Tuesday 18 August 2015

Cambodia Volunteering : 3. House Build #3 Mother, Four Kids and One Bed - Thnung Vilage, Meeting Mother Buddha, Khmer Dancing, Do Goodin' at the Orphanage, Breaking Landmine Victims and Lunch'n with Monk'ns....

Soo - a - s'day!

Welcome to blog #3 of my adventures here in the Great Kingdom of Cambodia! Thank you again for your donations towards my project here with Volunteer Building Cambodia . I have now completed my third house build in Thnung Village about 50 minutes out of Siem Reap.  The family receiving the house is a 47 year old mother with four children who were sharing this small thatched palm leaved dwelling on a plot of land her mother had given her behind her own house. They had one room, one bed and two of the children are teenagers who had to drop out of school to go help their mum by working on a rubber tree farm. The others can't go to school because it is too far away for them to walk there - so we came to change that!

To get a house built by VBC the family have to meet certain criteria to be selected. They have to have a land permit saying they own the land so the house is not repossessed or destroyed as that would be a total waste of time, money and effort!. They have to not be dependent on alcohol or drugs and there needs to be clear signs that they are living in poverty and do not have money or help from banks or loans etc.....the families that get the houses we build - really do deserve them.

Bun Teng, VBC's builder picking up wood from a local wood yard to aid the build

The families former home...

We first set to work demolishing the house, with the family cow looking on house-side at us destroying the families dwelling, but in favour of a palace and we set to complete it in 3 days with the help of local Khmer builders volunteering to help build it. We took apart the walls, the roof and dismantled the floor poles made from bamboo with the mother organising her former house in organised piles bless her!

Leaving Mr Cow to pick up the pieces...

We set about sawing and marking the 9 central posts and nailing them together to make the three piece interior main structure of the house - achy arms all round!

   Once the three sections of the house are completed and placed on top of eachother, slimmer pieces of wood are nailed to them to make levers to help pull it up and maneuver the structure to make it straight.

Then the 9 posts are lifted by us all and slotted into the concrete posts buried in the ground prior to the wood preparation and the flooring strips which will support the floorboards are nailed in by monkey volunteers willing to climb us and do them.

Then the floorboards are nailed in across the space of the house.

While Cat attempts to teach me how to make the stairs by sawing and chiseling - first time utter disaster!

Floorboards are fitted and the outer walls begin to creep onto the house

End of second day....not bad effort!

Will, a farmer from Tasmania, funded the house and bought two bicycles for this impoverished family to use so the little boy has a chance of going to school.

Finishing touches even with a sore thumb!

Tadah!! The stairs after a lot of trials and tribulations! most important part of the house I think!

Three days its finished!!

Swing time! 

The Blessing

As it was a Christian family (very rare in Cambodia) there were no Buddhist monks present. The house had already been decorated with balloons and seating mats and a Christian priest came with bibles to bless the house and family.

Handing out mini bananas, tiny apples and....


 ummmm....alphabet biscuits....that we volunteers made good use of during the Khmer blessing....

Really getting into learning the Khmer language there of course....

After the blessing, we were given thanks for coming to Cambodia to help Cambodian people and presented our household donations we had bought from the market previously that morning - including a $5 cooking stove and bag of rice to feed the family.

Handing over the keys and the house is theirs!

Memories from the Build....

  More Cambodian Adventures...

Rather than taking a tuk-tuk or moto all the time, I like to walk around Siem Reap city as you don't miss things which you would do on a speeding bike or tuk-tuk and experience the authentic street life of Siem Reap.  One thing I came across on my travels was a Buddha shrine called the Ya Tep statue in the middle of the road where I saw a band of Cambodian men playing pipes and instruments whilst others were kneeling before the Buddha adorned with money, shimmering clothing and had offerings of food in front of it feet. The people would pay the band some Cambodian Riel or US Dollars and plant some burning incense lit by the candles or go over the road and buy some flowers. I believe they were offering the gods and in return seeked blessing and good fortune - I joined in and paid for some incense to light and kneeled in front of the Buddha - was very calming right in the middle of the road! but also very safe in the arms of Buddha....

Looking across the street I spied two ladies with the fluttering and chirping of little birds in a few cages - I hate seeing caged birds like that so I picked a small cage of four tiny little birds in off a young girl and bought them for $4! I wasn't quite sure if they were selling them as pets or not, but intention was to set them free which is what they were being sold for! I thought it would be a nice idea that if at least you are going to capture birds to sell to be released, maybe the donations should go to an NGO or children's hospital or something?? Anyhow the young girl held the cage of my birds and I opened the cage door to let my little birdies fly to freedom over the Kings Park by the Siem Reap river.....sigh...

The Siem Reap River

Venturing down river, I came across this stunning Pagoda called Wat Preah Prom Rath
and couldn't resist a peek inside...wow!

Pagoda's are places of calm, serenity and spirituality and with the hot morning I went to seek refuge, plus its the work and study place of buddhist monks and nuns and just glittered with gold and blood red.

A central shrine held a small Buddha nestled on a bed of gold with offerings laid before it. It had several boxes next to it asking for donations for the Pagoda Cleaning fund, Electrical fund, Food for the local children etc....spoiled for choice where your money could go to.

I was then invited to go in and see the mother of all Buddhas's in a separate shrine, the biggest Buddha I probably will evvveerrr see. Its story comes from a Buddhist belief told in the next picture down...

It's all soooooo quiet.....

Outside the shrine, all four walls depicted the life of Buddha from beginning to end - that''s ALOT of painting!

Do Goodin' at the Orphanage

After the build one day, I decided to buy 30 exercise books and 50 pens for the kids at a local stationary shop in the city to donate to Kosol the monk and his orphanage and handed them to him at the Pagoda.

We later took them up to the orphanage and handed them out to the children after class - really sweet :)

  The director of the orphanage invited me to join him for Cambodian dinner at the orphanage and told about how sometimes he would see orphans on the street around the Old Market area of Siem Reap and ask them if they wanted to come stay at his orphanage. The orphanage's food, electric and equipment is funded by donations and the children make bracelets to sell which one of the little girls gave me - cute! They always welcome donations so were very happy to receive new exercise books! The children have to share a bed and stay up until the age of 18 until they can go find a job and live independently, its sad to think where these kids might have ended up doing if they hadn't been accepted into the orphanage. A little orphan boy Tiva has take quite a shine to me - running after me on the motorbike when I leave, purest form of appreciation.

Here's a video pre-English class of the kids in the orphanage later in the week - wish me luck!

Khmer Dancing

So....after class had ended for the evening, I decided to go down to 'Pub Street' which is the main social street of restaurants and yes...you guessed it pubs...in Siem Reap City

There is a place called 'The Temple' where I was keen to go and watch Traditional Khmer Dancing. During the evening, they performed six dances originating from different parts of Cambodia and ancient stories. 'The Apsara Dance' originates from the temples and Apsara's are dancing women who used their charm to lure men and gods inside the ancient temples.

 Amy Winehouse really ran away to Cambodia????

Meeting Landmine Victims at the Physical Rehabilitation Centre

One afternoon after building the house, I went down to visit the Physical Rehabilitation Centre in the centre of Siem Reap - very much out of curiosity but I was also keen to learn of the plight of the landmine problem that has plagued Cambodia for decades. The centre had been operating since 1998 and gives free prosthesis care to victims of birth defects, polio and landmine explosions. As its funded by the Cambodian government, the patients at the centre get free treatment, food and travel expenses if they need to travel from far out villages to get help. They get about 170 patients a month which equates to nearly 2,000 patients a year - 60% being victims of landmines in the 70's, 80's and 90's.

The centre's exercise course 

Two Khmer gentleman I met at the centre had both lost their legs to landmines. One of the men in 1983 when he was just 30 years old and was working as a fisherman. He was wading through the water with a fishing net and stepped on a landmine buried beneath the waters surface and blew off his leg foot. He had to have his shin amputated and make a self-made prosthetic leg before he could get professional help in Siem Reap - out of a steel rocket cylinder, how heavy would that be to lug around.  He was supporting five children at the time and they spiraled downwards into poverty as he was unable to walk and go to work or his prosthesis kept breaking. At the centre, it takes 5 days to mould and cast the prosthesis for victims and the man told me that when he first lost his leg it took him a couple of years to mentally accept it was gone and would sometimes wake up in the night, forgetting he'd only had one leg and get out of bed and fall over. The other man was a soldier in the army when he stepped on a landmine whilst he was patrolling in the forest in 1991. He was wearing an older model of a prosthetic leg which had lasted 3 years before it needs replacing. Really brave guys to have suffered that horrendous cruelty placed on their land.

   What was nice was that they have an infectious optimism and were quite happy to show me how they exercised around the playground....

I thought it would be fun to challenge the both of them to the tyre obstacle but I actually ended up making the poor man break his prosthetic leg!! I was horrified! but they all found it really funny and we had to find a spare leg for him to have whilst they went off to fix his other one!!! oooooppppssss! 

The information is very good in the centre and shows where two million land mines still exist, mainly on the border of Thailand out of the eight million that were laid during the Khmer Rouge (one for each citizen of Cambodia which was the population at the time). Some of the members of the Khmer Rouge are still alive and know where the landmines are so they can slowly clear them. I'm told there are warning signs in forest areas near the Thai border where they are still active.

Types of Landmines.....

Self-made prosthetic legs which have to do before they can get access to professional medical help...

Sorry about your leg!!!!!!!

Visiting Families for 'Impact Assessments'

Later on in the week, as we had finished the house in three days, I got the opportunity to go visit families that had benefited from receiving a house from VBC to see them be interviewed about how the house has improved their circumstances and changed their life.

We rode out on three motos crossing the Siem Reap river and and into the outskirts of the town. House #1 was a father and daughter who's mother had died only a few months ago :/ the father was absent but was an alcoholic and had left his little 6 year old daughter at home with the dog who profusely growled at us. She was very timid and her grandmother was even incapable of looking after her as she was mentally ill and an extreme abuser of alcohol. The house style of wood and palm leaves was an old style that VBC used to do until they switched to building wooden houses this year which were likely to last 20 years as opposed to 5 years of the palm leaved houses.  We couldn't do much with the situation as the father was absent from the house and with the dog getting upset with us, we swiftly moved on to the next house.

House #1

I just wonder if she had felt frightened  with six strangers at her house?

House #2

House Two was a bit more of a success. The houses tale is of two brothers. The younger brother was hit by a moto and suffers from brain damage. The mother abandoned him and his older brother who has been supporting him washing motos by day and studying in the evening. An older lady had taken them under her wing and put them up before buying them a plot of land for the house to be built on. Five boys from New Zealand clubbed together and raised $4,000 to build them a new house with VBC, new toilet and install a well so the boys can have their own living arrangement. Jason was training a new Khmer social worker Gale to interview and assess the family on how their lives have improved or not improved in the last month, three months, six months etc. 

The older brother had scratched his cornea by an electrical wire and had damaged his left eye and was happy to answer questions about he and his brothers new life. I couldn't imagine what these two boys had gone through and how mature the older brother had to be in order for he and his brother to survive. 

He had even built a chicken coop as an new accessory to their new house! we were quite taken with the little chicks!

  The boys new house

House #3

Leaving the boys place, we ventured further out of Siem Reap along the bumpy red dirt paths to visit our final family of the morning. House #3 belonged to a family who's father was at work so could only interview the mother with her four children. They lived in a lovely rural area complete with scenic views of lush meadows and buffalo! 

Very happy family! with another baby on the way!

The neighbour decided to drop by with her little four month old baby to say hello

And poor Jason ended up being the potty for the little mite!

One the children got bored during the interview and decided to go climb in the neighbouring tree to look for fruit!

Visiting the neighbours next door who also benefited from a house from VBC in the past

Lunchin' with Monk'ns

We couldn't stay too long at the houses as we had been invited to lunch with five monks who were visiting from Battambang, a province west of Siem Reap. One of the monks was going to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia to orchestrate a charity morning of food and water offerings to poor families at the childrens hospital next week, which we are due to partake in. They thanked us for coming to help poor people in Cambodia and blessed us with a chant before we sat down to eat a very extravagant lunch - Lunch'n with Monk'ns is not bad at all! 

Orkuhn Jarraan!

See you next time! 

Siem Reap, Cambodia

With Lonely Planet Travel Guide Cambodia 

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