Saturday, September 8, 2007

Children’s Schools and Child Soldiers

Well Friday was a little different. I stayed in Siem Reap for the day and had a couple of meetings.

I went to the Volunteer Development Children’s School. What an amazing place. It was established in February 2005 by two Buddhist monks, Rathana Nn, who was tragically killed in an auto accident this past spring, and Togh Main, who wanted to give some of Siem Reap’s poorest children a future that does not depend on begging. They have worked tirelessly with the help of local and foreign volunteers and donors to provide free classes to more than 500 children, aged five to twenty. Many of the students are orphans or come from families that cannot afford the daily fee of 300 Riel ($0.10) for daily education.

I am quoting directly from their literature here. They tell the story much better than I can possibly put into words. Take a moment of your day and look at their website: . They are a truly worthwhile project.

Then I met with Aki Ra. He was planning on being in Siem Reap so I took the opportunity to meet with him “off sight”. It’s always pretty hectic at the Museum, and I needed to get his application filled out for the ISSEE course and I wanted to talk to him in more detail about his vision for the Cambodian Self Help Demining program.

We started with simple stuff, like his birth date. He doesn’t know. A teacher told him he was born in 1975, so he uses January 1, 1975 as his date of birth. A simple thing, but give it some thought. How many of you don’t know when you were born?

That makes him 32 years old. Jill, laugh all you want. (It’s an inside joke folks, don’t ask).

We talked a bit about his days in the Khmer Rouge (KR), and his “transition” to the Vietnamese army. Seems the Vietnamese would have him go out at night and hunt for food in the jungle. (Now remember, he was captured by the Vietnamese while fighting for the KR, and forced to join their army.) When he went out to hunt he’d find the KR, his old friends and fellow soldiers, doing the same thing. So what did they do? Fight it out like the enemies they were supposed to be? No. They hunted together, split the hunt, and returned to their respective camps. Then they killed each other the next day.

Don’t try and understand it. As Sherman said, “War is hell”. Lucifer must have liked hysterically.

The truck we bought the Museum last year is still running. I am amazed. After my trip in November with Aki Ra to the north, I gave it about 5 months and then figured it was toast, or rather a bucket of parts. Nope, its running fine and when we went to the river the other day, the a/c even worked. But there is a problem. It’s a Mitsubishi Montero, nice car, but quite hard to service here in Siem Reap. There are no parts. They all have to come in through Phnom Penh and that leaves Aki Ra without transportation and kicks up the repair costs substantially. So he said he was thinking about selling it and buying a Toyota. It seems like 95% of the SUVs you see around here are Toyotas. There are lots of parts and everyone works on them. He asked me if it was okay. I told him “Aki Ra, the truck is the Museum’s. You can do anything you want with it.” So I think the next time I get here he’ll be driving a Toyota. I just wish there was some way we could get in touch in with a Toyota dealer in the US and get one donated. A new truck would last so much longer than one that’s already been driven up and down the roads of Cambodia for 40,000 or 50,000 miles.

Anybody know a Toyota dealer???

I’m now writing this on Saturday morning. I was working on it last night when Becky and McKenzie from the Museum came in and started talking. Pretty soon the waiter came over and said, “Please pay your bill, we are closing.”

McKenzie left today. She is headed to Vietnam and is going to take a month long train ride all over the country and then cross over to Laos and spend a week or two there. What a great adventure. Wish I could have done that when I was 21. Oh - wait a minute. I could have done that. Different time though huh?

It hasn’t rained since I left PP on Wednesday. That’s okay since I’m spending a lot of time in tuk tusk going to and from the museum.

I am going to try and get out and se the temples at some point before I leave. In all my trips, I still haven’t seen them all. Maybe tomorrow.

More as it happens.


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