Feeding dreams in Cambodia

Julie Watts | Round Square Representative

At the start of the holidays, Paula Henry and I headed to Siem Reap, Cambodia, to organise a pre-conference we are hosting before the Regional 12-14 years Round Square Conference, to held in Beijing next year. Little did we know that our timing could not have been better!

We have been supporting Feeding Dreams Cambodia, a free school for around 800 of the poorest children in Siem Reap, since it first opened around four years ago. The founder and director Rockhampton born, Kerry Huntley, is an inspiration and we chose to follow her when she moved from her first NGO, (Non-Government Organisation), New Hope.

When Paula and I arrived at Feeding Dreams on the Monday morning, we were met with a crying Kerry. Her father had a massive heart attack the night before and was in a coma in Rockhampton Hospital and was not expected to live. Kerry was frantic. She wanted to race home but was overwhelmed with the events happening at Feeding Dreams. After a few quick phone calls to get my cats and flights sorted, I agreed to stay on and run it in her place.

What an experience! The first obstacle was a document that needed editing and one that could be future changing for Feeding Dreams. Every year, the King of Cambodia selects two or three NGO’s to either make a one-time donation or offer support for the foreseeable future. Feeding Dreams had been asked to submit a proposal and one of the western staff had done a great job of preparing it before she headed off on a European trip. The only problem was she had done it in an Adobe program on a Mac computer that could not be converted to PC and no one had a Mac!

Thankfully computer queen Paula Henry took control. She only had two days at Feeding Dreams and she worked non-stop for about twenty hours, in an office that was at least forty degrees, but she taught herself the program and completed the document, in both Khmer and English which was incredible.

Whilst Paula was frantically working on the proposal, I was trying to find out exactly what my job over the next few weeks would entail. There was a tour group of volunteers, from the USA and Australia, already working in the classrooms and three more groups arriving over the next week or two. It all seemed straightforward until the Volunteer Tour Coordinator quit on the Wednesday, after taking a job as a firefighter at the airport.

To keep a long story short, it was an incredible time. I did inductions and farewells with tour groups and raced around the city, finding restaurants and venues for large groups. I also ran staff professional learning sessions on how to better involve volunteers in the classroom and taught the teachers reading comprehension strategies and games. I took five of the seven of Kerry’s Khmer adopted (not officially, but they have been with her for years), children out for a day of food and swimming at a beautiful waterfall on the weekend. I visited new families in the slums and helped organise food drops and registrations.

One very crazy day, a group of about forty medical students turned up. I was told they just wanted to look around and get an understanding of the issues the very poor were facing. However, this was not the case. As they came off the bus, I noticed their portable dental chairs, CPR dummies etc. and all were dressed in surgical scrubs. I quickly organised furniture to be moved outside and arranged groups to go into classrooms and participate in health activities and talks, while the other doctors and dentists did checks of both the elderly from the slums along the students. Over two hundred teeth extractions later, an extremely sweaty, but joyous group of medical students got back on their bus with a greater understanding of the health issues the poor are facing.

Another odd moment was when Sophorn, the Community Liaison Co-ordinator, came into the office with $15 000 US. Everything in Cambodia is cash; none of the staff have bank accounts as their minimal salary is used up buying food and paying rent. It was payday and with salaries only paid once a month, it was an interesting task. The fan, in the already stifling office, had to be turned off while hundreds of notes were counted and sorted.

Having the opportunity to oversee everything at Feeding Dreams has totally reinforced what an amazing organisation we are supporting. Thai, the Curriculum Co-ordinator, is sponsored by a group of TSS teachers who have money taken from their pay each fortnight. He is an incredibly caring, intelligent man and I enjoyed many discussions with him about education, politics in Cambodia and the future of the country.

I also had the opportunity to visit and help the girl’s TSS sponsors, but I will save those stories for another newsletter.

This term is our ‘Care for Cambodia’ focus, across both campuses. Through the money we raise, we will continue to sponsor our two girls, pay the salary of the teacher in the TSS classroom and put money towards the general running costs of Feeding Dreams. It would be fantastic if we could raise enough money to either insulate the tin roof over the classrooms, or replace it with tiles. When it rains, (and WOW, does it rain!), the teachers and students cannot hear a thing and when the sun is shining, the heat is unbelievable!

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