Saturday, March 1, 2008

Cambodia - Pursat and Sustainable Cambodia

On Feb 25th we left Phnom Penh and went to the town of Pursat in Pursat province, one of the poorest areas of Cambodia. We were here at the invitation of Sustainable Cambodia(SC) an NGO sponsored by Rotary International and on the biosand filter side by the downtown Rotary Club of Calgary. We found ourselves at the Sylvia Lasky Memorial School where the poorest of the poor can go before and after the hours of State School.

What this means is that they go to the SC school from 7-9 AM and then to State School until 3pm and then to the SC school again until 7Pm or so. In Cambodia the teachers are not paid very well (some things are consistent worldwide!) and make extra money in two ways. First, they give extra classes early in the morning and late in the afternoon that only the more wealthy kids can afford. Second, they let the kids cheat and are paid to look the other way. This puts the poor kids way behind, so the SC school helps them by offering the supplemental classes at no charge.

We had a little impromptu Q&A with about 60 of their students ages 13-19 (some kids start school later in life) and those who could speak English clambered to be right at the front. There were several who asked lots of questions and their entire focus was on getting a good education and learning English. These are the keys to getting further in life in Cambodia. Our kids had an eye-opening experience comparing how kids at home just take education for granted but here it is their entire focus.

We went out for lunch with 4 of the kids ages 16-19 and it was the first time they had ever been out for a meal. They had to contact people to go to their villages to tell their parents what they were doing. There is much respect for families here. There was not a word of English spoken by the waiters and when we returned that evening for supper, it was quite the comedy of errors trying to order what we had for lunch.
I actually went into the kitchen (invite of course) and was doing a tour of the various pots trying to identify these fish things that we had for lunch. We were still being careful about eating raw foods so everything I was looking for was deep fried or grilled.

Our hotel was a bit of an experience in Pursat and as in every hotel we had been at breakfast was included. Breakfast was a whole new experience and the safest bet was fried rice with veggies or just plain rice with a chili sauce on it. I actually stooped so low on the last morning as to have french fries for my breakfast.

SC is doing much in the town of Pursat and surrounding villages to try to further the livelihoods of the people here. They are into microfinance where even just a few dollars help the (mostly women) people get a little further ahead. They also run programs on various trades which diversifies their pursuits.

Unfortunately, Anna and John ran into a few health problems after a few days in Pursat and we had to leave early.


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