is a very strange concept mainly because I feel like I am in a perpetual
summer. I left Cambodia during
the summer and the weather never really changes, so sometimes I feel like time
is standing still and it is still July, 2009.
I have to remind myself that I have been here for 11 months already and
that contrary to my instincts, time is
moving forward. I find myself making
comments to my parents and friends that really shows my ignorance to this whole
time thing. For example, I was talking
to my mom last week about the trip that we are planning for us (my parents and
myself) and she was saying how it would be fun for another sibling to come
along. I offered that Pat would be free
to travel with us. “No, Kealan, he will be at Yale by then.” Right, people actually have lives. Sometimes I forget that. I remember thinking that when I was little
and we went on vacation that since we weren’t at home that things actually
stayed the same until we got back.
Sounds very selfish, but it’s very difficult to grasp the concept, even
after all this time. America
On Sunday, June 20th, my grade 12 English Club members asked me to come to their end of the year party. I knew that it was a very special occasion because they cooked banchayoo, which is my favorite Khmer food, and is a sign of a special event. Banchayoo is made from rice (of course) which is ground and boiled to create a batter, which is cooked on a wok into a sort of pancake, then inside the pancake is sprouts and a pork-carrot-seasoning combination. It’s pretty difficult to make and is a special occasion meal. The day of the party, two students came to my house to collect me and my friend, Rachel, who I met through the Child Hope Ngo where I will do the health workshop (she is doing a summer internship of sorts for one month). We rode about 3k to my student’s house, and it was a section of town that I hadn’t ever traveled to, so I was glad to see another part of this huge place. It was really beautiful out there. I was able to see the Cham (Muslim) population in Battambang as we rode past the mosque. I invited Rachel along because my students are always looking to meet new Americans and practice their English. I also wanted Rachel to meet them and have the chance to hang out with them. So, we went to one student’s house and we cooked the banchayoo together, joked around and had a good time. There were some other teachers there from the students’ private classes, so it was a fun mix of people. We all sat down to eat the banchayoo, which is eaten with herbs, cucumbers and lettuce that is dipped in peanut sauce. It is hands down my favorite food in
. We sat on the floor and all ate together,
typical Khmer style. Afterward, we ate
dessert, which was a mixture of fruit (jackfruit, passion fruit and many others
that I don’t know the English word for) mixed with coconut milk and ice. So delicious.
After the meal, we all sat around and listened to music, and shared
stories, jokes and language. It was a
very fun day and I was really honored that they invited me. On the way back home, I rode my bike with a
student who kept thanking me for coming to the party and coming to Cambodia in
general. She lives about 25k outside of
town and leaves her house at 5am to go to school, which is a 1.5 hour bike
ride. She just kept telling me how happy
she was that she was able to be at a party with foreigners, which was her first
party with Americans. I tried to express
that I felt the same way and I hope that she understood that the feeling was
reciprocal. We made plans to ride our
bikes to Cambodia , which is a sacrifice for them
because they all ride motos, but because I can’t, they agreed to take me all on
bikes. I also want to cook American food
for them. I texted my friend Keiko about
it that night because it was one of those days that I will look back after I
have finished my work as a Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best days. Her response was that those days are valued
so much because as volunteers, we don’t really get too much feedback to
indicate if what we are doing is actually making a difference or an
impact. So, those days that come every
once in a while that provide the feedback that we crave and are ones that are
really special and will be stored as a fond memory. Banan Mountain
Cooking the Banchayoo!
Banchayoo all ready to go!!!
Every now and then I need to be put in my place, in general but also here in
. I actually think that we all do. I didn’t do much the week after school ended
and chalked it up to “needing a break” and I spent a lot of time in my room and
read a lot. Now, I think that is ok, but
I had the audacity to complain about being woken up at 5:30 to my cousin
chopping coconut skins. I wanted to lie
low for a while and pick up my work after July 4th. Then I realized that didn’t make any
sense. I didn’t come here to waste time
in my room. My students have an
unbelievable power to humble me. After I
was upset about being woken up at 5:30, my student really unknowingly treated
me by telling me that she leaves her house at 5:00 (a half hour than I woke up
that day!) and obviously has to wake up much earlier than that to complete her
household chores. I secretly was ashamed
by my selfishness but she provided the kick in the butt that I needed to get my
act together and work hard before my mini vacation for the 4th of
July to PP. I turned over a new leaf and
put some plans in motion. I started the
World Map at the Ngo shortly after and got the ball rolling with my health
workshop. The English Clubs at my high
school and the Cambodia UME will continue as
I decided that the week leading up to my trip to PP would be a good time to take on the World Map project. Although I am more of a baseball girl myself, the World Cup is a perfect time to do this project. Geography in
is a requirement in
school, but after asking various questions to my family, friends and students
about geography, I realized that it is a really important aspect that is
missing. Most of my students couldn’t
name the continents and had trouble finding their own country on a map. Soccer is a really popular sport here, so the
World Cup has been on every TV after dinner and everyone is talking about
it. I noticed my brother saying the
names of countries that he didn’t even know existed before. I couldn’t have asked for a better time to do
this. Because this project is mainly
done at schools and my school director said flat out “No!” when I asked him to
do it because the walls were being repainted, I asked my friend Rachel, who is
a college student intern at Child Hope Organization, where I will be doing my
health workshop, if she wanted to help.
Due to time constraints, we projected the map onto a wall and outlined
it ourselves. We began teaching very
basic geography and learned quickly that the students only knew a handful of
countries and couldn’t even find them on a map.
We dove right in and learned the names of the continents and drew
attention to many popular ones. For
example, Cristiano Ronaldo is HUGE here, but the students all thought that he
was from Cambodia . Now they know that he is actually
Portuguese. Likewise, they knew that the
World Cup was in Africa, but didn’t know that it was Spain and couldn’t find it
on a map, and they were all floored when we pointed out how far many people
were traveling to go watch the games. We
finished it on Friday and it looks so great.
Many of the students painted their hands and made hand prints on the
wall to make their mark in the world. It
was a nice touch. Aunt Sue and Mom, I
cannot thank you enough for providing the funds to make this possible. I will send PLENTY of pictures, but the look
on their faces when they actually started to think about the world as a whole,
it was truly remarkable. They are so
excited to be a part of it, and it means so much to them to paint. These are kids who are extremely poor- their
parents’ income depends on finding bottles and glass to recycle. Many are street children and some are
orphans. Because of human nature, they
tend to be looked down upon, but simply by helping me with your donation, you
really helped open their eyes to how big the world is. It warmed my heart on the last day when this
one girl took her friend who had missed the lessons before that, up to the
almost completed map and taught her all of the continents and the big
countries. So, on behalf of all of them
“Ahkun cheron!” (thanks a lot in Khmer). South Africa
After the first step: paint the wall light blue (for the water)
Next: outline the map!
Then paint the countries!
The little girls were so brave and painted about half the map
My favorite boy painting in Cuba
One girl teaching her friends the continents
The final product!!
Now, as for my health project, things are going really well. I met with Child Hope Organization a few weeks ago and they are doing some fantastic work with training these children. There are daily English lessons, computer class, agriculture lessons and they even hatch and raise quails, which are sold and eaten. I realized that one aspect that I can contribute to this organization is related to health. Now, these are children who are going through other people’s garbage to find bottles and glasses to recycle to make money, so hygiene is not emphasized. So, I devised a plan, using two trainees who are two of my star grade 11 students, we will conduct a one week workshop on very basic health concepts. So, our plan is to have these sessions to teach or to reinforce very basic ideas, such as why drinking clean water is important and how to make sure the water you are drinking is clean. But, it has been my experience that Khmer people know these concepts, but since it is not habitual to them, they tend to neglect them or change their ways. Think about it, as a child, I specifically remember taking bathing breaks together as a class with Mrs. Skaleny and after we finished going to the bathroom, she watched us wash our hands. Same at home, wash your hands before you eat, when someone is sick, etc. It is so deeply engrained in us that sometimes we forget that it isn’t in others. Having said that, the workshop will be the starting point of implementing healthy habits into the organization with the effect of the children bringing those habits home. Another setback to practicing good health is that it’s expensive. When it comes to these families that don’t really have any money, having soap around the house is trumped by getting food for the family, always. So, part of our workshop will be for the children to take something home with them (a bar of soap, a toothbrush, etc.) We also will make sure that there are some changes with the organization when it comes to these issues, which I discuss below. Here are the five lessons that we will teach and what they entail:
- Handwashing- Instruction on how to wash your hands using a fun activity I found that involves glitter, which is always well received here. We will put glitter on a few students’ hands then have them touch their friends, their books, their pens, etc. and we will be able to see how easy it is to pass germs. We will then have the kids wash their hands and if there is still glitter on them, they know that they haven’t done it right. Each student will have to properly wash their hands in front of an instructor to be given a bar of soap. In our budget, we will also have extra soap that we will keep at the organization and each of the teachers and workers will make sure that their students wash their hands after going to the bathroom and before they eat.
- Tooth-brushing- This is probably the most expensive topic, but none the less very important. Many people here have very bad teeth and it is incredibly painful for them later in life. It is also a source of embarrassment and they tend to be self conscious. We will have the students draw a picture of how to brush your teeth and they will take it home to their families. Once they have finished that, they will each get a toothbrush and toothpaste.
- Water purification- Many people drink dirty water, so we will discuss how to make water drinkable. This, again, is sort of tricky because it requires boiling water, which can be expensive. This is why the students will be in charge of boiling water and making sure that there is always clean water at the organization.
- Diarrhea- Towards the end of the dry season, there was an outbreak of cholera in 4 provinces to the east of us. Many children die from diarrhea every year caused by dehydration. This will be a piggy-back off of the clean water lesson, and will talk about prevention (drinking clean water) and how to fight it (making oral rehydration salts). We will teach them how to make the mixture for the rehydration salts and keep some at the center.
- Mosquito borne illness- Because it is rainy season, the mosquitoes have really been a problem. There is an announcement every morning about sleeping inside mosquito nets, wearing long sleeves, etc, but still, there are many children who die from diseases such as dengue fever. This lesson will be about how to protect yourself from mosquitoes. The students will each take home a bag of abate, which is a chemical that is offered at the health center to kill mosquitoes in water. All families collect rain water and most of them are exposed and are teeming with mosquitoes. Most Cambodians know about abate, but they don’t want to go to the health center, so we will make the bags for them and keep some extra at the organization for the kids to take home. The chemicals are free and all you need is a bag to put it in and drop it in the water. It will be the responsibility of the students to then refill the abate on occasion.
The two students who I chose as my summer interns are Vida and Kimny. Vida is the boy I always talk about and Kimny is one of my best students, she also went to International Women’s Day. They are two of my star students and also expressed interest in volunteering. Vida isn’t really interested in getting money this summer, he would rather get professional experience. Kimny wants to be an English teacher, so this will be a great way for her to have some teaching experience. I took them to meet with the director, Socheat, at Child Hope. He asked them to submit their resumes because he wants them to start teaching English to children at the pagoda. Vida told me that he asked to volunteer there before, but they don’t accept high school students, only university. Vida went back and gave Socheat his resume that day and Vida and I worked with Kimny on hers the next day. Kimny is nervous because she thinks that she isn’t prepared, but this is such an awesome chance for her to get some experience under her belt. As for the health workshop aspect, Socheat is on board and is really excited. I will be working closely with him, as well as my interns until we have the workshop in September. That will give us more than enough time to prepare for everything. One important part of this is to train Kimny and Vida how to do everything- the budget, the curriculum, the translating, delivering the workshop and then assessing the workshop and moving forward. I want them to see the whole process and learn from it. First is the budget. We went to the market to price everything that we will need and Vida was leading the brigade- negotiating, making deals, bargaining- he was awesome. Kimny played the sweet Khmer girl card a few times. They were real go gotters. We then have to actually write up the budget, which will be done before I leave for PP (I will be submitting it to PC when I get in). It’s exciting and they are the two best people to have on my team. I can’t wait.
I have set up times to meet with my grade 11 (Tuesday and Wednesday from 9-11) and grade 12 students (Tuesday and Wednesday 1-3) because they are a blast. My library was taken over by some books (not books that should in a library), so we will have to find another place to study. I made a slideshow of my sister Katie’s wedding and showed it to my grade 11 and 12 students this week. My students were baffled that we wore black dresses and one student said, “A Khmer girl would never wear black to a wedding.” The bride doesn’t wear white here (she actually have about 4-5 different colorful outfits she wears each day). I used to think that Khmer weddings were exhausting, but I saw the same look of exhaustion on their faces when I explained that it’s a one day affair for us. “But cher, you travel to so many places for your weddings! Pictures before, the church, the reception, someone’s house!” They also said that it was bad luck if anyone cries at a wedding. Hopefully that isn’t true because I think we all brought Katie and Matt lots of bad luck. They thought that everything was so beautiful and couldn’t believe the cake. Some things were just lost on them- like how many people like to play “Shout!” at the reception and everyone crouches on the ground at one point when he repeats “a little bit softer now…”
My summer basically looks like this- teaching two groups of students at my high school for 2 hours twice a week (so total 4 hours). Then working with Kimny and Vida on the health workshop at least once a week. I also have two afternoons twice a week with the UME English Club. I will continue to teach my brother Huck and his girlfriend every night, as well as the man who pumps air in my tires once a week and the school directors daughter once a week. I want to set up a program with Child Hope that would be a sort of gym class where we go to the park (well really the open field) and play red rover, kickball, etc. Darlene and I have talked about a resume/cover letter writing workshop at the universities.
All in all, it has been a great start to the summer. I will be going to a wedding on Sunday (our tuk-tuk driver is getting married) and next week should be quite busy. I will head into PP on Sunday and meet up with my friends there. Summer will fly by, I’m sure. I am just trying to balance having fun and working hard, which actually isn’t much different than my previous life….. Miss you all!
Also, congrats Kelly and Dustin on the new baby! So many babies back home that may not be babies when I get back.