Pictures worth a thousand words

As our time on this trip grows to a close the team gears up for the final two days… All are as enthusiastic, if not more so then when we set out about our work in this unique country, and we are determined to finish strongly.

Many thoughtful and insightful observations have been made by all team members during our regular “reflection” sessions, and also during one on one conversations.  At times people have felt frustrated, saddened, hopeful and confused about the problems facing Cambodia.

We can all agree there is not one neat cureall for this country, and there is just so much that needs to be done. 

The teaching workshops have been more challenging this week with some of the Australian trainers finding their Khmer student teachers a tougher crowd.  However, with only two days to go we are happy to report that there have been some break throughs, with What’s the Time Mr Tiger and the Hokey Pokey  activities raising more than a chuckle amongst the students. 

The Projects Team heads out to another school and in a uniquely Cambodian style we learn that Thursdays are not regular school days.  Thursdays are given over to professional development for the teachers and the students attend school to learn “life skills” participating in activities like gardening, maintenance, art and sport  –  well that’s the general idea but most of the schools we have seen lack any sort of arts and crafts supplies or sporting equipment.  They really have next to nothing.

Joined by Sophie and Jenny here’s some of what the Projects Team got up to today…

Breakfast at the Meekong Crossing
Teachers Amy S and Kate D ready to roll with Mr Gideon
Ed attempting to organise lots of kids

Graham and Marilyn trying to find a suitable skipping spot
Ed introduces the children to some unconventional warm up moves not seen since 1950s Britain

Relay racing gets underway

Over and under…or is it over and over ?

Even our bus driver lends Cathy a hand with skipping duties

Boeb tries to explain a game to the kids

Some boys get an improvised volley ball game goingwith a skipping rope and soccer ball.

Graham and Marilyn lead their group in a game of catch

 Not supposed to have favourites, but Amy found one…

Sophie does an admirable job with back to
back art lessons and a full house

Girls like football too !

They didn’t want us to leave !


Another Day In Paradise

Another day dawns on Kampong Cham and the group tries a new café for breakfast… After a haphazard start all are eventually fed and watered.  The teachers’ set off for another busy day of workshop delivery in a fleet of tuktuks, led by the charming Mr Gideon.

Meanwhile the Projects team are like a band on tour, and hop aboard the minibus ready to roll and hit up another school and community.  Today the team is joined by the teachers Eliza and Claire and we are driven through a truly vast rubber plantation.  Avenue after avenue of rubber trees stretch out in perfect rows, making a nice break from the grittiness of Kampong Cham town.

About half way through our journey the team enjoys, or is subjected to (depending on your point of view and proximity to the speakers) a confusing karaoke DVD.  In one of the team’s more bizarre experiences to date the 80s and early 90s power ballads roll on, fittingly Phil Collins’ Another Day in Paradise plays.  The lyrics are apt as we bump our way on dirt roads through some fairly impoverished communities.

Arriving at today’s school we are treated (as usual) like reluctant rock stars.  A table has been set, dignitaries gather around for introductions, and in a corner of the room a machete wielding man is preparing 10 fresh coconuts for our refreshment.


This sort of gesture is typical of the hospitality displayed by every school the team has visited.  For a people who have next to nothing materially, the Khmer are incredibly generous and gracious hosts.  As we meet the cheeky Principal  and the formal introductions are made the group feels refreshed and touched by the thoughtful coconuts.


Well into week two the team quickly get down to business and our teachers with some back up from Amy and Maggie sort a modified art lesson for slightly younger children.  These 5 and 6 year olds are lucky and unusual in that they have had some exposure to art and craft    their drawing skills impress the whole team. 

Meanwhile Ed, Graham, Cathy and Marilyn get three outdoor games underway.  Ed has the kids running relays, playing tunnel and captain ball and under and over.   Graham organises his group in to an ever quickening game of catch, whilst Marilyn and Cathy get a group of kids skipping.  The team all have smiles on their faces as they swelter in the humidity – the kids’ laughter is infectious.

The team has learned well that even getting the children to line up is a challenge    most schools have no structured PE programs, so things like taking turns are completely foreign to the children.  Kids being kids means that they are quick to catch on, and we rotate the children through each station, and Sean demonstrates advanced skipping for a lucky few students.


Before the team knows it, it is time for the children to head home for the midday break and time for our lunch.  We are again invited to a specially prepared feast with some local specialties – the team recommends the Khmer noodles.

Community elders and school leaders join the meal and after lunch there’s an extra special surprise for the group.  We are taken to the temple by the school for an audience with a Buddhist monk.  The temple is not fancy.  It is a simple wooden stilt building and it feels like most of the village plus a few dogs and chooks have gathered to watch the team’s reception.

The group arranges itself awkwardly on mats in prime positions and are offered more food and told to ask whatever questions we like of the monk.  With the help of Mr Hun an interesting dialogue and exchange of information is underway.  In the meantime Maggie is presented a fat baby to hold and a lovely exchange occurs between women with no common tongue about grandchildren.


Another uplifting day at a local school that is doing well is beautifully bookended by our return trip through the rubber plantation and the exact same karaoke DVD.   Phil Collins Another Day in Paradise is a good note to end on.

Arrival in Kampong Cham and back to work…

 1st-2nd October 2012:  After a six hour bus journey the team arrives at our base for the week, the port town of Kampong Cham.  The third largest (or is that least small?) city in Cambodia within the most densely populated province in the country is set along the Mekong.  The group welcomes the breezy hotel balconies, relaxed pace and river views with open arms. 

After a quick lunch the group heads to the Provincial Teacher training College (PTTC) which will be our teacher training base for the week.  The teaching group quickly take control of their classrooms (typical teachers!) and get busy sorting through supplies and preparing for four days of intensive workshops.
The PTTC is in a beautiful leafy setting, and all are excited by the prospect of getting back to work this week with a new group of Khmer teachers in shaded classrooms with fans.  The PTTC is also the home of SeeBeyondBorders’ partner in Kampong Cham, KAPE (Kampuchean Action for Primary Education) who coordinate the Teach the Teachers program in the province and organise the facilities for this week’s workshops.
The next morning after breakfast and (real) coffee, the team are ready to tackle the week ahead.  Teachers and the Projects Team all arrive at the PTTC for a formal introduction to the new group of about 100 Mentor and Mentee teachers.
The teachers get underway and the Projects team head out to Kondol Chrum, about 30 minutes out of town.  Kondol Chrum is large and set amongst mature trees making for a lovely shady environment.  We are greeted by what feels like the entire school population (1,348 children)…but is probably more like half that.  Even so our team of eight feels slightly overwhelmed at the prospect of entertaining 500 plus students ranging in age from 5 to about 12.
The team quickly splits into three teams, Julie, Maggie, Graham and Amy tackling an art lesson for the kindy kids, who need lots of help with the crayons.  Ed, Anne, Marilyn and Cathy get the kids skipping and tossing footballs around, and a kind of order is established.  Before we know it an hour has passed, and unbeknownst to the Projects Team some of the young boys have been “helpfully” painting retaining walls and paving…. The paint work is a bit of a mess but the entire team get stuck into some serious remediation and the end result is OK.  There might be a few leaves and ants in some of the paint work.  After a delicious lunch with the school’s Principal it is time to say good bye to the largest group of students the team has worked with yet.
Our interpreters, Mr Hun, Mr Suveni and Ms Lekena take the team to a “resort”.  Something was lost in translation as it turns out the resort is an amazing and colourful Wat (temple).  The Team marvel at the sculptures and the enormous reclining Buddha that is still under construction.  This beautiful temple is a lovely way to finish off our time in the community.

Temples of Angkor

The temple complex at Angkor is breathtaking and simply enormous. In groups of 4, the SBB crew took to the temples armed with cameras, water bottles and tour guides.

Beginning with the world’s largest religious building, we sauntered through the ‘temple that is a city’ and gazed at the beauty of every corner, bass relief and decorative flourish of Angkor Wat. This place has often been referred to as heaven on earth.

Next stop on the temple tour was Ta Prohm, nicknamed the Tomb Raider temple or the Indiana Jones temple. We followed our guide through the maze of iconic tree roots and surviving stones, stopping for photo opportunities and to listen to the stories passed on by many. This was an amazing temple – a place that seemed so surreal.

The last stop for two of the groups was Bayan, the mesmerizing temple of Cambodia’s legendary king – Jayavarman VII. This incredible site takes your breath away as you climb through the corridors and up and down the steep stair cases, all the while being surrounded by 216 giant smiling faces. Some of us stopped to receive a blessing at the shrines, while others simply took it all in.

Our guide gave us the opportunity to then return to our hotel or continue on to watch the sunset over the temples.

Our amazing day was topped off with the arrival of Priscilla (sad to see you go Kate), dinner at the noodle bar before a few beers and the hurling grand final at Molly Molone’s Irish Pub.

Graduation in Battambang

Friday afternoon saw the first lot of Khmer teachers graduate from our SeeBeyondBorders 4 day professional development workshops. The teachers were just as proud as we were when they received their certificate and group photo – with many emotions circulating the very warm hall. The afternoon brought relief to the Teaching Team, as we knew we had completed our first set of workshops and finally had our head around what we were actually doing.

Saturday delivered a well deserved break and allowed the crew to explore Battambang a little further. One group decided to attend a cooking class at Smoking Pot, while the others boarded the Bamboo Train for an experience like no other.

Soon the crew found themselves with their bags packed and back on the mini van heading for Siem Reap… Yet another adventure!

PROJECTS TEAM 101 KIDS and a health program

PROJECTS TEAM…101 KIDS and a health program

28 September 2012
School:  Rohal Sounglech Primary School
After a group breakfast the Projects Team set off with Sophia, the two Seans and teachers Jenny, Claire, and Anne.  Our van was laden with our premade health program supplies.  Maggie, Graham and Marilyn had worked tirelessly the day before to produce 100 soap stockings and toothbrush packs for the students.
Heavy rain threatened to bog the van but a break in the weather meant we arrived on time at Rohal Sounglech Primary.  We are warmly received by the school’s Principal who shows us a striking blue building whose refurbishment and new roof was funded by SeeBeyondBorders. 
We set up our stations on the verandah, ready to teach hygiene literacy to a gaggle of local kids, who have made a special trip to school today during their holidays to participate in the program.
Health Programs are an important adjunct to SeeBeyondBorders integrated education approach, ensuring children are also schooled in basic life skills that most of us take for granted.
Our commandeered school desks make fine staging points for the children’s whirlwind through, hand washing, teeth brushing and weighing and measuring.
Controlled chaos ensues in the humidity for the first few groups.  Maggie gives the why and when talk for the hand washers aided by Boeb and student leaders.  We settle into a rhythm and work our way through the groups of kids.
Big Sean’s teeth brushing demo, with Sophia and Jenny on back up gets the most giggles of the day and each child receives a brush and paste, along with a takeaway soap to use at home. Many of the children have never seen a tooth brush before, which is evident in the state of kids’ dental hygiene in Cambodia.
The weighing and measuring team does an admirable job of recording and cataloguing 101 individual children’s vital stats on cards.  Sadly there are some very malnourished children in this community, including a 13 year old boy who at 146 cms weighs less than 30 kilos.  The aim of recording the children’s height and weight is to track their development (or lack of) over the coming months and years, and to identify candidates for a SeeBeyondBorders Rice Scholarship. 
Rice Scholarships allow the neediest children and their families to maintain a reasonable diet on the proviso children attend school in exchange for a regular ration of rice.  There will be a few Rice Scholarship candidates at Rohal Sounglech Primary.
SeeBeyondBorders plan to run the program on a six monthly basis with help from the student leaders and staff here.   All in all another very rewarding morning, surrounded by happy, enthusiastic kids.
– Amy BB

Another successful day!

Another successful day for the SeeBeyondBorders crew as we set out to work alongside the the people of Cambodia. The Projects Team travelled to a local school where they ran art lessons and ball games for the very lively children, and also helped the local community members to finish concreting a section of their school.

Meanwhile, the Teaching Team delivered their third day of professional development to the Khmer teachers at the Training College. The Khmer teachers were in stitches singing the Hokey Pokey and trying to stay safe during ‘What’s the time Mr Tiger?’ (a wolf was just too difficult to explain). Along with the many valuable concrete Maths activities that The Teaching Team are modeling. We hope that the Khmer teachers can also take away a number of ‘warm up’ activities and exciting games to engage their students in the classroom.

On top of what was already a successful day, the SeeBeyondBorders crew piled into tuk tuks and headed for the Battambang Circus. It is hard to express just how incredibly fascinating this experience was. The Battambang Circus is something that you just have to see – the performers are amazingly talented and full of life as they tell a tale through acrobatics, art and music. We were mesmerized throughout the entire performance and agree that this has to be one of the highlights so far.

Paint, Pastels, Skipping Ropes and Rocks!

This morning the SeeBeyondBorders team enjoyed breakfast together at Cafe Eden before splitting up to tackle the day.

The Teaching Team set out for their second day of workshops while the Projects Team – along with Gwen, Amy and Kate, headed to Prekchdau school to teach the children art, introduce them to skipping and finish concreting a pathway between the two classroom blocks.

After a successful morning in the classroom, we displayed the artworks on the classroom walls and headed outside to skip. The children were so enthusiastic and polite- I’m not sure who was having a better time – us or them.

We were privileged enough to join the locals for a Khmer lunch before heading back to the school to finish the day with concreting. Bucket after bucket of stones were carted from one side of the school yard to the other and finally we had most of the path complete.

The Khmer community volunteers presented us with a thank you gift (beautiful scarves) and we left in a big sweaty mess!!

This was such a great experience- although it was hard work, it was well worth it!

First Day On The Job!

The teaching team woke up ready and raring to get to our first workshop day. We ate breakfast – eggs, pancakes, hum (yes- hum!), bacon and there was even a random butterfly! With full bellies, we were ready to tackle the day ahead of us.

After the morning assembly, we split off into our teaching teams and met the Khmer teachers who would be participating in the SeeBeyondBorders professional development. Any worries and fears soon diminished as we settled into our lessons and began doing what we do best.

Although there was a definite language barrier (broken down by our incredible translators), we all managed to laugh, snicker and share a universal smile. As exhausted as we are feeling, we are all very eager to get back to the Teacher Training College and continue learning with our new Khmer friends.

Update from the projects team

We did think of the teachers on the bus for 6 hours as we had a leisurely lunch and a swim before getting down to the hard work of shopping for the ingredients to make skipping ropes (Yes – hard).  We made up 20 ropes of varying sizes and invited the tuktuk drivers to have a go which quickly wiped the smirks off their faces! 

Monday we were off to see progress on some of our projects.  First was the addition of a third room on to the school at Srer Russey.  It was good to see the sand-pit we had built on our very first SeeBeyondBorders trip in 2009 was still operational even if the sand was a bit depleted.  Next was the teachers’ house under construction at Chrok Sdeak, a school we funded in 2011.  The teacher Eang who speaks good English and became a monk for 12 months, was looking forward to moving out of the pagoda, as were the other teachers sharing a classroom with food-stealing mice. 

We then visited one of the mini-schools (Rumlech) to gift our skipping ropes before getting to Banteay Prieb in the middle of a thunderstorm.  In conjunction with “Better Lives” we funded the construction of a separate administration building to allow expansion of the teaching facilities, which they have just moved into.  Dinner at Banteay Prieb was prepared for us by some of the physically disabled resident students.  Students come here from all over Cambodia to study a skills course (motorcycle mechanics, electronics, sewing, wood carving, shoe making, etc.) and live as a community at Banteay Prieb for a year.  The place is magical and the welcome by those who face such profound challenges is utterly humbling.   The best we could offer were renditions of Waltzing Matilda and Old McDonald Had a Farm – at least the animal noises were a universal language.  We plied the students with some Aussie produce and the Tim Tams were popular but not so the cheese and vegemite…  On the bus tomorrow to join the others in Battambang… 

Back roads driving

Chrok Sdeak school building (new teachers’ house to right)

Chrok Sdeak new teachers’ house under construction

Chrok Sdeak new teachers’ house under construction

Chrok Sdeak potential students

Banteay Prieb student hosted dinner

Banteay Prieb students encountering cheese with Vegemite !

What A Day!

Day 3 began in Battambang for our teaching team. After breakfast at Cafe Eden, the team set out for a day visiting schools and meeting Khmer teachers.

We were greeted by a sea of smiling faces when we arrived at the first school, followed by a formal introduction and welcome by both the Principal and Director of Schools.

The team drifted through the classrooms and mingled with the children before boarding the mini van, ready for our next school stop.

After turning around twice and being bogged we decided that the roads were too wet to continue on and back to the hotel we went.

In the afternoon the teaching team went out to the teachers college to meet their interpreters and prepare for their first workshop- before relaxing on the rooftop with a few beers and vodkas!

A Little Bit of History

Day 2 was both confronting and emotional for all. Beginning our trek at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, we silently drifted through S-21, a prison designed for detention, interrogation, torture and killing under the Khmer Rouge. We listened to the tragic story of Pol Pot and the devastation suffered by thousands of innocent Cambodian families.

Piling back into our mini bus, the team headed for the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, the most well known of over 300 killing fields throughout Cambodia. Here we were adorned with headphones and ready to embark on our audio tour. Although the killing fields weren’t as visually confronting as the Genocide Museum, the stories told left us feeling empty, sunken and heart broken about a regime that occurred just over 30 years ago.

This afternoon saw the SeeBeyondBorders team split in two – the Teachers and the Projects Team. The Teachers made the 6 hour journey to Battambang, to prepare for their first workshop while the Projects Team lingered in Phnom Penh gathering resources and reviewing past endeavours.

Mud, Markets and City Tours

Day 1 began with caffeine, juice and free wifi where the team where able to enjoy breakfast, check Facebook and reconnect with family and friends. The team was given the option of either a tuk tuk or cycling tour – to see the sights and experience all that Phnom Penh has to offer.

The cycling crew joined Smey and his team and embarked on an 18km tour through rural Cambodia and across to Silk Island – cycling through the villages and being greeted by countless smiling children all calling out ‘HELLO – what’s your name?’ in their best English accents.

The tuk tuk team took to the streets, visiting the palace and several pagodas before battling the crowds at the Russian markets – where there was much bargaining for eclectic treasures.

The entire team reunited at The Living Room for lunch where we swapped stories about mud, markets and memorable mishaps. It was here that we were introduced to Sean – our newest team member and cinematographer who will document our life changing journey.

Following an afternoon of ‘free play’ the team met up at the Foreign Correspondents Club for pre dinner drinks, before heading off for tapas at Friends – who served a selection of Khmer delights.

Touch Down

Following what seemed to be a relatively quick flight, the SeeBeyondBorders team arrived in the very wet Phnom Penh.

After settling into our rooms at the Golden Gate Hotel, we wandered next door to the very modern Bar Italia to share a few pizzas, beers and ginger mojitos!

The perfect start to our Cambodian adventure…