Thursday, 17 January 2013

A holiday in Cambodia

Guest post by our roving Asian correspondent Suzuki Samurai
As some of you may know, I’ve now moved in from China to Cambodia—to a place about 2 hours north of Phnom Penh though only 40km away, which tells you something about infrastructure here. It’s a very dusty and poor little village straddling a highway that’s been still-in-progress since progress first began. I’m here for two months.
I’m working for a German NGO that contributes funds to a school for the poor; the only subject being ‘taught’ is English. The students, all 400 of them, come from desperately poor households; their parents are mainly subsistence farmers who eke out barely enough to eat—mainly rice. If they produce any meagre surplus they exchange it for meat, flour, or veges with their neighbour or local stall holder. The kids are grubby, but somehow their parents still manage to keep them in crisp white school shirts. These kids are the most charming little buggers that I’ve ever had the pleasure of being around.
My job is to show the local state teachers—who teach at this school in the afternoon—how to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) more effectively. Normally this would be simple enough. Given however that English is a second language to the teachers themselves, and the classes contain anywhere from 25 to 45 students, it makes the task of training them to any degree at all nigh on impossible, though I shall endeavour regardless.
The Germans arrived today.  That is, some of the honchos and a number of donors of the NGO arrived today. They took about 18 kids from the poorest families to the local market and bought them all clothes & shoes. They also bought $1000 dollars worth of rice, which will feed the same poor families for about a month. Oh, and there is to be a graduation ceremony at the school on the 27th of January.  To support that, the good Germans bought (as lucky-dip giveaways for said graduates) school bags, badminton sets, dictionaries, and 3 brand spanking new bikes.
Typical Village Scene with a UWS School Ratanakiri CambodiaTomorrow, I present a report on how to improve our teaching. The report will also include expenditures they’ll need to make on such things as making the place safer—and, no, I’m not talking about cotton-wool safe as is the norm in our own over-the-top, padding-on-everything kids’ environments, but simple things that Cambodians don't seem to see, such as: live, exposed electrical wiring; hot cooking fat on a wonky table in a space where kids play; reinforcing steel and other  sharp pointy building materials smack dap in the places kids use to run laps; and toilets that, while completely unsanitary, are still not quite as bad as Chinese school toilets.  And as there will be Cambodians in the meeting as well, I’ll have to be at my sensitive best.  So it will be interesting to see how that goes.
Anyway, that’s me at the moment.
[Picture shows a UWS school in rural Cambodia, not necessarily that in which Suzuki is working]


  1. Nice piece, I'd enjoy hearing more. For a country with such a shitty history the Cambodians I met were some of the nicest friendliest around.

  2. Suzuki Samurai17 Jan 2013, 14:42:00

    Indeed they are; it's extraordinary to me that many of the same people went on murderous rampage in my life time - All in the name of the greater good of course. I'll talk a bit more about that next time.



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