Posts Tagged ‘Cambodia’

Small Voices

Heather E. Connell documented the lives of poor children on the streets and in the garbage dumps of Cambodia. Her film, Small Voices, finally gives voice to the youth struggling against the odds, and the school in Phnom Penh where some, but never enough, are given a chance at education and stability. On the streets of Phnom Penh, there are over 12,000 children begging and working picking trash—this feature-length doc focuses on a few.

Nearly half the population of Cambodia is under the age of 15–and many are left to fend for themselves with little or no education or resources. Seeing the world through their eyes is a revelation, like one child who boasts, with considerable pride, “I would never steal. I’m a beggar.”

The choices these kids have to make, when in a better world would be no more momentous than deciding between chocolate and vanilla, are instead conundrums posed by situations like “if I go to school I wouldn’t have money to buy rice.” Or the child who tells the camera, “If the adults don’t hurt me too much, I want to learn. Ive been to school 3 times before but the teachers beat me too much.”

There is an entire community of people who live at the dump, picking trash morning, noon, and night (though recognizing that at night it can be more dangerous—trucks can back over you before you see them). Kids and adults alike are living at the dump, swarming every truck that comes in, hoping this will be the load that will have enough reclaimable trash for me to buy rice, picking through the foul detritus, hoping the plastic bags and occasional bottle top can translate into grains. One young child reports, “I’ve seen human leg, dead babies, bodies with their throats slit. If I see a dead baby I bury it.” How does our world include a situation like this?

The next chapter of this story is equally amazing. The filmmaker, Heather E. Connell, made a promise to a 4-year-old boy she met in Cambodia who had cerebral palsy. The orphanage where he lived could only keep him until he was six. After that, he would be on his own…at six…with cerebral palsy. Connell had to find a way to help, and is returning to Cambodia to build Safe Haven, a school for handicapped children—there is currently no such facility in Cambodia.

It’s one of the most brilliant examples I know of how, when we travel and immerse ourselves in the issues we find, our commitment doesn’t stop when we board the plane and go home. We end up, without even trying, with a lifetime commitment, and tend to come home and inspire family and friends, and if a news story comes on the TV even remotely connected to the place or people we came to know…our ears perk up. We are connected. We don’t let go. And we can always dip in and take a deeper cut. Change keeps on changing. The efforts you make have a life beyond your physical presence. Isn’t that amazing?

See the film. Look for ways your world and efforts can reverberate.

Tax deductible donations to support Safe Haven Project can be made out to Benevolent Vision, 10801 National Blvd, Los Angeles, CA. 90064-4144.

Classrooms Without Borders

Today was a school holiday–a time when so many kids we all know are overjoyed to break up the winter routine, glad to have a day away. Such a dichotomy compared to kids in so many other places across the globe where education is just a far off dream. School as privilege as opposed to punishment as so many kids here hold it (I admit to being one of those kids growing up–I had some of the greatest teachers in the universe, but didn’t appreciate it until I saw it all more clearly, in hindsight).

One of the greatest teachers I know is my buddy Steven Hicks. I know firsthand because I was a substitute teacher for a while in Los Angeles, and subbing in Steven’s classroom was an experience unlike the other classes in which I taught. His kids, facing all sorts of challenges outside the school grounds, found such peace and inspiration in the school, and exhibited passion I didn’t see in other elementary classes.

Steven’s sister, Pamela Spycher, another great friend (who I haven’t seen in ages), and awe-inspiring mother, is also an amazing educator, PhD,and professor. They come by it honestly (and other siblings are also involved in education and philanthropy)–their father, Richard Hicks, a retired teacher, sought to continue his educational calling and relocated to Battambang, Cambodia with his wife, Bouen Sum, a native Cambodian. There, he established a school–Association for Knowledge Development (AKD), an NGO–with personal and family contributions. In 2007, the first AKD School closed due to lack of funding.  In order to reopen the school, Steven and Pamela formed Classrooms Without Borders.

About the Organization

Classrooms Without  Borders works in partnership with communities in developing countries to provide free and sustainable education with world-class standards. By providing high quality education to children, adolescents, and young adults throughout the developing world, we aim to contribute to the creation of a more balanced world where all students can benefit from the same opportunities to achieve their full potential. Through these educational opportunities, we further aim to nurture relationships between students, educators, and community members.

We approach our work in three main ways:

  • Build School Infrastructure:  We collaborate with local entities to construct environmentally sound, state of the art schools.
  • Train and Support Educators: We provide on-going and intensive training and support to teachers and school directors.
  • Establish Networks:  Establish reciprocal teacher exchange programs between educators in the U.S. and developing nations.

Your support for this life-changing organization will go farther than you imagine:

  • $200 funds a teacher for a month
  • $150 educates a student for a year
  • $40 “keeps the lights on” in a school for a month

Study is free for students, and there are over 500 enrolled.

Make a difference, today…and consider what start-up, grassroots movement you can initiate in the world.

Journeys Within Our Community

Village communities in Southeast Asia get nurturing help from within and with the assistance of international volunteers via short breaks (a week or so) or longer stints for service (month or more) from Journeys Within Our Community. By working at the local level and focusing on community-determined needs like clean water, education, health, shelter, and emergency relief, JWOC starts projects small that then grow with outside support, gaining momentum and changing lives.

Work projects are in Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar (Burma). Over the last five years of work, there are now over 70 students in those three nations going to university thanks to the JWOC Scholarship Program. There are three JWOC Free Schools in Cambodia and Laos that operate six days a week.  There are over 300 wells offering clean water to villagers in the Siem Reap area and in Laos local children now have the resources they need thanks to the JWOC Village School Sponsorship. JWOC has also given out over 200 micro loans to families living below the poverty line.

Volunteers work with specialized programs based on the skills you bring (and your skills need be no more elaborate than a willingness to work…but if you have teaching experience or carpentry skills or medical training, let them know when you sign up), and a nice element of the management of this grassroots organization is that long-term projects are re-evaluated regularly, and monthly priorities are established in response to the shifting terrain of change. This responsiveness is hugely important and surprisingly rare among NGOs.

JWOC was founded under the ideal of See a Problem, Solve a Problem…words to live by.

Planet-friendly Planeterra

The start of this New Year is a time for new beginnings for all of us—travel planning companies included.

Planeterra is a global provider of volunteer vacations, mixing service work in fantastic locales along with some insider exploration of the regions you visit, so your experience with the community runs both deep and wide.

2010 has new offerings, including volunteering in Sichuan, China at the world’s largest panda preserve and also visiting the Great Wall, X’ian, Beijing, and Shanghai. Or you could opt for the new family-friendly volunteer adventure pitching in at a kid-friendly organic farm in Ecuador. There are eleven new projects in the Americas, Asia, and Africa, plus previous client favorites that are still available, some as group trips and some as private arrangements. Your housing (double rooms, shared accommodation, or sometimes living with a local family), most meals, ground transportation, training and equipment, orientation, and escorted adventure exploration tours are all included, and most volunteer vacations with Planeterra average about $85 per day.

Argentina, Peru, El Salvador, Galapagos, Nepal, Cambodia, Laos, South Africa—each provides a new opportunity to help in community improvement programs, education, building projects, animal and habitat conservation, trail building, and more. Planeterra’s Director, Richard G. Edwards, said that more than ever “community development, environmental and wildlife conservation projects around the world need the support of active travelers who are willing to take the time to understand what is needed and how they can help. Our programs are designed with great care, so that everyone genuinely benefits while having fun learning about each other’s cultures.”