needed water pump…Firstly we had to find a suitable place to start drilling down… I had a go at divining with a branch from a Mango tree – I found the place which seemed to be most suitable and when the official water diviner arrived with his special divining rods, he picked the same place… so, ‘go me! – if all else fails I can get a job as a water diviner! (In case you don’t know how divining is done you will see from the pics on Facebook, the diviner took his shoes off and then gently held a bent metal rod in each hand. When he walked towards a good ‘water’ spot the rods moved. The more responsive the rods, the better the spot) so next week we should have a safe clean water supply : )

I met with the builder who is going to construct a workshop and with the very basic plans we have drawn up he has provided an estimate. – I have had separate funding for this, so will tell you more later, but the idea is to provide a workshop to teach the kids skills so they are more likely to be able to stay in the village, rather than leave the area to find work. Kids are often put to work at a young age or if things get really bad and they’re too young to work, they end up as street kids. With skills we will teach they would earn more making things to sell, rather than begging.

I went with Kimsan into a nearby town to get prices for making desks as the kids are currently sitting on the ground. It was interesting to visit the carpenter and see how much wood he had stashed away. Illegal logging in Cambodia is a big problem – the government have sold all the logging rights to China so wood has to be either bought from them or it comes from recycling old wooden items. its as expensive as steel, but people prefer to build houses with it as its the traditional material, Of course the decimation of all the jungle in Cambodia is drastic, especially as there is no replanting scheme. China just come and take the wood and leave a trail of destruction behind… and of course this is affecting the climate, wildlife etc.

There was a rather surreal moment this week when I watched Kimsan give Bora his laptop and run through the basics. we had loaded it with a typing program, but the only one we have is one for kids, so in the middle of nowhere you can hear Baa Baa Blacksheep and two grown men engrossed with whats going on on the screen. Its the first computer Bora has used, so its also very significant for the future of the School. Many Thanks to Lesley Ball for donating it.

The Motorbike Movies idea (taking movies out to rural areas and showing/demonstrating heath and environmental education before the feature film) has had a small glitch which then paved the way for one of my Cambodian friends to come up with a genius solution… we realised power might be an issue because although the projector will run for 90 mins fully charged, it might not be long enough to also show health videos or longer films, so he came up with the idea of hooking it up to a motorbike battery, as well as the speakers, and then swapping with the battery on the bike and recharging it on the drive back home! I am going to do a test run this weekend, so will let you know how this works out.

I’m looking at getting a Cambodian driving license… The school is two hours each way by motorbike, and after returning the other night in the driving rain, thunder and lightening, with the added challenges of huge potholes, cows on the road, not to mention the other drivers, I couldn’t help thinking there must be an easier way than this!

Love and best wishes
Stella x

PS If you’d like to see pictures or find out more about the school please see Stella in Cambodia on Facebook. or click this link https://www.facebook.com/Stella-in-Cambodia-995208817162205/timeline/

I also have further information and images of the school on my crowd funding page… please click this link https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/stella-in-cambodia#/story