Monday, 24 January 2011

Goodbye to Cambodia!

Hi Everyone

Our final blog after 22mths in Cambodia! Geoff came back yesterday from his 3 wks at Spitler School, Siem Reap, whilst I've enjoyed time with Laura and Enrico.We fly off this evening for holidays in Sydney and New Zealand for 1 month, and then after 3 wks more in Singapore caring for Enrico when Laura goes back to work, we'll fly home to Manchester March 25th. I'm so looking forward to being back in Heathfields, Geoff not so keen!

VSO has been a fantastic experience, one which I would recommend to anyone who wanted an adventure and to be taken out of their comfort zone.They are an impressive set up with great ideals and I felt proud to be a volunteer with the organisation.There is a lot of volu - tourism in Cambodia, which I think is of dubious benefit to either volunteer or community. Then there are the huge donors, who throw money at problems, but don't always manage to change hearts and minds. VSO is there for the long haul, working slowly alongside the locals, to share skills and model good practice so that work practices and attitudes change to benefit poor people.Its called capacity building! Really hard and frustrating at times, so much easier just to do it, rather than advise, encourage and support. I wonder how much of my work at CHHRA will be sustained - perhaps the health promotion sessions at the hospital , the health knowledge of the staff and a bit more hand washing in the villages? Still, the work with staff and villagers, when it has gone well, has been fantastic and pehaps the most satisfying of work experiences so far!

I hope that we will hang on to some of the simple pleasures of life when we return.I shall miss smiling faces,the honesty and touching kindness of most Khmer people, the beautiful skies, stars and sunsets, particularly in the rainy season, tropical downpours which cool things down and get rid of dust, geckos (lizards) in the house, their noise and acrobatics, Khmer food, swimming in outdoor pools, cocktails in sumptuous surroundings, reading a good novel for a long stretch on our roof, riding our bikes, and of course the company and conversation with our many new friends, volunteers and Cambodians.I shan't miss the plastic rubbish all around, the heat and sense of always being a bit wet, dirty, smelly Samrong market, being stared at, long,boring days at the office, particularly at the beginning, and hard chairs at long, tedious meetings at the Public Health Department where there was a lot of talking by the 'high-ups' but little seemed to change.

Geoff's experience and take on things has been a bit different, so I'll hand over to him!

By not having a contract and therefore no employer, I avoided some of the tedium and frustration that Carol encountered. I was able to choose whom and what I taught and was in control of my time throughout the stay. The students I taught were adults and knew some English already. The lessons were fun and Carol often remarked on the amount of laughter she heard as she sat on the roof with her aperitif and her book. However, working in isolation is no help to any teacher and towards the end I started to lose momentum and was only too glad to accept an offer of work from an NGO. This involved a 6 week project writing "Success Stories" for the NGO to send to donors. With this work I ventured more into Carol`s Cambodia of needy villages,health and education problems and families living a hand to mouth existence. I interviewed a range of people from UN employees to villagers and their children and wrote their stories, some of which have now been translated into Khmer.

Towards the end of our stay I realised I didn`t share Carol`s enthusiasm for returning home ,so I looked for something to bring me back to Cambodia. I hoped to be able to do short term projects rather than an extended stay. A Yorkshireman from Ingleton working for Concert NGO put me in touch with Spitler School near Siem Reap. It was arranged that I spend 3 weeks in school in January to see if I could be of use to them. Happily things worked out well. They want me back, I want to go back. The school was founded by an American family and a Cambodian who wanted to do something permanent for very poor people. In fact the village where the school is situated is one of the poorest I`ve seen. But for 6 years now they have had a good school whose input into the community is much more than just education. In the short time I was there the school gave out rice and mosquito nets to villagers.

The Cambodian founder has a history of poverty and orphanages and is dedicated to improving the lives of the less fortunate. The students love their school and run to the classrooms when the bell goes. I worked with the 2 teachers of English to improve their skills and loved being in a classroom again.While in Siem Reap I stayed at our favourite hotel and travelled to work by motorbike. I hope to return to Spitler later in the year.

So, unlike Carol I shall not be thinking of what I shall miss, but rather what I might return to. C The drop out rate from VSO was quite high, yet many seek to stay on when their contract expires. I fall into the latter category, only too happy to prolong the association with such wonderful people. And its the people who made it for me, Thouen, Sreiyong, Soroth, Kuntea, Hing, Towie,Sreirath and her family and of course, Mouen, who preferred to be called Theavy. There were many others of course,and hopefully, there will be many more.

So farewell from Cambodia - thanks for your company over the months and all your emails, letters and skype conversations! Please keep in touch. We'll be in Saddleworth from March 25th at 3 Heathfields Rd. Uppermill. Oldham OL36EW Tel: 01457 875219

The pictures are me in the office at a staff training session and us receiving our farewell gifts form Hing, my Programme Manager and Kimhong, the Executive Director of CHHRA. Pity about the hair!

We look forward to seeing you.With lots of love

Carol and Geoff xx

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

A Frantic Farewell to Cambodia and Christmas Greetings

Hi Everyone
This is as close as we get to a Christmas party here, an engagement celebration for Ratana - the little guy in yellow to the left, one of Geoff's students.We were invited only the night before, for 7.30am, and walked with Ratana's family along a dirt track on a cool, bright morning, bearing the gifts you see laid out on the floor of the bride's home. Money was also given by the groom's family, all counted in public, and there was an exchange of vows, followed by a breakfast of noodles in a chicken/vegetable soup with bamboo shoots and fresh mint. I was back at work by 9am! Its hard to believe that next week we will be getting ready for Christmas in Singapore, but before then we have a lot to pack in, with not a snowflake or Santa Claus in sight.
Geoff is working hard on his 6week paid job to get all his interviews done, with villagers, commune council members, teachers and non government organisations ,and is trying hard to improve the English of 'success stories' where individuals and organisations have had funding from ICS, a Dutch development organisation who need these successes to try to raise more funds. I'm busy writing a VSO placement report, a case study to reflect changes in poor peoples' lives and, as ever, helping my project manager with end of project reports. I've got 12 staff references to write next and then will clear out the office.Not quite like leaving the NHS, but it does bring back memories of feeling panicky at the thought of not getting everything done! Vatnak and I have been to Samrong Police station today to get a signature and stamp on a letter from CHHRA, stating that I have been a law abiding citizen here. A great lesson in patience and hierarchy, but Vatnak wasn't intimidated, in spite of having to return twice with a photo and endure the humiliation of having his written Khymer criticised. No bribes needed as I was around! We should have it signed in 2 days time, all just in case I decide that I want to work when we return to UK.

The leaving parties have started, 2 so far, and we'll give our own party for about 50 on our last night, Dec, 20th. We've invited locals like Noem, the taxi driver, who plies up and down the dusty and pot holed road from Samrong to S Reap everyday and has seat belts,a left hand drive old Camray and always drives well, Sam, the young guy we buy our phone cards from, the laundry ladies and fruit/vegetable sellers in the market who have bought colour and good food into our lives as well as CHRAA staff and all the volunteers.It will be in the garden of my office where the purple bourganvillia is brilliant just now. The staff will spend all day chopping and slicing vegetables, spices and meat, on the floor in the office, and there will be lots of high spirits. Loud Khmer dance music and karaoke will start at 6pm, the beer will flow, virtually everyone will dance and then the speeches will start. Geoff is working on a Kymer song which he'll sing in Kymer.I shall just say a few words - so as not to cry! -primarily about my 2 favourite Cambodian men, Vatnak, my VA and Hing, CHHRA's project manager, who have been incredibly generous, kind and patient, have taught me a lot about this impenetrable culture, and without whom, I would have achieved very little.We'll leave the following morning and hope we'll get to visit Geoff's primary school, out in the sticks in Siem Reap Province, where he'll return Jan 1st for 3 weeks to try to improve the teaching skills of staff.
The house is virtually packed up and tomorrow the 4 volunteers here will come for a farewell brunch and to collect all the stuff that we're leaving behind. I think we have lived pretty simply here, but I'm amazed at the stuff we have accumulated. I have had lots of clothes made by Cuntia, a seamstress who works away on a treadle machine, in a little shack just across the road from our house and is great at copying Laura's fashionable dresses. Will just have to stay slim!
Samrong feels so much better than it did on our arrival in March 2009. I guess that we have changed far more than the place and I am surprised that things that really bothered me like the litter, filthy market and high humidity now no longer seem such a big deal. I hope that the good things about Cambodia we'll remember - the lack of materialism, at least in the rural areas, the importance of family life, the hard working women and the way that children take care of each other, the can do attitude of many people, and of course the smiling faces of poor people who really have very little in the way of home comforts and often do not have enough to eat. I hope that these images will stay in our memories for ever. I will blog again soon with thoughts and reflections of our time here. Meanwhile, thanks for all your Christmas greetings. We shall think of you all as we enjoy Enrico's 1st Christmas in Singapore!
With love from Carol and Geoff xx


Saturday, 6 November 2010

The Cool Winds of Samrong

Hi Everyone

Well, its stopped raining, there's little sun and a coolish breeze most of the time, so we guess this must be the start of the cool season.The mornings are chilly- I'm wearing a cardy to bike to work, we don't need fans , at least in the mornings, and we have a blanket on the bed. It's great, just hope it lasts a while.This is also the season of holidays, so we've had a long weekend to celebrate the King's birthday when we were tourists, and visited some remoter temples and a beautiful sight Kbal Spean where we trecked uphill through jungle to a spectacular carved river bed and waterfall with lingas and animals carved into the rock to deify the water on its way to Angkor Wat.Never has a massage felt so good at the end of the day!
We've also had a weekend away with 5 vol. friends to Prehear Vehear Temple, a World Heritage site, the one which you occasionally hear about on the News as Thai and Cambodian soldiers take pot shots at each other. It is magnificent, perched high on an escarpment on the border,in a very remote and poor province, looking down on flat Cambodian plateau and slightly more undulating terrain on the Thai side. The road has been improved recently to accomodate the Army, but it felt an adventure, especially when we were piled into the back of an open truck with locals hanging on to the sides for a freebie trip up the steep approach and were met by friendly, smilng soldiers with guns. Reminded me of trips up Sutton Bank in Dad's Morris 8!

Work is still good, and busy.Those of us working in Samrong,went off to visit Oly Shipp, from Delph would you believe, and working as a VSO management advisor in a small hospital, Tmar Pouk, on a terrible road, more remote than Samrong. He and Alison, a volunteer from Cambridge inspired us with their hospital garden, new children's ward funded by the American Army I think, and their health promotion sessions for relatives and carers.Mary's hand washing demo of using oil followed by potato flour to demostrate how germs are transmitted when shaking hands, touching a baby's face etc and how just using water doesn't remove the flour, has so impressed my Project Manager that its now part of our hand washing strategy, and we have not only soap but washing up liquid and washing powder for field staff to demonstrate in the villages. For some reason, I think cost - most things come down to that here - there is no culture of using soap, so I hope that by showing alternatives, we will remove another barrier to better health. A small thing, but it made my week, as there is a chance that it will be sustained when I leave!

I've also supported our most senior health promoter to present a workshop to staff about working in Schools which went well, even though we have few resources and staff find it difficult to think imaginatively about games and activities to get across the usual health messages around hygiene and sanitation. I got the idea from another volunteer colleague for a 'crying stomach' plastic bag which the children fill with picture cards of the things that cause diarrhoea - dirty water, uncovered food etc and a 'laughing stomach' plastic bag - picture cards of washed hands,a food cabinet etc.How will I transfer these skills back to Saddleworth!

We will leave here at Christmas and we both feel there's lots to pack in before then, like nice souvenir shopping and our favourite restaurants in SR and PP, as well as things like the never ending reports, an exit interview with VSO, the dentist and a visit to the local police station to get a letter stating that we have not committed any offences whilst in Cambodia! Geoff's busy with some consultancy work for an International NGO in Samrong, correcting and writing up 'success stories' for donors and interviewing villagers and staff.Its come at just the right time, as he's feeling a bit jaded teaching without the support of colleagues and with few resources, and its actually well paid!
Its holiday season here so we're making the most of a 5 day break by visiting Laura soon, to give her a hand with Enrico, who like all babies is lovely but demanding! Geoff's away just now, to get our visas renewed and follow up some possibilities of voluntary work supporting teachers with an NGO in Siem Reap ,for a few weeks in January 2011, whilst I enjoy being a Granny in Singapore!We'll also make the most of our last non existent frantic run up to Christmas. So, take care and keep us in touch with all the goings on at home, even the Phil Woolas story!
With love to you all
Geoff and Carol

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Water,water everywhere.....Asia, a place of contrasts.

Hi Everyone
I've just come home on my bike in the rain from a trip to the flooded lake and an early evening beer. It's still raining hard most days with lots of thunder and lightening and many houses and our compound are knee deep in smelly, stagnant water. Some days are cloudy, dull,almost sunless, and cooler.When it rains, the town feels deserted. The roads are empty, meetings start late and roads are so flooded that staff are unable to get to the villages on their motos.Nothing compared to Pakistan, but the hospital is flooded and had 97 patients yesterday with only beds for 70.
This is the season for respiratory infections and dengue fever.Against a backdrop of malnutrition, children readily succumb to pneumonia and diarrhoea.All of my teaching at CHHRA tries to raise staff awareness of the danger signs, which if they see in the villages, they should be encouraging families to go to the health centre quickly, rather than visiting the traditional healer or buying drugs, usually fake , from a market stall. So, even though the end is in sight, there's still plenty to do! I'm supporting our most experienced health promoter to run a workshop looking at best practice for working in schools and the health insurance promoters are planning village training to motivate the volunteers we use to promote the sale of health insurance. These are the best times here - there's always laughter, and I'll try to find some games and songs to incorporate into the sessions. Mary, an Irish Education volunteer, older than me, is sharing her resources with me next week.It will be great if even a little of what I've done here is sustained when I leave.
All such a contrast with Singapore - not a biting insect or bad smell in sight as we sat having dinner on Laura and Alberto's balcony, overlooking a pool and beautiful planting, just over a week ago. And only 2hrs away from Cambodia! It was great to feel really clean but as ever I felt the country bumpkin in my bright colours, compared to the sleek greys/blacks of the stylish Singaporeans.Its going to be a culture shock coming home.The best bits of life here - living simply, no pristine home, entertaining without a fuss, I hope we'll keep up! Geoff went on from Singapore to Pnom Penh to get our visas renewed, so I've missed my house keeper and have had to deal with a mouse in the kitchen who has had a good chew at our wooden kitchen utensils and lots of lizard poo.Better than a rat though, which we had at the top of the stairs before we went away!

I've saved the best bit of life here until last, the birth of our 1st grandchild Enrico Renato Martinelli on Sept. 24th.He is lovely and has quite a bit of the Coles in him with a cherry nose and chubby cheeks! Laura's a great Mum and Alberto a doting Dad.He's a lucky boy and will want for nothing, such a contrast to so many beautiful babies here.The Granny bit still feels a bit surreal but Geoff has taken to his new role with gusto. Thanks for all your kind and heart warming congragulations, which I've forwarded to Laura to read eventually, when not breast feeding! Hope all is well with you all and that the Autumn colours are good.Keep in touch.
With love, Carol and Geoff xx

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Challenging times in Samrong.

Hi Everyone
Its a hot, green but cloudy Sunday here and I've just got back from a bike ride around the lake, bird watching. Now that its raining hard every day there aren't so many, but I've seen a white bellied stork for the 1st time, a kingfisher and the usual purple headed swamp hens. The pink lotus flowers are in full bloom, the lush vegetation covers a lot of litter and there are lots of dragon flies, so it looks very pretty. I've started to meet a couple of kids, a boy and a girl, who look about 8 but will be older, as most of the kids here have stunted growth, who scour the laleside for cans and plastic water bottles. They are dirty, shabbily dressed and barefoot but full of smiles and talk a little. They have their place in society, contributing to their family's income, child exploitation I would have said in our early days here, but I'm not so sure now. Children sell from market stalls, help in the rice field, wash clothes and take care of younger siblings, all with seemingly very little supervision.They ride full size bikes, often with a toddler on the back. I've never seen children begging in Samrong, unlike in the bigger towns. The schools will be starting again soon. Most go to school for at least part of the day but 50% drop out at the end of primary school, more girls than boys as those living in rural areas need to travel into town to secondary school. The boys can stay for free with the monks at the Pagoda, some become monks for the period of their schooling, but there is nowhere free for girls to stay, unless they have relatives to help out.

I'm home today to Kymer romantic pop ballards blaring out from out landlords son's phone shop. They start at 6am ! I've spent the day reading - Zoe Heller's 'The Believers' is unput downable,and later I'll make a Kymer pork, coconut and pineapple curry for Geoff's homecoming. Its so easy to make delicious food here. Yesterday I bought fresh lemon grass, pineapple, cocunut, tumeric as a root, aubergines, shallots and local herbs at our local market for about $4. Geoff's been in S Reap and P Penh for 2 wks as tour guide with Barbara , a friend from his quiz team in Oldham.It will be good to have him back, though I haven't been alone all that time as I was in PPenh with Vatnak talking to the new group of volunteers again about how to get the best out of working with a volunteer assistant. It's always good to meet new folk. Helps me to appreciate how much I've learned and changed! One of the group was Kath, a midwife/manager from Holmfirth, a friend of Chris, my friend in Huddersfield!

It feels as if we are now on the homeward straights. I've completed most of my activities for the organisation -now helping staff to write decent CV's/ letters of job application. Also supporting the project manager at lots of long, sometimes boring meetings, with our donors,
to plan activities and budgets for our new programmes. Its really hard for Cambodians, as everything has to be written in English and senior staff even, find it difficult to think creatively and plan for the longer term.I'm new to spread sheets and log frames but theres lots of help around and as VSO says its all about sharing skills!I didn't think that I would be spending so much time looking at a computer screen, but the world of development is no different from the western world of work. As well as donors who want to know and rightly so, as to how every dollar is to be spent, the Ministry of Health and the Provincial Public Health Department here are very controlling, so reports, assessments and performance indicators abound. Its a pity that for all this, things at the grassroots , particuarly in hospitals and health centres improve extremely slowly. There just isn't the where with all to see things through and sustain a higher standard.

Hope this doesn't sound too gloomy, but all this has been highlighted to us this month in Samrong by the ending of food provision for the patients. The kitchen is locked as the budget has mysteriously come to an end and poor patients who have no relatives to cook for them and the TB patients are starving. As volunteers we've made a lot of noise but haven't got anywhere. Everyone seems to say that it is not their responsibility - the hierarchy and major political party is very powerful. People need to keep their jobs to feed their families and life for them and their families can become even harder if they try to rock the boat. As foreigners we have only the tiniest insight into the pressures and constraints for ordinary Cambodians.

On a much happier note, Laura and Alberto's baby is due next week and we're all very excited.Laura looks great, just wants this little person to arrive. She had a 'shower' at school on her last day last week. Her friends each bought her a children's book so we'll have lots to read to the baby during our stay. We plan to visit 1st October for a week. We'll leave here Christmas 2010 for Singapore, back in the UK end of March 2011. We're waiting for news of Nicks' plans. His relationship with Liz has finally ended, very sad as we'd all become fond of Liz, but somehow inevitable. Hope he'll come out for a holiday with us.

Please continue to keep in touch. Its still great to hear from everyone.
With love from us both
Carol xx

Friday, 6 August 2010

Rainy Days and Mondays

Hi Everyone
Geoff first - Since we last wrote our blog I have spent 3 weeks in UK mainly in Newcastle. My mother was in good form and we took full advantage of the weather to get out and about. It is almost a year since she broke her ankle and she was looking forward to celebrating her anniversary by treating to a meal all those friends who were so helpful when she needed them. I took her to see her 2 sisters and I also caught up with my brother Peter and his family while I was there.
I flew to UK via Paris and stayed with my friend Gaby whom I have known for 44 years, or so we counted. It was great to see him looking well, talking about his trip to Greece in August and his retirement next year. I persuaded him and Regine to eat out in a Cambodian restaurant on the Saturday night. They are adventurous foodies but never exspected the Khmer family to surround the table and suggest what best to eat. So they had Amok for the first time with a dash of Cambodian friendliness.
I also had a very brief stopover in Singapore with Laura and Alberto. She is looking very well in pregnancy and they are currently in England for a wedding and to visit family. She intends to buy lots of baby things there with the help of cousin Helen. They are now established in their new flat in Singapore, things seem to get done quickly there. We are looking forward to the new baby and will be on our way to Singapore as soon as possible after the birth.
I spent time with Nick both before and after Newcastle. We ate out in Manchester and Saddleworth as well as getting to York Races to lose money on slow horses. He is moving in with girl-friend Liz at the moment so big changes are imminent in his life.
Back to Phnom Penh where Carol was speaking at the VSO Health Conference. We discovered a new French restaurant with a jazz club upstairs and celebrated several events there with friends including our Ruby wedding. Phnom Penh really grows on you and I enjoy it more each time I go.
We have been back in Samraong for 2 weeks now in the old routine of teaching for me and CHHRA for Carol. I have some new students in my private class which adds to the interest and Carol is really busy but she will tell you about that. Meanwhile we enjoy the rain (and it rains every day at the moment) and the cooler temperature it brings with it. Like the Khmer we collect rainwater and use it for cooking and drinking. Talking of cooking we had a treat last night. We watched a DVD and when it finished at 9.00 we wandered into the kitchen to make a meal. Our landlady came to the door with bowls of curry and noodles ready to eat. Quite why we don't know!
Carol now - Sorry we haven't been in touch for ages. No good excuse apart from some late work finishes and the occasional weekend away! Perhaps we're getting into the relaxed Khmer way, although Geoff has never been much different - books, music, the internet and chatting to his many Khmer friends in Khmer, with a bit of teaching to keep the brain cells intact!
Work continues to go pretty well, with only the occasional blip. I am surprised by how little phases me now, even the way animals are treated, the awful plastic all over the place and the unrelenting heat. We bought fish in the market this morning - they look something like red snapper - fresh and bright eyed, in a muddy,smelly and dirty place with a girl squatting on the floor ready to gut them with a hack saw. With Rick Stein's help,and plenty of rinses, I hope to turn them into spiced fish parcels, Cambodian style, for friends coming round tomorrow.
Surprisingly,we've hardly been ill at all, unusual for volunteers - 5 have dengue fever at the minute - it must be our daily pastis! Although I did come a cropper yesterday - fell off my bike in mud as we left a lunch time cafe and nursing a sore arm today.
I've had some great field trips with Vatanak as ever a star, getting us through the forest on narrow, sandy tracks on the moto, wading across flooded tracks and falling off a couple of times but not hurting ourselves ,as we were going slowly and there was only sand and scrub to fall on to. One trip to a school was so remote we were met by a teacher who guided us and the two health promoters we were supporting, through the vegetation to a bright, clean, leafy school compound, with Khmer pop music blaring out in welcome at 7.30 am. Things start early here!There were about 100 primary school pupils, an elderly school director who'd been there since the end of the K Rouge, his 3 young male teachers, the village chief and a dozen or so other community leaders who greeted us all with formal speeches and a tour of the school.I returned the greetings and said something about where I was from and why I was working in Cambodia .I felt like the Queen! Our staff then got on with their hand washing demonstration. We picked out those kids with dirty hands and got them washing, they then talked about how we can prevent diarrhoea by washing our hands, and as usual we ended with songs. I'm invariably asked to sing an English song, ' If you're happy and you know it clap your hands' goes down well, and of course everyone joins in several times. Then it was a biscuit snack for all the children, which CHHRA provided, and then lunch in the village chief's compound - rice, a green veg/meat Khmer soup, followed by water melons which are in season now, bright red juicy flesh, the best we have ever eaten.
The health and insurance promoter staff, as they understand the common diseases here better and become more confident, are asking me to support them in tricky situations.I recently went with Buntheon to a large village, not far from Samraong, where he was struggling to find anyone with any motivation to change their health behaviour. Not a latrine to be seen, animals and their manure everywhere, rubbish galore. He'd arranged for us to visit a kindergarten, a wooden house on stilts, festooned with paper flags and children's drawings. We had a group of about 40 young women, their young children, and a few older women whom I assumed to be grandmothers. I was the first Western person to have visited the village. Again, I gave my usual talk, but this time with no positive response. Why would any one want a latrine - smelly and dirty, too near the house, no privacy, village 7k from a water source, too expensive! I almost thought, well whose right here! Of the group, 2 of the older women admitted to having at least washed their hands once, a glimmer of hope! We retreated for lunch, a tin of sardines, rice, cucumber and onion with chilli found in a little shop and licked our wounds. Never one to give up and always with a smile, Vatanak suggested we take a walk around the village. We found one of the handwashers, invited ourselves into her compound, found that she was a home gardener, supported by another Aid organisation in Samrong, and the 2 lads set to work to build up a relationship. Buntheon now tells me that she's interested in a latrine, so from small apples as the say.... It was a fascinating and memorable experience. I'll meet with him next week to plan a health activity in the same village, to look again for motivated people.
All a far cry from the beautiful homes of friends and family, thinking of which, we can't wait to enjoy, when Laura and Alberto's baby arrives in late September. As for how much longer we'll be here,we're planning some baby care time in Singapore early in the New Year, and I'm working on Geoff to plan a trip to NZealand.We'd like to see China but don't think we could cope with the Feb. temperatures!
Hope all's well with you all. Sorry we've been hopeless of late with replies to your personal emails. Don't let this put you off keeping in touch!
With love from us both
Carol xx

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Learning a New Language.........

Hi Everyone - Geoff first:

Learning a new language when you are in your sixties is, as I have discovered, not an easy thing. Not reading or writing in the new language adds to the difficulty. Reading is a comparatively painless way of acquiring new language and familiarising oneself with structure and idiom. As I learn Khmer I am totally dependent on conversation to practise what I know and to learn more. So last week I crossed the road and asked our local seamstress (what a lovely word) if I could sit with her for an hour and speak Khmer.

I took some cold drinks over and she pulled out a chair for me and I spent an hour chatting as she continued working at her sewing machine. She told me that she was seven when the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975 and the first thing that happened was that her family were driven from Samraong to work in the rice fields as the new regime began to empty all the towns. Her story was interrupted several times as customers came and went and they too were happy to talk to me as they left work for her or collected their clothes or like me came just to chat.She said to come back whenever I want and the next time she gave me her old school English text book as a gift. In return I took Sarah, one of the new VSOs, to meet her as she had some alterations to trousers she needed doing. Our seamstress has no children of her own but there are always babies, children and young people there giving the shop a family atmosphere.
Compare this to my other learning situation which takes place on Sundays on our roof.Carol's boss, Hing, comes round with any problems in English he wishes me to explain and I present him with a list of things I need to practise.Here I get a chance to look at grammatical structure and improve my accent. In this way I think I am improving slowly. I can say a lot of things in Khmer and at last I am beginning to understand more of what is said to me.

One of the reasons I like to go to Phnom Penh is that I get to speak more Khmer than in Samraong where people are not so comfortable with strangers. We are off to the capital this Thursday for a long week-end. A couple of friends from Oxford are coming to the end of their VSO placement, so we'll enjoy a swimming pool, cocktails and food together.

Carol now : Suzanna and I are presenting ideas for joint volunteer working following her trip to Samraong at the VSO Health Sector Workshop, so we'll spend some time planning this too. We've had almost 4 wks back in our little place, living simply, so it will be good to have a break. I've been working hard - long days from 7.30am to 7pm a couple of evenings, which reminded me of RMCH days! It seemed to take for ever to complete our full project proposal but its now done, 10.000 euros are secure and we are recruiting for 2 more health promoters. CHHRA has also completed an evaluation of its health promotion activities and I'm trying to help the management team to think critically so that we learn for the next project. 3 yrs on 77% families surveyed are still boiling water and 47% now have latrines, no mean achievement!

We've also had a team of German assessors from Delhi to evaluate our community based health insurance scheme and I'm now trying to support the organization to move things forward. People pay for health care in Cambodia unless they are desperately poor and have a 'poor card' which is provided by Government but funded by international agencies. Our scheme supports the not quite so poor, who for a premium of 8ooo reals, $2 per family member, per year, get health centre and hospital treatment paid for, transport for delivery at the HC, transport to and from the hospital, funeral and house fire expenses. User fees are then paid to HC's and Samraong hospital which gives them income and gives us a little bit of clout to try and raise standards there. Sounds good in theory but there are no real alternatives to send poor people to!This is all administered by village insurance volunteers who tend to be poor , illiterate villagers, who are paid a small incentive by the scheme for each newly insured or renewal member they recruit, and who are supervised by CHHRA's insurance promoters. Our scheme should be sustainable in the very long term, but our major difficulty at the moment is that we are not likely to meet our target of 5ooo insured by the end of the year, and we need this to secure new donor funding. There's no free lunch, even in the developing world! The villages where the scheme operates are some of the poorest in the province. Many leave to cross the border to work illegally in Thailand and those who remain are subsistence rice farmers who rely on the sale of rice for disposable income. 80% families exist on less than $1 per day. So, it feels a tall order for our team to come up with a marketing stategy to sell more health insurance, but it is well recognised here that illhealth is the biggest driver into long term poverty as families sell their assets, like a cow, pig or moto to pay for major health care costs like a road traffic accident or surgery.Its hard to work out where the problem is - have we too many young, healthy male adults who because they have been well throughout the period of their last premium , can't see the point of re insuring. At least the insurance promoters know me well enough now to come and ask for help and we've planned some training around motivating the volunteers.

Several days have passed since we started writing and we're now in PP. Its a bit cooler here and the monsoon rains have been fierce each afternoon. Geoff leaves next week to see his Mum, so he may catch up with some of you too. I'll be fine in Samraong - Weetabix has returned to Cambodia, so all's well with the world!
Love to you all and please keep in touch,
Carol and Geoff xx