Today’s update is written by Susan:
Another packed day has flown by in Bavel, the district where money from the Aberdeen Charitable Foundation is being put to work. We arrive at the school by 730am with our boxes of soap on a rope – the fruits of our production line on the roof terrace last night. Today we are taking a health workshop and the activities – hand-washing and teeth brushing – all take place outside on the grass so we begin by filling buckets with water. It was nice to hear that the hand-washing station we’re filling up from was installed just a few weeks ago thanks to Aberdeen’s support – in some schools, Kate and Ed tell us, there is nowhere for the kids or teachers to wash their hands.
With rows of buckets of water, soap and towels lined up for the kids to practice on, four of us from Aberdeen begin the demonstrations on the hand washing activity – it’s a seven step process, so in the process we learn to count to seven in Khmer. We’re joined by parents, teachers and SeeBeyondBorders staff, and the school prefects also help out once they’ve mastered it. A real team effort!
Meanwhile others are demonstrating the teeth brushing, and seeing Jon’s efforts to talk with his mouth full of toothpaste, the school prefects step in to describe the technique. Many people here don’t brush their teeth with toothpaste and toothbrushes at all and we’ve found it difficult seeing holes in the teeth of smiling kids. There are tens of groups to show and by the end Gareth and Jon are both sporting lovely white toothpaste foam beards, and any reservations about spitting in front of people – into bushes, incidentally – have been overcome.
At the kids’ third stop, the SeeBeyondBorders team along with Fiona (‘I got my spreadsheet fix!’) collect data on the kids’ height and weight, then the final
stop for the kids is Sian, another SeeBeyondBorders volunteer, where they pick up their very own soap on a rope to take home. The kids have had a lot of fun and leave smiling – as do we!
In the afternoon we head back to Datch Prort, the school where we helped concrete the classroom floor and build a path earlier in the week. SeeBeyondBorders have decided we are suitable guinea pigs for an idea they have to deepen the understanding between the community and the charity/ us westerners. The idea is the Khmers try our food and we try theirs. The villagers put on a fabulous spread – jackfruit, banana, vegetables in rice paper, cassava steamed with sugar and a delicious cake made of palm oil, rice flour and coconut (so far so good)… As well as raw fish in a tube with chillies, sour soup, fish and chillies in banana leaves, ‘prohok’ creatively described as Khmer cheese (we later discover this is fermented fish paste), and crickets (complete with legs and wings, which, in my experience, get stuck in the teeth). Sian has pulled together ‘our’ food from the limited selection available locally so we watch the reactions as our new friends enjoy crackers with peanut butter (a particular hit), spreading cheese and marmalade, as well as m&ms, pickled onions, fruit loaf and of course a tin of spam, ubiquitous as it is in our lives back home. Seeing spam eaten with chopsticks was a bizarre sight!
After first cricket/first m&m, we stand in a circle under the tree to talk about our daily lives with the brilliant Reasmey coordinating and translating. We talk about food, and the Khmers tell us they spend around $4/day to feed a family of five. This compares to an average teacher’s salary in the region of $180/month, so one teacher supporting a family of five would spend two thirds of their income on basic food. We talk about health facilities. They tell us there is no fully qualified doctor in the whole district of Bavel. They tell us an ambulance costs $500 here and ask us how much an ambulance costs us. It feels like something is very wrong in the world when we tell them it’s free.
We finish our final day at work in Battambang with a celebratory dinner with the staff and volunteers. Most of us continue to a bar where we bump into the crazy circus performers from Wednesday night who take over the dance floor with their acrobatics, and a few of our group even get involved, revealing hidden talents… Just as well tomorrow is a day off and a later start!