Sunday, March 27, 2011


Because Peace Corps is now 50 years old, there is a worldwide initiative to inform more people about Peace Corps, maybe you have noticed.  I had my project this week, and Darlene had hers last week.  

One part of my Peace Corps service that I haven’t really gotten used to is the inconsistency of business.  March was one of my busiest months out of my entire time here, but that is a really good thing, especially because I feel the pressure of making sure that I am productive with not much time left.  The first half of the month was crazy busy with planning for International Women’s Day and the actual workshop.  Then the second half was busy planning for my kickball game.  In between these two events was a lot of teaching (about 6 hours every day), so needless to say, this month absolutely flew by.  April is just around the corner, which is the time for us to take a break, have a vacation and enjoy Cambodia without the pressure of teaching English every day.  Before I get into that, I want to tell you about my kickball game.

You may or may not know that I was an athlete in America and sports have been a really big part of my life.  Most of my close friends are former teammates or other athletes that I met in college.  I wanted to do an athletic event in Cambodia, but up until now, there has never really been the opportunity.  There were times when I forced a project onto people and it didn’t go over well, because, quite frankly, I was the only interested in the event.  I was careful not to do this because I didn’t want to turn people off to sports.  In Cambodia, there are sports teams, but there are a few teachers at my school who are paid PE teachers and coaches, so that meant that I couldn’t start a soccer, volleyball or basketball team because there were people assigned to doing that already.  When Peace Corps sent us information about the chance to create a community project to celebrate Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary, I thought about how much fun a sports activity would be.  I had also just been introduced to an Ngo school in Battambang, located at the train station.  The train station hasn’t been used for many years, but there is a fairly large community of squatters living there.  It was very clear initially that these are children that are extremely vulnerable to trafficking, gang activity (yes, there are gangs in Cambodia), substance and drug abuse, etc.  There aren’t too many employed villagers and there is always a group of men gambling and drinking outside of the school.  The school does a great job of creating education and youth development programs, but I thought that a community event day would be a really fun way to celebrate the 50th anniversary.  We collected the children from the community and had two practices to teach them how to play.  I chose kickball for two reasons- because a lot of kids can play and because sports are usually set aside for boys, so playing soccer may have made the girls feel uncomfortable.  But, it was confusing for them because kickball is basically soccer combined with baseball, and they don’t know baseball.  Thankfully I had my 9 loyal youth leaders from my grade 12 English club to help coach and prepare.  I also asked my former coach from Seton Hall softball, Coach Vander May, if he could donate t-shirts, which he sent about a month before (thanks again Coach!) and Darlene got 20 UTexas t-shirts (she was a dean at UTexas before joining Peace Corps).  We taped numbers to the back and made the event UTexas vs. Seton Hall. 

After all the arrangements, Peace Corps informed me that the Embassy would be coming with a film crew to document the event which will be included in a piece for Khmer TV on Peace Corps Cambodia.  This actually really helped me because I asked one woman who has a store right near the school and center of the village if she could tell everyone that CTN (the Khmer equivalent of NBC) would be there to film.  She must have done just that because when we showed up at 7am, there were already some kids ready to go.  We made teams and handed out t-shirts.  Some students from Texas sent posters and my grade 12 students made posters in Khmer, so we had a photo shoot before the Embassy arrived.  Once the Embassy came, we stretched, which is really funny and started to play.  Because we had practiced, the game wasn’t nearly as rag-tag as I thought that it was going to be.  We stationed one of my grade 12 students at each base to help the children remember to run to the next base, so after a child kicked the ball, they ran to “sister Samphoa” who reminded them to run to second/ “brother Sophoe” and then to third or “sister Nara”.  Darlene was all-time pitcher for Texas and I was all-time pitcher for Seton Hall.  We played pitcher’s hand, which means that if the pitcher has the ball before the kicker gets to first, they are out.  Seton Hall was in the field first, and it was clear very quickly that Texas was STACKED!  I divided the teams up based on age/ height, but I clearly didn’t do a good job, because Seton Hall had all the babies and Texas had all of the older kids.  The first inning went something like this- Texas scored 5 runs and Seton Hall had one hit and didn’t score any runs.  Texas was clearly having more fun and my kids were a little bummed, but we turned it around in the second inning and scored more runs.  We rigged it a little so that Texas didn’t kill us too badly and that helped, but we were able to turn the sadness around and it was a lot of fun.  Some kids were able to kick the ball really far and we had a few home-runs.  But every time a run was scored, everyone cheered and the kids were having a lot of fun.  The end result was 19 for Texas and 9 for Seton Hall.  Although I am naturally very competitive, the point was not the score; the kids had so much fun that it really didn’t matter.  Whenever we scored a run, we all high-fived each other, jumped up and down and celebrated.  It was a fairly short game, but it was a blast.  We played for probably 45 minutes then took pictures and drank some water. 

While we were playing, my friend Meghan led the Bozo Bucket section for the babies who were too little to play.  I think Bozo Buckets may be only a Chicago thing, but we set up three buckets filled with candy and the children threw a ball at a basket and if they made it, they got a piece of candy and if they made all three, they got a cookie.  It kept them occupied and happy. 

Many parents and older siblings came to watch the game, too.  So at one time, we had about 50 kids playing in the kickball game, 50 kids playing Bozo Buckets and about 20 parents watching the game.  The goal of having a community event was a success because we had a lot of people there, and they all seemed to enjoy it.  The parents held the signs for a while and got into the game. 

My description doesn’t do it justice and hopefully the pictures help, but I want to get the video to post, because it sounds really haphazard, which it was, but it was really typical of Cambodian kids, especially homeless ones.

During the game I was pulled to the side and interviewed, in Khmer.  I was really nervous about this for a week, and then the night before the big game, I reminded myself that I make myself look like an idiot every single day.  That’s not me being too hard on myself, it’s a fact.  Every volunteer feels that way.  I mean, look at the situation- I’m an American female that lives in Cambodia and tries my best to learn as much as possible and help where I can, of course I am going to look dumb every now and then.  My interview wasn’t good, but I said the things that I meant- that I love Cambodia, playing with children, learning about Cambodia is important to me, so on and so forth.  We will see how the video turns out.  We are having a party at the Embassy where they play the video on May 18th, so I’ll let you know then….

It’s a weird feeling because this may be the last big project that I do here.  I want to find my grade 12 students scholarships, but that is not really a project but rather a personal thing that I want to do.  I will finish out my Life Skills Club (basically a class where I teach about skills such as goal-setting, professional skills, how to write a resume/ cover letter, etc), American Culture class, my formal classes and English Clubs, but to be honest, I shouldn’t be starting new projects.  I have about 16 weeks left and that’s how long it takes sometimes to start new projects, so I will see the projects that I have started out and maybe do one more health workshop, but my time is almost over.

Having said that, I am really happy that an athletic activity was one of my last because sports mean a lot to me.  I’ve always thought that sports are not just about how to hit a curveball or hitting a three pointer, but rather the deep rooted lessons.  Those lessons are incredibly important to these children who are literally fighting for their lives at the age of 5 and they have to look out for themselves, because no one else will.  I saw two of the little kids who played in the games at the market begging for money then later that same down begging for money outside of a restaurant.  Sports, on the other hand, require discipline and working with others for a common goal.  I believe that many kids end up in a bad situation because they are trying to look out for themselves (join a gang for protection and possibly business reasons), but how many successful athletes do you know personally who are selfish?  It doesn’t work that way- the teammates that I had that looked out for themselves never reached their full potential.  Another important lesson from sports is dedication- these kids can’t really go to school, so their schedules are really inconsistent.  They are also really bored and have too much free time.  Playing a sport fills their time with something that is not harmful to them and promotes exercise, teamwork and hard work.  They have a lot of bad influences around them and around Battambang, these kids are known as being the toughest crowd around.  I plan on playing kickball with them when I can because there is always a group of kids hanging around and positive activities are hard to come by in that community.

Up next is my host sister’s wedding on April 8-9.  I went to the market with my host mom to buy fabric for a new dress.  I feel awful because they were banking on me to invite all of my Peace Corps friends to the wedding, but all of them will be out of the country because April is our free month to travel because of Khmer New Year.  I think I will be flying solo for that one.  But the preparation is fun so far and really similar to my real sister’s wedding.  I will have a detailed report on that after the fact. 

The day after her wedding ends, I will be taking the bus into PP to meet one of my closest friends, Catte, and her boyfriend.  We will be traveling around Cambodia for a week then going to Phuket and Bangkok, Thailand.  I am really looking forward to showing them Cambodia because I think that I have insight, relationships and connections that most tourists don’t have and I’m really excited to show off Cambodia to them.  There is so much to learn and I know that they are both really interested in learning about the Cambodia that you can’t really get from a travel book or tour.  Thailand will be incredible because although I love Cambodia, I need a break.  I have been in Cambodia for a year now without leaving, which is actually a long time and I’m looking forward to seeing Thailand.  When I come back to Cambodia, it will be the last week in April and phasing out will really start.  It’s a strange feeling because my students and host family are already talking about me going home.  The best to describe it is simply being torn.  I am excited to see my family and friends, but I am so incredibly san about leaving Cambodia.  I am thankful for the last few months though, because I plan on spending them with my host family, students and friends. 

Hope all is well back home! 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

love it!! the kids are so look great in front of the camera :) great job! MOM